Linking your favorite traveling artists across the globe
In the medieval European world, civilization was equated to membership in the Roman Catholic Church. To be otherwise was unthinkable in polite society. While every European nation had its Jewry, those who followed Judaism were seen, at best, as misguided fools who didn’t know the Messiah when He showed up and declared Himself, and at worst, Christ-killers. There were special laws regulating specific clothing to be worn by Jews, constant petty harassment of Jewish people, and (especially at Christmas and Easter) pogroms. In Moorish Spain, Muslims were often also subject to harassment and discriminatory laws. The Catholic Church was the only arbiter of theology, and so throughout the medieval period (the Reformation notwithstanding), the Church’s traditions carried much weight with both the clergy and laity. This class will focus specifically on the Roman Catholic use of prayer beads, with suggestions for those non-Catholics who wish to adapt prayer beads to their personas without compromising their modern religious principles. There will also be a practicum for those who wish to make their own paternosters.
The term “paternoster” comes directly from Latin – it means, literally, “Our Father.” They are the opening words to what may be Christianity’s most common prayer. Some paternosters were used literally – that is, keeping track of the number of devotional Our Fathers said, without the use of other devotional prayers. Most commonly, though, a paternoster was used as a tool to pray not only the Our Father, but the Ave Maria/Hail Mary as well. Most Catholics both in period and modernly pray the Hail Mary in sets of ten, interspersed with the Our Father after every ten Hail Marys (referred to hereafter as a “decade”). The beads used to pray the Hail Mary were, in period, referred to as “Aves.” The Our Father beads were usually referred to as “gauds.” A paternoster might be called a pair of beads, a paternoster, a chaplet, or a rosary. The last term is the modern Catholic preference, which is why, to avoid confusion, I refer to the medieval version as a paternoster or pair of beads.
Let’s have a look at a typical paternoster in literature: In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, his Prioress Madame Eglentyne is described as having “Of smal coral aboute hir arm she bar/A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene,/And thereon heng a brooch of gold ful shene,/On which ther was first write a crowned A,/ And after, ‘Amor vincit omnia’.
Madame Eglentyne’s paternoster, then has Aves of coral and gauds of green stone, with a brooch or pendant in gold of a crowned A, which is engraved with the motto “Love conquers all.” Notice that there is no reference of a cross or crucifix on her beads. This is a major difference between a modern and medieval rosary.
To see more differences, look below:
Paternosters did not need to be a long loop of beads with a cross at the end – many men wore “tenners,” a pair of beads with tassels at both ends, or perhaps a finger ring at one end to wear while praying. The paternoster on the right, incidentally, is one of the very few I have seen with beads that are graduated in size.
The mother’s paternoster shows another way to wear the beads. Hers is the more traditional loop style hanging off her belt with a religious medal attached to her beads.
This paternoster (“The Chatsworth Paternoster”) is made of boxwood with intricately carved biblical scenes inside each of the beads. This was one of Henry VIII’s many paternosters, and is of particular interest because it was given to the King by Thomas Cardinal Wolsey…after the King broke with Rome. In other words, it is one of the first Anglican paternosters in existence. It’s also one of the earliest with metal chain-link construction instead of being strung on linen or silk thread.
All of these paternosters have several things in common – they are all made of rich materials. Madame Eglentyne’s paternoster includes rare coral beads and a gold brooch; we may infer that the green gauds are semi-precious or precious stones, since gauds were generally larger, finer, and more expensive beads than the Aves. The first two paternosters pictured are jasper and chalcedony, with gold accents. The donor portrait of a mother and daughter pictures a parternoster of pearls, gauded with gold, and the boxwood paternoster is made valuable by the incredible carving, as well as the gold cross attached to it.
Construction of medieval paternosters was generally simple: A string or loop of beads, strung freely on a cord, with a tassel, ornate bead, or medal of some type at one or both ends. This construction is seen most often in paintings from the period, such as the Arnolfini marriage portrait or in this painting of St. Mary Magdalen reading (the paternoster is held by St. Joseph):
Often within the string of beads one will find a relic pouch or a medal of a favorite saint:
Again, some paternosters have a finger ring to make holding the paternoster easier during devotions. In my experience, modern chain-link construction is very difficult to document during the medieval period. It is much more likely that paternosters were strung on silk or linen cord for durability and flexibility. While wool cording is possible, since wool was a period material, it is unlikely that wool was used due to its likelihood of fraying. Linen and silk fibers are much longer and thus less prone to splitting and breakage.
Wearing a paternoster in a period fashion can run the gamut – there seem to be paintings and woodcuts of people wearing their beads in just about every imaginable way! Looped onto the belt seems to be a popular method, as well as tying the beads to the belt to drape attractively. There are several paintings and illuminations which show a paternoster pinned to a person’s shoulder or sleeve with a brooch to keep the person’s hands free. Some people apparently wore the paternoster looped several times around the wrist as a particularly devout bracelet. There are also quite a few woodcuts of folks wearing their beads around the neck as a necklace (something which would set my very Catholic grandmother to spinning in her grave – I was taught that wearing a modern rosary like that is very disrespectful!).
While a paternoster is first and foremost a religious device, it also serves to advertise the wearer’s social status and piety. Even if you never use it as anything other than a pretty accessory, people will be impressed that you thought to wear one – it’s something that not a lot of people in our various organizations seem to do!
Note for those who are non-Catholic/non-Christian: Because a cross or crucifix or other specifically Christian symbols are not necessary, it is possible to use a set of prayer beads for prayer to any diety you believe in. If, say, a pagan wishes to carry a set of medieval-style prayer beads, there are rune charms available at metaphysical shops in this area; I have seen goddess charms available in a couple of different places – please feel free to ask me! I would also suggest filling a “relic pouch” with a rune or two, or perhaps a bit of incense.
Muslims also use prayer beads, called a tasbih. Buddhists use a mala for meditation and prayer as well. As far as I am aware, Jews do not have a tradition of prayer beads; instead, it is possible to make and wear phylacteries.
Prayers for the Catholic/Christian paternoster in both Latin and English:
Pater Noster/Our Father:
PATER NOSTER, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo. Amen.
OUR FATHER, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Ave Maria/Hail Mary:
AVE MARIA, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.
HAIL MARY, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
For those who are really enthusiastic, the Credo/Creed:
Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae. Et in Iesum Christum, Filium eius unicum, Dominum nostrum, qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine, passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus, descendit ad infernos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis, inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos. Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem, remissionem peccatorum, carnis resurrectionem, vitam aeternam. Amen.
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
So there you have it! Take five minutes or so when things get hectic at an event, and “byd your bedes.” Even if you just meditate on the cool beads between your fingers, the little bit of time you take to relax will leave you refreshed and ready to take on more challenges – the period way.
Many thanks to Chris Laning of Paternoster Row at http://paternosters.home.igc.org/ .