Some people believe Saint Dominic to be the initiator and promoter of the
rosary, and that he had
received the rosary from Our Lady. In fact, it was Dominic of Prussia and Alanus de Rupe who
were the actual pioneers of the rosary prayer. This happened in the
Dominic the Carthusian (St. Alban, near Treves, about 1410) promoted a
rosary of fifty Hail Marys
and 50 Vita Christi clauses. The clauses were references to the
of Christ (e.g., the conception
by the Holy Spirit) added to the Aves.
Alain of Roche (or Alanus de Rupe, second half of the
fifteenth century, Dominican,
established a brotherhood of the rosary (Confraternity of the Psalter of the
Glorious Virgin Mary,
around 1470) which was instrumental in disseminating the rosary throughout
Europe. Jacob Sprenger founded around 1475 an even more famous one in Cologne. Alain's
rosary consisted of
150 Aves reflecting the Psalter, and was subdivided in three groups of fifty
each, following the three
fundamental mysteries of Christ's Incarnation (Joyful mysteries), Passion
and Resurrection (Glorious mysteries). Alain rejected Dominic's shortened
version of the rosary
(50 Aves), and likewise, rejected the name "rosary." His name for the rosary
prayer was the "New
Psalter of the Virgin," highlighting thus that the rosary had 150 Aves, not
only fifty, just as the
Psalter numbers 150 Psalms and not fifty. His opposition to the name "rosary"
stems from the
"vain and worldly" origins of "rosarium," "corona," or "sertum."
The "rosarium" or rosary indeed
has pre-Christian origins. Ancient Rome
"rosalia," a spring festival commemorating the dead. In Greek tradition, the
rose was Aphrodite's
flower. It reminded one of the blood of the gods. Venus,
Aphrodite's Roman counterpart and
love, is frequently pictured with a wreath of red and white roses, or holds a
rose in her hand. Similarly, from ancient times to the middle ages, the ideal place for
romantic encounters were
"rose-gardens," that is, gardens protected by a rose hedge. The expression
"rose-garden" has a
wide variety of meanings, from libertine to more edifying usage. It is,
together with "rosenkrantz" (wreath of roses), best known for its role in literature of profane romance
(see, e.g., Roman de Ια
Rose, early, thirteenth century).
It is well-known, however, that the symbolism of the rose has a long history
in Christian tradition. The rose was frequently applied to Mary, sometimes to Jesus himself. This is
true for patristic
texts, (e.g., Ambrose, Sedulius), Latin hymns, and sequences (De gaudiis B.
century). Mary is "God's rose-garden" in Latin hymns, whereas Dante
her as the "Rose in
which the word of God became flesh" (Paradiso, 23:73-74). It is in the
context of this literature
using the symbolism of the rose that we have to search for the origin of the
word "rosary," in
Latin, rosarium. The evolution and usage of the word happened in stages.
- "Weaving a chaplet for the Virgin Mary" (Gregory Nazianzus, 4 c.). The
word chaplet has the meaning of wreath (corona) (Esser.)
- " A chain of fifty Aves" (early l3 c.) Beguines of Ghent prayed three such chains daily. The terms
used are "corona" or "sertum."
"Aves seen as Roses" (late l3 c. legend
in Latin, Catalan and German
to the legend, the Hail Marys recited by a monk became roses and or a rose
garland in the
hands of Mary (see text in annexe below!) The early Latin versions of this legend
(crown) and "sertum" (wreath) for garland.
- In German versions of the same legend from l2/l3 c., the rose
garland of "Aves
seen as Roses" is named "Rosenkranze," and subsequently was retranslated
into Latin as
rosanum, our rosary.
- Up until that time, the term rosarium was used
in the sense
of florilegium, a
bouquet of flowers designating a collection of anecdotes, texts, or prayers.
- Now rosarium or rosary is used to characterize spiritual gifts offered to
the Virgin. Little by little, the expression "psalterium" merges with rosarium. In Engelbrest of
Admont's (1279-1331) Psalterium B. V. Mariae, each of the 150 advocations
with Ave, rosa. (Deves, Blume).
- We previously mentioned the controversy between Alanus and Dominic over
words rosary or psalter. Some authors in subsequent centuries used both
expressions (Adam Walasses, 1571). Latin languages gave preference to
"capelleto." The papal bull of 1478 used the term "rosario." Jacob Sprenger's
German rosary manual of 1476 also used the word rosary.
It is the attractiveness of the rose symbolism that tipped the balance. Part
of this attractiveness
lies in the ability to combine and associate profane and spiritual meanings. In particular, it was
the assimilation of the Ave Maria (Hail Mary) to the Rose (Aves as Roses),
and the 150 roses to
the rose garland that made the term rosary very popular. The Ave Mary is a
rose. It is made up of
five sentences, and so has five petals that represent, according to Our Lady
Mary's Rose Garden,
the letters MARIA (64-65; 190-191).
Annexe: The legend of the Aves that became Roses
A good, simple, secular man had the custom of making every day a chaplet of
roses, or flowers, or
rue, or of whatever he could, according to the season, and placing it on the
head of an image of Our
Lady. This he did with great enjoyment and pious devotion. The Virgin saw
the good intention
of his heart and, wanting to help him further it, gave him the desire to
take up the religious life. And so he became a lay brother in a cloister. But in the cloister he was
given so many tasks to
perform that he no longer had time to make Mary her chaplet as he was
accustomed to doing. Because of that, he became dissatisfied and was about to leave the order and
go back into the
world, when an older priest became aware of his distress. The priest wisely
advised him that he
should recite each day fifty Ave Marias in place of the chaplet and
convinced him that Queen
Mary would prefer that to all the rose chaplets that he had ever made. The
lay brother followed
the advice and continued in it for some time.
The one day, he was sent on an errand that required him to ride through a
forest which harbored
thieves. In the forest he tied his horse to a tree, knelt and down, and was
reciting his fifty Ave Marias when thieves saw him and decided to rob him and steal his horse. But
as they approached
him, they saw from a distance a wonderfully beautiful maiden standing by
him, who, every little
while, took from his mouth a beautiful rose and added it to a chaplet she
was making. When the
rose chaplet was complete, she placed it on her head and flew off to heaven.
The robbers were
thoroughly amazed and ran to the brother asking him who the beautiful maiden
was that they had
seen beside him. The lay brother replied: "I did not have any maiden with
me. I have only been
reciting fifty Ave Marias as a chaplet for Queen Mary, as I was instructed. And that is all I know."
When the robbers told him what they had seen, the lay brother, and the
robbers, too, realized that
it was the most revered Mother of God who, in person, had accepted the rose
chaplet that we are
accustomed to send to her daily through our angel.
Then the brother rejoiced from the depths of his heart, and, from that day
forward, made a spiritual
rose chaplet of fifty Ave Marias for Queen Mary daily and instructed other
good people in the
practice. In this manner, the rosary was created and made known to us. And
one may believe that
the robbers bettered their lives as a result, because God's grace had
permitted them to behold the
Mother of Mercy .
(Dominic of Prussia,
Wie der Rosenkrantze ist funden, in:
Stories of the Rose,