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.
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.
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
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.
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
a circlet of gems that she had
threaded on a string, in order that by fingering them one by
one as she recited her prayers, she might not fall short of
the exact number
to a monastery which she and her
husband had founded.
The 1350 illumination detail,
shown below at right, is of Saint Hedwig of Silesia from the Hedwigs
Codex shows Saint Hedwig with an unusual rosary. The string
of beads is linear and long, rather than the usual woman's looped
form or the usual linear and short style. At the end is a tassel,
and the paternoster is shown hanging down from what appears to
be a brooch at the edge of her cloak or on her gown. The
brooch itself is a diamond shape decorated version of the common
ring brooch which was widely used on cloaks and outer garments
throughout the medieval period.
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
Pater noster qui es in coelis
Sanctificetur nomen tuum
Adveniat regnum tuum
Fiat voluntas tua
et in terra sicut in coelo
Panem nostrum quotidianum
da nobis hodie
Et dimitte nobis debita nostra
sicut et dimittemus debitoribus nostris
Et ne nos inducas in tentationem
sed libera nos a malo
The Lord's Prayer
Fader oure that art in heven
halwed be thi name;
come thi kyngdom
fulfild by thi wil
in heven as in erthe;
oure ech-day bred
yef us to day,
and foryeve us oure dettes
as we foryeveth to our detoures;
and ne led us nought in temptacion,
bote delivere us of evel.
So be it.
Ave Maria, gratia plena
Benedicta tu in mulieribus
Et benedictus fructus ventris tui.
Hail Marye, ful of grace
God is with the
of alle wymmen thou art most blessid
and blessid be the fruyt of thi wombe, Ihusus.
So mote it be.