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Still Stone and Moss, Black Onyx and Turquoise Rosary

Catholic Sacramental Art


Still Stone and Moss handmade rosaries and prayer beads are little works of sacramental art... distinguished by rare beads in unique combinations.


The Beads

We gather antique, vintage, handmade and unusual beads from all around the world.
We're especially drawn to hand-carved stones, hardwoods, seeds, fruit pits, bone and horn, pressed and fire-polished glass...
We mingle the new and the old.
We compose in color and form... in texture and weight and temperature... and even in sound:
Some beads chime, some click, some make a little rumble like the sound of pebbles pulled by waves along the seashore...

    Earth's crammed with Heaven
    And every common bush afire with God.

    (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from "Aurora Leigh," 1856)

The Crosses, Crucifixes, Rosary Centers and Medals

Nearly all our crosses, crucifixes, rosary centers and medals are solid bronze and sterling silver... Vintage and antique pieces, collected one by one here and there, are each cast by hand, to produce pieces that resemble the originals in every detail:  Where the originals are worn smooth by use and by time, or carry an old inscription, so it is with the pieces that are cast from them.

Handmade and Rare

Each of our sets of handmade prayer beads is by nature one-of-a-kind:  Variation is an inherent quality of things made by hand of natural materials.  It's possible, though, for us to make several similar sets of beads, if you're not in a huge rush and the beads can be found.

We celebrate "dappled things...things counter, original, spare, strange." Some of us are freckled ourselves.

    Pied Beauty

    Glory be to God for dappled things--
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
    And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

    All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.

    (Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877)

The point is not the objects.  Prayer is the object.

    Pray without ceasing.
    (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Beads and Wordless Prayer

Beads are tremendously helpful in wordless prayer, prayer that doesn't involve any language at all. Simply holding the beads somehow helps us quiet down. In that quiet we do find rest, and comfort. Staying there awhile, we may hear "a soft whispering murmur... a breeze... a still, small voice"... God's voice. (1 Kings 19: 11-12)

    Be still and know that I am God.
    (Psalm 46:10)

Beads and Repeated Prayer

In devotional practices that do call for certain prayers to be repeated a number of times, the beads help us keep count.

    "We use repetition not to secure God's attention, but to sustain our own."
    (Dom Bernard Orchard, M.A., et al., A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, [New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1954])

This sort of prayer is partly audible, and it does involve the use of a visible, tangible object; but what's at the heart of the prayer is not seen or heard.

It is primarily a prolonged, contemplative prayer ... a meditation or series of meditations ... a prayer from the heart. Our hands touch the beads, and our mouths speak the words, while our thoughts, imagination, emotion and desire are engaged in meditation on God.  (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2708.) 

The words are not the prayer. The prayer lies always beyond the words.

"The words are like the banks of a river and the prayer is like the river itself. The banks are necessary to give direction and to keep the river flowing. But it is the river with which we are concerned.
So in prayer it is the inclination of the heart to God which alone matters. The words are...the framework in which the prayer is held.
The words are not the prayer. The prayer lies always beyond the words. As the river moves into the sea, the banks drop away. So, too, as we move into the deeper sense of God's presence the words fall away and...we shall be left in silence in the ocean of God's love."

    (Robert Llewelyn, Doorway to Silence: The Contemplative Use of the Rosary [Paulist Press, 1986])

A Brief History of Prayer Beads

A handful of stones, a knotted woolen cord, a notched monastic staff, a string of beads... Since the earliest days of the Church, we have used tangible objects such as these, to help in prayer, to speak to God, to listen to God, to contemplate God. Our consciousness strays. The objects help draw our attention back to prayer. Prayer draws our attention back to God.

Beads have been so commonly used as an aid to prayer that the very word "bead" is derived from our Old English for "prayer."

The use of prayer beads is a tradition that's alive. The faithful of today, like the faithful of centuries past, continue to use -- and to treasure -- some of the most ancient forms; and we also continue to adapt and expand upon historical forms.

Here is a brief history of prayer beads, in roughly chronological order, from the Prayer Rope, through the Paternoster Psalter, to the Holy Rosary and devotional Chaplets.

The Prayer Rope

Today, Prayer Ropes are most commonly made of wool, with 33, 50 or 100 knots.
Ours are made of beads, in the same counts.

The Prayer Rope, and the awesomely beautiful Prayer of the Heart, come to us from the Desert Fathers of the 3rd -- 5th century. These monks and hermits, renowned for their holiness and wisdom, developed the practice of repeating a brief prayer -- such as Kyrie eleison ("Lord, have mercy") -- hundreds or thousands of times each day. The object of this form of repetitive prayer is that the prayer move from the lips to the heart -- to the innermost place of our being -- so that, ultimately, our every action, every breath, every heartbeat may be infused with prayer, may become prayer -- until prayer is no longer something we do, but who we are. This is the Prayer of the Heart. It's a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Saint Paul of Thebes, in the 3rd century, is said to have kept count of his prayers by moving pebbles from one bag to another. By the 4th century, the Desert Fathers were using a knotted cord, known as a Prayer Rope.

