Origins of the Rosary

To pray the Rosary is more important than knowing its history. Still, knowing the origins of the Rosary can teach us a lot about this magnificent prayer.

The beginnings of this prayer go back to early Christian practice of reciting 150 psalms from the Bible, eather daily, or weekly, as a way of praying. Those who could not recite the psalms started praying 150 prayers, usually Our Fathers, often using small beads that enabled them to count the prayers.

Until the Middle Ages the custom of praying Our Father beads became habitual in many countries of Europe. The Rosary is a kind of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It consists of meditating and praying the prayers concentrated to the life of Christ, from His birth to His ressurection, and Virgin Mary. These meditations are also called mysteries, and they are devided in three seriouses: Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious. The prayers of the Rosary are counted by a string of beads. We may find rosary beads made as a rose garland, in which the colour of the flowers: white, red or golden, help us recognize the serious of the mysteries.

The core of this devotion consists of continuous praying of five seriouses of one Our Father and ten Hail Maries (or of 15 such seriouses). The prayers are counted by the rosary beads, e.g. by the systematic lining of a big beads (for Our Fathers) and smaller ones (for Hail Maries), that are lined up on a string or a metal chain. In principle the old way of praying by heart of a serious of prayers, the Rosary compensated in the medieval convents of the east and the west daily read texts, which were read by every literate monk or priest. So, the number of 150 Hail Maries symbolicly corresponds to the number of 150 psalms from the Psalterium.

The system of praying of the Rosary developed through the centuries. In the bull od 1479, pope Sixtus IV. mentions praying of a Our Father prayer after each set of ten Hail Maries, but still he does not mention mysteries of the Rosary, neither the Creed, nor Glory Be. Meditating the mysteries of the Rosary (during praying of each set of ten Hail Maries) begins separately at the beginning of the 15th century, and is introduced into general practice at the beginning of the 16th century. Mysteries are devided into three groups:

1. JOYFUL MYSTERIES: 1 Annunciation, 2 Visitation, 3 Nativity, 4 Presentation at the Temple, 5 Finding in the Temple.

2. SORROWFUL MYSTERIES: 1 Agony of Jesus in the Garden, 2 Scourging of Jesus at Pillar, 3 Crowning with Thorns, 4 Carrying the Cross, 5 Crucifixion.

3. GLORIOUS MYSTERIES: 1 Resurrection of Jesus, 2 Ascension of Jesus, 3 Descent of Holy Spirit, 4 Assumption of the Virgin Mary, 5 Coronation of Blessed Virgin Mary.

The name Rosary (Lat. rosarium) was made in the Middle Ages by the association to the form of fashionable, occasional garland made of roses lined up on a string worn by young people during gallant gothic centuries around their heads. That's why in the Middle Age iconography from the end of the 15th century, the Rosary is usually presented by a garland of 50 white roses (Hail Maries), in which there are interpolated bigger red roses (Our Fathers), or by medallions showing five wounds of Jesus, or a representation of the Rosary.

The first presentations of Our Lady of the Rosary go back to the end of the 15th century. They usually represent the figure of Our Lady with a Child in Her arms, who stands on a half-moon and from whom shine golden rays (apocalyptic vision of a woman dressed in sun, Ap 12, 1) and who is surrounded by a rose garland crown.

In the 16th century a new iconography represents Our Lady, often sitting, giving away (by herself, or the Baby does it) the Rosary to St. Dominic, who is on his knees, or to other saints of the Dominican order, or even to the believers, and the background of Her figure is covered by the medallions which show the mysteries of the Rosary.

According to the tradition followed and spread by the Order of Preachers, devotion of the Holy Rosary was started by the founder of the Order, St. Dominic, in the 13th century, in the times of the battles against the Albigensian heretics. Starting from the 17th century, the Holy Rosary has been in the hands of the Dominicans. They set the guidelines for it, and accordingly, they influence the iconography of the theme.

Even today when praying the Rosary, we pray Our Father prayer before each set of ten Hail Maries, and meditating the mysteries of Jesus' life and ressurection remain the basis of this prayer.

Veritas, 29th November 2010