Monday, September 12, 2011

Paternoster Beads

I just like the word "paternoster". I don't know why. I like the way it sounds. So, although I am not sure if the stranded beaded devices we made today are period-correctly referred to as "rosaries" or "paternosters" I like the word paternoster. I think technically the paternoster beads are the big beads that divide the smaller ones, but, I have heard of the whole kit and kaboodle referred to as paternosters too, so, for what it is worth, that's what we will go with until further research shows us otherwise.

So today the boys made their paternosters. No, we are not Catholic in modern life but in the 14th century, in the area we are portraying that we live, being Catholic was the Christian religion. If you were not Catholic, you were not a Christian, speaking in broad general terms. Even people on the lower class end of things had their rosaries and little children could also carry ones made of inexpensive materials.

In the SCA the area of religion is treated very cautiously. Officially, religious ceremonies are not a part of the SCA due to desire for tolerance and peace among the members, who may have diverse and clashing faiths. Respect and honor for each person is key. However, historically religious symbols are okay in some cases to use as part of your personal appearance, as long as you do not publically use them to put down or offend another person or to appear holier-than-thou. Rosaries are allowed, no matter what your modern-day faith may be, as long as you treat them with respect and reverence as being religious symbols that another may hold very dear. So, you would not wear one as a bracelet or necklace (according to an SCA handbook I read, at least, as there are historic images documenting the practice of wearing rosaries as necklaces or bracelets) or in other non-reverent ways, for instance. Historically they were worn looped over a belt or held in the hands or pinned to ones clothing with a brooch.

We made these to be worn over a belt. They were a very fun afternoon project to work on with the boys. Not only did they make something very beautiful and useful, they also practiced sorting and counting skills and pattern making skills. (10 small beads, 1 large bead, etc.)

We used wooden beads. We got a big package of them at Jo Anns for a few dollars and they came in three colors; black, brown and off white. The boys sorted them so they each got their own color and the big rectangular wooden beads were used as the paternoster beads. I made sure to pick beads that had large holes so the boys would be able to thread them onto the linen cord with ease.

Malachi began making his, but soon tired of it so I had to finish his for him.

After the beads were threaded onto the cord, we tied off the ends and attached a cross pendant at one end, and a tassel at the other. Judah wanted to use some teal colored wool yarn for his tassel. He held loop the yarn to make the tassel. I think it came out to puffy looking but he is very pleased with it, which I suppose is all that matters! David wanted to use yellow cotton embroidery floss for his tassel. Cotton is not very period correct, but when this tassel begins to look frowsy we can replace it with something more suitable.

The older two boys kept theirs in a strand, but for Malachi I tied his into a loop. For his pendant I used a metal washer and a small cross charm from an old necklace.

I think they came out very prettily indeed. There are 40 small beads on each one. The ones I am making for David and I will have 50 small beads, made of white wood, interspersed with fake red coral beads made from glass (which is a period technique for less affluent people!) We each have a much larger cross to attach to the ends of ours. I think they will be very pretty too.

Some links I found helpful:

Larsdatters - Rosaries and Paternosters
A Trio of Paternosters - Catholic Devotional Beads of the Middle Ages - (PDF file)
The Medieval Rosary (PDF file)



  1. Very nice! As a Catholic, I'm glad to hear that SCA is so respectful of religious objects, and portraying religion in general.

  2. What a great project with your boys! Not sure if this holds true in the 14th century, but today, before a rosary is officially a rosary, it must be blessed by a priest. So I wouldn't worry a bit about wearing these -- they will be a great addition to your already impressive impressions and a very nice recognition of something that was important to the people of the time!

  3. That is wonderful you had your children make these! You are correct, in the 14th century, the only Christian faith was Catholic. Up until the Reformation period. So if one was not a Catholic, one was not a Christian. And I think the next time I am in Joann's, I will look in their bead section to make some for myself :-)


  4. Thanks for your positive comments! I had wondered about the rosary having to be blessed by a priest before being a real rosary. That makes me feel a bit better, as I was afraid of the boys breaking theirs at some point. I have been telling them they are prayer beads and remind us to pray but I do not know if they have the proper respect they ought to have, as of yet. They are still so young. But, hopefully this will help them learn more about the history of Christianity in some small way and help them realize that even though we are not Catholics in 2011, we worship the same God and most of the Christian denominations now present today are offspring from the Catholic Church in one form or another. I personally do not believe in "denominations" and don't want my children to box themselves into defining themselves as one denomination or another when it comes to religious matters. We live in an area where denominations can be very defining things - Southern Baptist, Apostolic Christian, Mennonite, etc. Some of these can be very cult-like, unfortunately. :( I prefer to think of myself as a Christian rather than being part of a certain denomination and in the 14th century, that meant being Catholic!

    In a week or so we have a field trip to the Cathedral of St. Mary's, to hopefully introduce the boys a bit more into the history of Catholicism and to give them a respect and understanding of the Mother Church.

  5. Hello again Sarah Jane:

    I was one of the groups you mentioned, and know what you mean about being 'cult-like'. I am happy I found my way out and also appreciate the Mother Church, which is the Catholic Church. It is wonderful you give your boys an understanding of that and being well-rounded.


  6. Thanks Lisa!

    I too have been involved in churches that have been quite cult-like (including a Southern Baptist one). I find myself more and more drawn to aspects of Catholicism as I see more of what churches today are like. I know each denomination has their problems and the Catholic church is not perfect, but I do admire their dogmatic stands on Christian principles and their tradition, their symbolism, their reverence and respect. It's incredibly interesting to see what a huge role the Church played as history unfolded from the death of Christ onwards. What a history.

  7. I'm working on my master's in theology part-time from a Catholic seminary (the class I'm taking right now is mostly seminarians!). You have my e-mail address, so feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions. :)

  8. Looks like it was a fun project - I like the word 'paternoster' too - although - how do you say it?? You are very productive between the reenacting, sewing and kiddos! Looks like fun times!

  9. Kelly - thank you!

    Sanders, I am not *quite* sure how to say "paternoster" but based on the Latin pronunciation guide in my Latin Mass hymnal, it would be something like "Pah-ter-noe-ster". I think when we have our field trip to St. Marys I will ask the priest to say Hail Mary and Our Father for me, so I will know how to pronounce both prayers better, in Latin.

  10. Wait - just checked the guide again -
    so it seems it would be something like:


  11. Very nice! I love period accessories, especially those with meaning.

  12. Priests aren't trained in Latin anymore, although often the older ones will have had it in their schooling. I know that you can find audio files of the common prayers in Latin online.

    I started a little Latin with my children in homeschool last year. We did Prima Latina last year (2nd and 4th graders) and this year we moved up to Latina Christiana I.

  13. Very nice indeed!

    It sounds like you've read Bedes Byddyng, but if you're interested there is lots of information on my blog that didn't make it into the book. It's -- hope you enjoy it!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!