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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.

What is a paternoster?
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 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.

Stringing materials
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
The most popular bead materials were red coral, amber, bone, boxwood and crystal.

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 Our Father beads or gauds dividing groups of ten beads were often larger than the others on the strand.

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.

Paternosters 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

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 a linear rosary, which is unusual for a woman.

The string of beads is unlooped 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.

The Pater Noster or Lord's Prayer
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.

It is particularly interesting to note that in the Lord's Prayer, the supplicant prays to be forgiven for their debts and to forgive those that debt against us, rather than their tresspasses, which was changed as the prayer books were standardised.

Pater Noster
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.

The Ave Maria, or Hail Mary.
The litany of the Ave Maria remains one of the standard confessional sentances to this day.

Ave Maria
Ave Maria, gratia plena
Dominus tecum
Benedicta tu in mulieribus
Et benedictus fructus ventris tui.

Hail Mary
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.

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