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Collections Spotlight – Rosary Beads

Every week we shine a light on a different object from our collections that you may not have seen before.  This week we have a selection of rosary beads from Galway donated to the Museum in 2016.  The use of beads to count prayers has been around for centuries and is common to different religions. The rosary beads pictured, date to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and are made from  silver and/or fruit stones, wood and mother of pearl.  Most people would have had rosaries made of wood, bone, horn or fruit stone.  Galway rosaries seemed to be distinctive by the use of a tubular cross with tassels. Rosary beads such as these were often passed down through generations of families, while others would have been buried with their owners once they passed away. 

The Catholic Church’s full Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, consists of fifteen decades counted on beads which are arranged in decades each consisting of a large bead and ten smaller ones, to denote a Paternoster, or the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ and ten Aves or ‘Hail Marys’. For each decade a subject or mystery in the life of Jesus Christ and Mary is set for meditation – the mysteries comprise of ‘joyful’, ‘sorrowful’ and ‘glorious’.  Five decades only needed be said in any one day, so the regular size rosary, consists of fifty small beads divided into decades by five larger beads.  All rosary beads end/start with the depiction of the cross and the crucified Christ.

Visit Collections to browse more objects.


McGuire, Edward, A. 1954 Old Irish Rosaries, The Furrow.



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