A Rosary



Rosary, ivory, silver and partially gilded mounts. 

Carved in Germany, c.1500-1525.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY from whose website all photos.





Whence the ivory came is not noted by the museum even if it is known that the trade into Europe of ivory from Africa and Asia predated the making of this exquisite rosary by at least one thousand years.


No information about the the technique(s) used to make the silver mounts and rings.


Each bead shows a well-clothed, well-fed man or woman on one side; and on the other, the skeletal head of a dead person, primarily male.


The eight beads vary slightly in length but are each approximately two and a half inches long. 


There are Latin inscriptions on two beads: on one:  think of death; on a second, backwards: you will be of prayer itself.




































































The dying do not die here in North America.  They ‘pass.’


The (North American) civilization has become death-phobic;


so death-phobic that nobody is surprised at press reports of people who, ill and hospitalized of the consequences of Covid-19, deny that the virus exists;


and the Canadian wiseman,  Stephen Jenkinson (Orphan Wisdom) has a larger and larger following.

He headed the hospice program of a major Canadian hospital.


Now he talks to people wanting to accommodate the inevitability of death in their thinking: a practice absent in the lives of his many patients to their prolonged suffering and that of their families.





Rosary, ivory, silver and partially gilded mounts. 

Carved in Germany, c.1500-1525.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY from whose website all photos.







6 thoughts on “A Rosary

  1. Exquisite, haunting and timely. Thank you, Sarah for posting this discovery.

  2. WOW! That is amazing! I wonder why two of the heads are half skeleton and half fleshed out. That must mean something but I don’t know what.

    1. The Museum says that all the skeletal figures are men. I found this so strange – because, after all, half the beads are women – that I did not say this myself. I don’t know why the reverse of the female figures should not be female skeletal figures: but they aren’t. I am wondering if there was some taboo at the time against depicting women in skeletal form. But I agree with you that there is something odd about the male indications on some of the skeletal forms.

  3. I had to have another look. One of the half skeleton half fleshed out heads is looking up and the other is looking down. They look like they could be dead already or in a trance or something. Do you think that represents going to hell or heaven? The other heads are looking out.

    1. The skeletal heads definitely represent the state that the well-fed crowd are going to end up being: dead. Given that this is kind of rosary is a Christian artefact meant as a warning to pay attention to how you live, I don’t think it possible to know what the actual fate of the skeletal figures will be when they are dead. The one looking up could just be remorseful that he did not do the things to allow him to be in heaven!

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