Beads of Death and memento mori

100_4972Another early #MedievalMonday post.

Given how close we are to Halloween, and after a quick cleaning of my studio, I stumbled upon some bone skull beads that were gifted to me and got hit with a bit of inspiration.

One of my favourite SCA blogs has been Paternoster Row, written by Dame Christian de Holacomb, who has really done a tremendous amount of work on paternosters in period, and had made a post about Alanus de Rupe’s Unser lieben frauen psalter, which was one of the first texts about rosaries and instructions on how to pray with them.

She’s also made posts about memento mori beads, though those particular beads appear to be much later in period than the “Beads of Death” form of the rosary.  So, while the combination of skull beads and Beads of Death form is perhaps not period, it still calls to mind the reason of memento mori, or remembering one’s mortality.

But back to Alanus.

Alanus de Rupe’s instructions, wonderfully translated by Dame Christian, are as follows.

“In the next-following figure is a paternoster that has five large stones, and after every one large stone should be ten small. The first large stone of the five is many-colored and signifies the multiplicity of your sins. The second stone is light colored, and signifies the uncertain death that is in your certain future. The third stone is red, and signifies the Last Judgement at which you must give an account of your life. The fourth stone of the five is black, and signifies hell. The fifth stone of the paternoster is gilt, and signifies the glory and joy of the saints: which glory and joy is promised to those who keep the commandment of God.”100_4982

Unfortunately (or fortunately, really), the actual form of the paternoster (whether a linear or circular paternoster) isn’t really clear.  For this particular piece, I went with a linear form, that is, all the beads are in a row, and the paternoster has two ends – it’s in a line, ergo “linear” paternoster.  I also included items that could look like pilgrim badges (and I themed them a bit, too, if you look closely).  For instance, one of those items has Adam and Eve in the Garden . . . conveniently placed near the multi-coloured bead.  A Sacred Heart is near the black bead, reminding those who might use these for devotions of the transformative power of Christ’s love.  The gilt bead (a foiled glass bead) is in the shape of a cross, a further reminder of faith.

This particular paternoster is made with bone and glass beads, with the charms made from sterling silver and pewter, and strung on silk.  I have also made a handmade tassel, also out of silk.

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