Early accounts tell of how Christian hermits used small stones, knotted
cords or boards with holes to keep track of the prayers they recited as early as AD250. At first, the count was 150 for
the Psalms of St. John and was called a Psalter. |
Prayers counters as beads dates back to the 7th century and by then many were called "Paternosters" for the "Our Father", the beginning of the Lord's Prayer, which replaced the psalms for those that couldn't remember them or were illiterant. The rosary itself was popular by the 11th century and focused on the Virgin Mary with the beads separated by paternosters for the Lord's Prayer .
By the Late Middle Ages the Paternoster or Rosary was the most common accessory worn by all ranks of society. Evidence shows it was carried in the hand, wound around the upper arm, worn around the neck, worn on a hat, hanging from a belt and worn as a belt. The earliest rosaries were straight strings of beads with a tassel at both ends. Later the loop form became common, through the straight string never entirely disappeared. The number of beads varied from a simple string of 10 beads to the complete "psalter" with 150 small beads (for the 150 Psalms), later marked off in tens by 15 larger beads.
|The beads were made of clay, wood, bone, semi-precious stones, coral, amber, pearls, gold
and silver. The large beads became very elaborate sometimes being
carved or set with jewels. Often crosses, bells, shells, relics,
pilgrim badges and other items of spiritual significance were
incorporated into the rosary.|
Pictured left is a Palace Gallery exclusive made especially for the Museum Het Valkhof in Nijimegen, Netherlands as part of their exhibition, "Catherine's World - Devotion, Demons and Daily Life in the 15th Century."
It is a reproduction of the rosary found in the margin of a page from "The Hours of Catherine of Cleves" (c. 1440)
Look for this rosary on the Paternoster Page
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