Sunday 7 July 2013

A Medieval Paternoster

I’ve been needing things for little B to play with at events (I’ll bring some of his books and such as well, but I’d like to avoid them being seen by visitors during opening hours), and when the Historical Sew Fortnightly had an Eastern Influence challenge I decided to make a paternoster. 

A paternoster is not a toy, obviously, but a means of counting your prayers. From what little I’ve read about it, they was first used (by Christians – in Hinduism it’s been around longer) by desert dwelling hermits, called the Desert Fathers/Mothers in the 4th century or so. First it was only loose pebbles in a bag, but it soon evolved into beads on a string. I’m not Catholic, so I don’t use one when praying, but I very well might have had I lived in the Middle Ages. For me to have one therefore makes perfect sense. Even though it’s not meant as a toy, I think B might like to play with it nonetheless, under proper supervision. We don’t want a case of suffocation by prayer beads…

I bought a necklace made from wood beads in a charity shop, and as there were three sizes of beads, it would supply both the smaller Ave Maria beads and the larger Pater Noster beads.

I made the string from a three strand finger loop braid in wool. I put a tassel in each end – I chose not to tie the string up into a circlet, as they seem to have been less common during my period. 

The number of beads in paternosters seems to have varied greatly, from one decade (ten beads) up to hundreds. Mine have twenty of the smaller beads, and two of the greater. 

I’d have preferred a brighter colour on the yarn, and silk instead of wool, but this was the only yarn both thin and strong enough I had at home. Now, I’m rather partial to it.

The Challenge: # 14 Eastern Influence

Thin, two ply wool.


Generic late medieval.

Notions: Wooden beads.

How historically accurate is it?
Acceptable. Prayer beads, according to the internet, could be made in anything from stone, wood and dried seeds, to gold, precious stones and ivory. Silk for the string might have been more fashionable and durable, but wool was more affordable – and I had it at home.

Hours to complete:
One at the most.

First worn:
For the picture.

Total cost:
Just counting the necklace, 10 SEK ($1,5; £1; €1,1).

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