By the 5th century or early 6th century, the prayer "Lord, have mercy" was commonly expanded to "God, have mercy on me, a sinner" -- the prayer of the tax collector in Luke 18:13 -- or "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." This latter form, using the Name of our Lord Jesus, is the form we call the Jesus Prayer. These few words are an affirmation of the whole Gospel, an acknowledgement of our dependence on God, and a request for His grace, His love, His healing balm.

The use of Prayer Ropes for the Jesus Prayer and the Prayer of the Heart has been an enduring practice among Eastern rite and Orthodox Catholics, and in recent decades the practice has become more widespread among Roman Catholics. Today, many Christians use the Prayer Rope to pray the Jesus Prayer.

Prayer Ropes go by a mind boggling number of names, and we don't seem to have an agreed-upon spelling for most of those names in the English language.

They're sometimes called Byzantine Rosaries.
The Russian name is Chotki, or Tchotki.
In Serbian, they are called Broyanitasa or Brojanica.
The Romanian name is variously spelled Matanie, or Matanii.
Things really go wild when the Greek name is given an English spelling: Komboskini, Komboschini, Komboschoinion, Komboschoinia, Komvoschini, Komvoschinon, Komvoschinion, Komvoschinia, Comboschini, and Chomboschini are variations we've come across!

Still Stone and Moss handmade Prayer Ropes

     The Psalms of David

The Psalms of David have always been highly esteemed by the Church. Saint Benedict wrote that the first monks prayed all 150 Psalms every day.

The Psalms are at the heart the Liturgy of the Hours -- the prayers that have been prayed by priests, deacons, monks and nuns throughout the day, every day, from the 5th century up to this day, on behalf of the rest of us. By these prayers each day is consecrated to God.

The Paternoster Psalter

In Medieval times, those who wished to participate in this deeply respected form of devotion, but who could not read the Book of Psalms, substituted 150 repetitions of the Pater Noster (the Our Father, also called the Lord's Prayer) for the 150 Psalms.

Strings of beads were used to keep count of the Pater Noster prayers. Because a book of the Psalms is called a Psalter, these strings of beads came to be known as Paternoster Psalters, or simply Paternosters.

In the 7th century, Irish monks arranged the 150 Psalms of David into 3 groups of 50 (Na Tri Coicat form). We're guessing that this arrangement may be the origin of the 50-bead Paternoster.

    The Paternoster, The Our Father, The Lord's Prayer

This is the model prayer that Jesus taught.  See Matthew 6: 9-14, and Luke 11: 2-4.

    Our Father, who art in heaven,
    hallowed be Thy Name.
    Thy kingdom come,
    Thy will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread,
    and forgive us our trespasses,
    as we forgive those who trespass against us.
    And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.


The Psalter of Our Lady

By the 12th century, the custom of repeatedly praying the angelic salutation -- the Ave Maria or Hail Mary -- had become quite familiar.

In the same way that 150 repetitions of the Our Father became known as the Paternoster Psalter, 150 repetitions of the Hail Mary were called the Psalter of Mary or Our Lady's Psalter. 

    The Angelic Salutation, the Ave Maria, the Hail Mary

This prayer comes from the angelic salutation -- the words the Archangel Gabriel used to greet the Blessed Virgin Mary: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee" (Luke 1:28).

The second line of the prayer comes from the words Mary's cousin Elizabeth used to greet her: "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb," (Luke 1:42).

The Hail Mary today includes a closing petition, added in the 1500s by Pope Pius V.  So, the words of the Hail Mary prayer are:

    Hail Mary, full of grace,
    the Lord is with thee.
    Blessed art thou among women,
    and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,

    Holy Mary, mother of God,
    pray for us sinners,
    now, and at the hour of our death.


The Holy Rosary

The Holy Rosary took its present form between the 14th and 15th centuries. A Carthusian monk divided the 150 Ave Marias of Our Lady's Psalter into 15 groups of 10 -- or 15 "decades," with each decade preceded by the Lord's Prayer.

Pope Pius V, in 1569, recommended praying:

    "150 angelic salutations...with the Lord's Prayer (the Our Father) at each decade...while meditating on the mysteries which recall the entire life of our Lord Jesus Christ."

    (Pope Pius V, Consueverunt Romani, September 17, 1569.)
    (See papalencyclicals.net; http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0589.asp)

One-third of the 150-prayer Psalter of Mary was known as a Rosary. To pray the complete Psalter of Mary, one prayed the Rosary three times.

Still Stone and Moss handmade rosaries

    The Mysteries or Meditations

Meditating upon mysteries of Christ's life is the essence of praying the Rosary.

    "In praying the rosary with devotion, we are reliving the life of Christ."
    (Mother Theresa of Calcutta)

Praying the Rosary links the Gospel with contemplative prayer. The mysteries of the Rosary call to mind the events of Christ's life -- the Joyful mysteries recall his incarnation, the Sorrowful mysteries recall his suffering and death, the Glorious mysteries recall his resurrection.

