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Paternosters & Rosaries
Paternosters were popular before, during and into the late the middle ages. From as early as 1000AD, paternosters or prayer beads have been a common dress accessory. Cistercians in the 11th and 12th centuries allowed lay brothers and sisters to recite the Pater Noster, the Our Father instead of 150 psalms and lessons. Originally, the beads helped with counting and were not a fashion accessory.
Shown at right is a paternoster with wooden beads and silver gauds with a large amber bead at the bottom and a gilt pendant terminus. It dates from the 15th century and is of German origin. Instead of having a large bead or marker to break the number of beads, the gauds are each different and represent each of the instruments of the passion of Christ.
At left is a close up of another pendant terminus, this one gold, and of St Christopher. It is also German and from the 15th century. Paternosters were usually made long and in a loop for women and short and straight for men usually in a string of 10, 50 or 150 beads either with or without dividers. The Our Father beads or gauds dividing groups of ten beads were often larger than the others on the strand.
The detail from painting at right is from the mid 1400s work Mother of God With Pea Blossom from the Master of Cologne, Germany. It shows Mary with a gold paternoster.
Paternosters and rosaries provided a unique opportunity for a woman in particular to appear pious while at the same time taking the opportunity to display a show of wealth in the materials and fixing of her beads. A woman's paternoster could be a string of knots on a cord or a string of beads. Known stringing materials included green silk, tubular silk braid, silver and gold wire.
Known bead materials include agate, amber, amethyst, chalcedony, clay, coral, carnelian, crystal, diamonds, emeralds, enameled gold, garnet, gilt, glass, gold, horn, ivory, jasper, jet, mother of pearl, onyx, pearls, paste, rock crystal, rubies, sapphires, shell, silver, turquoise, apricot kernels, bone and a variety of woods- ebony, mazerwood, mistletoe, yew and boxwood. Coral was particularly popular, as coral was thought to ward against the evil eye. The most popular bead materials were red coral, amber, bone, boxwood and crystal.
The beads in the paternoster shown at left are dated from 1250 and are of Anglo Norman make. They were uncovered in the Waterford City excavations in England and are made of amber.
Since this jewellery was for the greater glory of God and not for personal adornment, the church was unwilling to place a ban on the owning or wearing of excessively rich and ornate paternosters. They were often exempt from taxes restricting rich clothing and ornamentation, so wearing an expensive string of beads as a paternoster provided an opportunity for showing off wealth and good taste, as well as one's devotion to the Almighty. Even a woman who was not particularly pious often did not pass up such an opportunity to display jewellery.
At right is a worn effigy from 1369. It is one of the weepers from the tomb of Thomas Beauchamp and his wife, Katherine Mortimer at St Mary's church at Warwick, England. It is hard to define whether the beads were in her hand which was originally resting on her hip or whether the beads were attached to her belt- a common practice with paternosters.
Among the early mentions of prayer beads in England is the will of Lady Godiva who died in the 11th century. When she died, she left
to a monastery which she and her husband
Below is the Lord's Prayer, the Pater Noster, and the Hail Mary, Ave Maria in latin as it would have been said during the medieval period for prayers and the old English translation at the time of 14th century England.
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