Brought from County Clare, Ireland, this rosary has triquetra Celtic knots on each point of the cross, and the crucifixion of Christ in the middle of the Celtic Cross. Brought from Ireland to Ellis Island by Victoria’s grandmother in the 1920’s, this rosary has been handed down from generation to generation since the late 19th century/ early 20th century. Five wooden beads above the cross lead to a small image of both Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary back to back of one another, and then the rest of the wooden beads for the mysteries- Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous. Relocating from Ireland to America, this rosary did not lose the religious meaning of Irish Catholicism teachings and beliefs.
The rosary beads are represented in different ways. Although the item we picked are used in prayer, and thus have little secular meaning, other variations of the rosary have been secularized, or made available for children. There are rosary teaching toys for children, it is depicted in music videos, and can be found on t-shirts. This is an indication of the commercialization of the object. The specific rosary beads we have used however, are very traditional in nature, so the research conducted has to do with the theological and historical aspects of the rosary, and not an analysis of the more secular, commercialized variations.
Rosary beads are used for the Rosary Prayer, which is an intuitive process where each piece of the item has a different meaning. Generally, the beads are made up of wood, but can also be metal or plastic. There is a crucifix in the middle and sets of beads separated off by a larger bead. “Each bead represents a different prayer that is done, the first step involves the crucifix, where one makes the sign of the cross and prays the Apostles’ Creed. The bead directly above the crucifix is used for the Our Father prayer, with the three beads following it being Hail Marys. After the last Hail Mary, before the next bead is reached, one must do the Glory Be prayer, and then a prayer, depending on the day of the week, is conducted once that bead is reached. One then is expected to pray ten Hail Marys and before reaching the next bead to pray Glory Be and the Decade prayer. Afterward, one announces the second mystery, which is the prayer depending on the day one is conducting the ceremony and repeat the two prior steps. The three remaining decades must be completed, and then one does the Hail Holy Queen prayer and Let Us Pray prayer, and the rosary ceremony is over. (Finley, 6)”
Each mystery has a set day of the week to pray. For instance, the Joyful mysteries is prayed on Monday and Saturday. The Sorrowful mysteries is prayed on Tuesday and Friday. The Glorious mysteries is prayed on Wednesday and Sunday. Lastly, the Luminous mysteries is prayed on Thursday.
The Rosary Prayer, also known as the “Dominican Rosary” is a Catholic tradition that goes back to the 1500’s. “Saint Dominic was in a church in Prouille, France, where he was blessed by an apparition of the Mary. As with tradition Marian apparitions, she is said to give Saint Dominic the first rosary, and this is where the item is said to come into Catholic tradition. (Burke, 67)”
The apparition, as with all of them that appear in miracles, was given a specific title, “The Lady of the Rosary”. Her day was canonized with a feast that is held on October 7th by Pope Pius V in the mid 1500’s. The structure of the item is relatively the same as it has been since then, but it has grown in importance, as many at the helm of the Holy See have suggested that the rosary perfectly encapsulates the Catholic tradition. In 2002, Pope John Paul II stated, “The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation. Developed in the West, it is a typically meditative prayer, corresponding in some way to the “prayer of the heart” or “Jesus prayer” which took root in the soil of the Christian East. (Burke 91)”
In an American context, it is likely the rosary first entered the New World alongside Catholic migrants. While there were Catholics who lived in other provinces in the English colonies, the Catholic church did not have a strong foothold in the Americas until the founding of the province of Maryland in 1632. Founded as a Catholic colony, it was a place where this generally suppressed minority could worship freely. As Catholicism spread throughout the country (after an arduous history of oppression from a largely Protestant majority), the rosary prayer likely saw more use in the nation. In terms of Catholicism spreading across the nation, the rosary had the purpose of making Catholicism unique, since “Objects function both to shape and to reflect religious beliefs and values” ( McDannell, 66), and because of the different days of the week to pray a mystery.
Overall, the Rosary is a treasured tradition within the Catholic faith, emboldening and inspiring millions of people around the world. Since the 1500’s the rosary has developed and become uniquely attuned to the challenges the Catholic faithful have today, and serves as a uniting force amongst the inner Catholic community.
By Victoria Pettit, Travis Dean, and Matthew Busanic
Special Thanks to Art Pekun for his advice/help with making the 3d scan/print possible.
Burke, Dan. The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Irondale, Alabama: EWTN Publishing, 2017.
Finley, Mitch. The Rosary Handbook: A Guide for Newcomers, Old-timers, and Those in between. Frederick, MD: Word Among Us Press, 2017.
An Old Subscriber. “On the Rosary.” The Catholic Layman 6, no. 61 (1857): 9-10.
McDannell, Colleen. Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America. Yale University Press, 1995.
Mitchell, Nathan D. “Reframing the Rosary.” In The Mystery of the Rosary: Marian Devotion and the Reinvention of Catholicism, 152-92. New York; London: NYU Press, 2009.