In 2002, Pope John Paul II introduced five new meditations -- the Luminous Mysteries, or Mysteries of Light. These recall Christ's public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion. "...It is during the years of his public ministry that the ministry of Christ is most evidently a mystery of light: 'While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.' (John 9:5)." (Pope John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, October 2002)

    "I am the Light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in the darkness but will have the Light of life."
    (John 8:12)

The Word "Rosary"

The word "rosary" is derived from the Latin word meaning "rose garden."

According to legend, once robbers spied a young monk passing along a road. They had intended to set upon him, but drew back when they saw that as the monk walked, he was praying the Psalter of Our Lady, and that as he prayed each Ave Maria, from his lips fell a rose. So intent was the monk upon his prayer that he did not notice the roses -- nor did he notice that Our Lady herself was collecting the roses and twining them into a garland for her head. But the robbers saw it all and, having seen it, they repented of their lives of crime...

The lovely concept of the Rosary as "the garland of Our Lady" may have originally come from this legend. 


    "...Down the long street she passed, with her chaplet of beads and her missal..."
    (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Evangeline: A Tale of Arcadie," 1807-1882)

The word "chaplet" refers to a set of prayers, and also to the set of beads we may use to help pray those prayers. The Holy Rosary is sometimes called a chaplet -- and chaplets are sometimes called rosaries.

The word comes from the Old French and Medieval Latin words that mean a garland or wreath worn on the head.

   "She will give to thy head a chaplet of grace, a crown of beauty will she deliver to thee."
    (Proverbs 4:9)

Chaplets may be circlets of beads, or in a linear form. They may carry a crucifix, cross, or a sacred symbol, or they may have a Holy Medal with the image of the Blessed Mother or one of the saints. Some have a ring at one end, as in the case of the Irish Penal Chaplets.

Still Stone and Moss handmade chaplets

Ten-Bead Chaplets

One of the most popular chaplets, ten-bead chaplets are easy to carry and easy to pray. It's quite an old form -- we have artwork dating from the 1500s depicting people using ten-bead chaplets. 

They're known as "single-decade rosaries," "pocket-rosaries," "walking rosaries," "decimas," and by the pleasingly quaint name, "tenners." They're frequently made in the form of rosary bracelets. 

They may, or may not, have an additional bead -- a Pater bead.  Typically, they include a Holy Medal, a Cross, or a Crucifix, although one traditional form ends in a tassel.  The beloved Irish Penal Rosaries are ten-bead chaplets that include both a crucifix and a ring.

    Irish Penal Chaplets

In Ireland, in the 1700s, a code of laws known as the "Penal Laws" forbade the carrying of rosaries. Irish Catholics developed a version of the rosary that was easier to conceal, comprised of a single decade of Ave beads, with a crucifix at one end and a ring at the other.

This little chaplet came to be known as the "Irish Penal Rosary." Though small, it could be used to keep count of the prayers of a full five-decade rosary, by looping the ring over a thumb and praying the first decade, then moving the ring to each finger in turn, praying one decade at each position.

The Irish Penal Chaplet is called, in Gaelic, "An Paidrin Beag," which means "The Little Rosary."

Nine-Bead Chaplets

Nine-bead chaplets, sometimes called "novena chaplets," or "niners," are another very popular form of chaplet.  They're usually made in three groups of three beads -- a reminder of the Holy Trinity.

Traditionally, on each set of three beads, one prays the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. If the chaplet includes a crucifix, one prays the Apostles' Creed.

21 Bead Chaplets

The Peace Chaplet may be the chaplet in widest use today.  It's easy to see the wide appeal of a chaplet dedicated to prayers for peace -- peace among nations, within communities, in families, in the heart... 

The 21 beads of the chaplet are arranged in 7 sets of 3.  The traditional prayers are the Creed, followed by seven times the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be.  The words of the prayers may be varied, of course -- the point is prayer.  In ecumenical settings, for example, we may pray the Angelic Salutation.

The Peace Chaplet is believed to have originated around 100 years ago in Croatia, where it has certainly been prayed for generations.  Peace Chaplets are also known as Medugorje Rosaries, and Workers' Rosaries.

A Myriad of Chaplets

There are hundreds of chaplets in the Catholic tradition -- innumerable configurations of beads. All are intended to deepen our devotions.

If you'd like to know more about chaplets -- the prayers or the beads -- there are many good books and websites on the subject. Several excellent books and links can be found on our Resources page.

Something Intriguing

Finally, we've noticed an odd thing:  Chaplets seem to have a way of calling people.

That someone who intends to pray a chaplet might want a set of beads is understandable.  What surprised us at first -- and what we still don't understand -- is that many people who don't have any plan to pray a chaplet find themselves drawn in by a particular set of beads. There may be twenty or thirty different chaplets in front of them, but they pick up that one chaplet, and hold it in their hands, and say, "This one -- this one just feels good to me. This one's for me."


Turn aside now, and see.


   "... And Moses said, 'I will turn aside now and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.' "
(Exodus 3:3)

The whole world is a sacrament, a sacred thing, a gift.

   (Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics)



© Copyright 2007-19, M. Laura Eckert, Still Stone and Moss, Prayer Bead Art: Handmade Rosaries, Prayer Ropes, Chaplets, and Rosary Bracelets.