Sunday, July 18, 2010

More off the wall


As I mentioned in Part I, I see a lot of wall rosaries for sale that are made of some sort of ivory-colored (sometimes white, gray or yellowish) material.*

This type of wall rosary is pretty readily recognizable. About three-quarters of the examples of this type I see look like this one:


These rosaries are invariably constructed chain-style with metal links through each bead. The beads are more or less inverted-pyramid shape, with images on four sides. Often the designs on the examples I see are blurry; sometimes they're hard to identify -- I have the feeling they may not have been all that well made in the first place. But when I can tell what they are, the common ones on the rosaries with pyramid-shaped beads are the face of Christ and the face of Mary. Many if not all of them have Mary on two opposite sides and Christ on the other two. On other variations of this type of rosary (discussed below) I've seen similar faces, plus images of visions of Mary (standing on something with kneeling children in front), of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, of St. Anthony, and of (I think) Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The designs are "antiqued" with brown or black pigment to bring out the detail.


I will say again that there are a whole lot of these out there. These rosaries are still being made and sold new, either imported by Catholic gift shops or directly from Italian sources like ( gets you there too). And at any given moment there are likely to be two or three of these rosaries for sale on eBay. But just as with other wall rosaries, people who run into one of these have almost always never seen one before and have no idea what they are.

Since these are assembled from parts, it's not surprising to see some mixing and matching with different styles of central medallions and crucifixes. The most common type of crucifix is this one:


(See the engraved asterisks all over the background of this? If you're old enough, you may remember this motif as a very popular one in early 1960s "modern" decor.)

Other styles I've also seen:

alt-cross  twig-cross

The commonest center element is this one, although I've seen a number of different plaques and figures:


But I won't bore you with every possible variation.

I've seen just a few photos of another version, with beads that are flattened on two sides. This example is a rosary specifically in memory of Pope John XXIII. Here's the centerpiece:


It's not a very good photo. I have an even less good image of the faces of these beads -- which have what is clearly John XXIII's face on the flat sides, as you can tell by comparing them to the center medallion, although the beads in the photo are very worn. The beads also have designs molded onto their edges, which are hard to see and identify.



I suspect, though I don't know for sure, that rosaries of this type may also have been made to commemorate Pope Pius XII -- I have seen one privately owned example that seems to have a different face on it than the John XXIII one, but is otherwise extremely similar. The face on that one is a close match for the profiles I've seen of Pius XII (pope 1939-1958), which would make sense, since these rosaries seem to have been most popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

I'm actually re-considering my previous idea that wall rosaries were seldom used for prayer, because the images on these seem so often to be worn looking. Either they were used and handled a lot, or perhaps the material is not very durable. This also makes me think that perhaps some of these rosaries were displayed draped tastefully over tables or other furniture where they were touched more frequently, rather than hung on walls. If anyone has better photos of beads like this, or more information, I'd love to hear about it.

*(I was going to be all mean and make you wait for my conclusion about what these are -- and in the next article I'll tell you about the common wrong guesses. But for now, I will offer the key words: alabasterite or oxolyte. Full story next time.)