Friday, October 19, 2012

Christian Prayer Beads (Part 7)

Our Lady in a garland of roses.
Painting by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
by Angela Magnotti Andrews

What’s in a Name?
While rumors abound that the term “rosary” was adopted from the practice of making rosary beads out of pressed rose petals, this is just a myth. Chris Laning has researched rose petal rosaries extensively and concluded that the first ones were made in the 1920s. 

The word rosary actually comes from the Latin word rosarium, which in the context of the Catholic Rosary means “a garden of roses” or a “circle of roses,” and refers not only to the circlets, but also to the practice of reciting the prayers. Laning reports that the rosary was named after a legend involving some robbers who saw a young monk who had stopped to rest and pray. As the robbers watched, the Virgin Mother presented herself before the monk. Each time he uttered a “Hail, Mary,” the robbers saw a rose drop from his lips to the ground in front of her. To show her delight in his prayers, she gathered up each rose and wove them into a garland which she put upon her head. {2007}

The first use of the term appears to be credited to St. Benedict, who planted a monastic rose garden, which he called a “rosary,” in the fourth century AD. It was at this time that he instituted the praying of the Psalter of David (praying all 150 Psalms). It would be much later, though, that the term rosary would be applied to the jewel or the act of prayer. It was in the 13th century that the legend of the Virgin Mary making a rose garland out of the prayers of her faithful monk that the term rosarium became associated with the psalter.

At that time, rosarium primarily referred to a collection of short stories, prayers, or sections of text. Throughout the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries, many different terms were used, including psalterium, rosanum, serto, capelleto, rosarium, and rosaria. It seems as though the word rosary was first used in Germany.

Of note, our English word bead finds its origins in Anglo-Saxon terms for prayer. Bede means prayer, while bidden means “to pray.” Though it seems that beads were first used as currency in early civilizations, it is no surprise that the correlation between these round beauties and the act of prayer soon became correlated, such that the very name for them would be synonymous with prayer.

Stay tuned for more on Prayer Beads: Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim.

1. Encylopedia Britannica Online. “Rosary.” Accessed October 20, 2012.
2. Laning, Chris. “Historical Rosary and Paternoster Beads.” Paternoster-Row website, 2007-2009.
3. Museum of Anthropology. University of Missouri. “Prayer Beads: A Cultural Experience.” Copyright 2011. Last updated October 22, 2012.
4. Prayer Beads World (website). “Prayer Beads in Islam.” Copyright 2008. Accessed October 22, 2012.
5. Roman, Alexander. To Bead or Knot to Bead: Some Historical Considerations. As found on Chotkis website on October 22, 2012.
6. Rosarium, The. “About” Accessed October 22, 2012.
7. Rosary Workshop. “Journaling the Bead: A History of the Rosary.” Accessed October 20, 2012.
8. Winston, Kimberly.  Bead One, Pray Too. New York: Moorehouse Publishing, 2008.
9. Katadi, Meena. “What is the Origin of the Term Rosary?” Maintained by the Marian Library. Last Updated May 10, 2012.

*Clip-art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

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