Stories of the Rose: The Making of the Rosary in the Middle Ages
Anne Winston-Allen
University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997
   Both the Bollandist scholar, Thomas Esser, and, later at the turn of the last century, Herbert Thurston concluded that the four-hundred-year tradition attributing the rosary to St. Dominic was a case of mistaken identity (although Dominicans from the fifteenth century were its chief promoters). Since these works appeared, there has been much research on the origins and the evolution of this prayer. From about the eleventh century, the recitation of 150 prayers (Pater Noster or Ave Maria) was considered a way of participating in the monastic office. From the eleventh to the fourteenth century, many "rosary-like" prayers appeared - psalm refrains or rhymed verses interspersed with the words of the Ave Maria. 

 Anne Winston-Allen's study investigates the developments which occurred from 1420 to 1520 in Germany. Here, in Cistercian circles, a "life-of-Christ" rosary developed, attributed to Dominic of Prussia, with fifty short phrases (clausulae) added to the Ave Maria. As an aid to meditation, these fifty scenes from Christ's life soon appeared on woodcuts. The Ulm Picture Rosary, containing these woodcuts, was among the earliest devotional works printed. Because, in popular recitation, it was difficult to retain the fifty points, the fifteen mysteries developed. Perhaps the most original part of Winston-Allen's work is to locate the origins of the mysteries in the statutes of the rosary confraternities. 

In the 1470s, rosary confraternities or sodalities flourished in Cologne, Douai, Venice. The rosary fraternities attracted thousands of members, as they fulfilled the desire for greater religious participation. Winston-Allen's work refers frequently to current literature on late medieval piety and devotion-a topic related to many Reformation issues. Ironically, the many indulgences granted to the rosary and the fraternities soon over-shadowed and transformed a simple and basically contemplative prayer into a structured and unchangeable form. The author concludes that the rosary's development was not unlike a "tissue of quotations drawn from innumerable centers of culture" (Roland Barthes). It was a form of prayer which developed over several centuries drawing from many sources. 

--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.

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