Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Mystery of the Rosary

The Mystery of the Rosary: Marian Devotion and the Reinvention of Catholicism

Nathan D. Mitchell
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 338
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Mystery of the Rosary
    Book Description:

    Ever since its appearance in Europe five centuries ago, the rosary has been a widespread, highly visible devotion among Roman Catholics. Its popularity has persisted despite centuries of often seismic social upheaval, cultural change, and institutional reform. In form, the rosary consists of a ritually repeated sequence of prayers accompanied by meditations on episodes in the lives of Christ and Mary. As a devotional object of round beads strung on cord or wire, the rosary has changed very little since its introduction centuries ago. Today, the rosary can be found on virtually every continent, and in the hands of hard-line traditionalists as well as progressive Catholics. It is beloved by popes, professors, protesters, commuters on their way to work, children learning their first prayers, and homeless persons seeking shelter and safety.Why has this particular devotional object been so ubiquitous and resilient, especially in the face of Catholicism's reinvention in the Early Modern, or Counter-Reformation, Era? Nathan D. Mitchell argues in lyric prose that to understand the rosary's adaptability, it is essential to consider the changes Catholicism itself began to experience in the aftermath of the Reformation.Unlike many other scholars of this period, Mitchell argues that after the Reformation Catholicism actually became more innovative and diversified rather than retrenched and monolithic. This innovation was especially evident in the sometimes subversive; visual representations of sacred subjects, such as in the paintings of Caravaggio, and in new ways of perceiving the relation between Catholic devotion and the liturgy's ritual symbols. The rosary was thus involved not only in how Catholics gave flesh to their faith, but in new ways of constructing their personal and collective identity. Ultimately, Mitchell employs the history of the rosary, and the concomitant devotion to the Virgin Mary with which it is associated, as a lens through which to better understand early modern Catholic history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6449-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    Since its appearance in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the rosary of the Virgin Mary has remained such a familiar practice among Catholics in the Latin West that its popularity has not been eclipsed even during periods of seismic social upheaval, cultural change, and institutional reform. Through successive historical epochs—from the late Middle Ages, to early modernity, to the “reflexive” modernity of our own times—the rosary, a ritually repeated sequence of prayers accompanied by meditations on episodes in the lives of Christ and Mary, has varied little in form (round beads strung on cord or wire), structure, or...

  5. 1 Reframing Reform
    (pp. 5-46)

    On a late winter day in 1615, the young Jesuit priest John Ogilvie was led to his execution in Glasgow as the sun dropped toward the horizon. Present at the proceedings was John Eckersdorff, a Hungarian Calvinist who left a vivid account of what happened as Ogilvie was about to be hanged: “Just before he went up the ladder, he flung his rosary from the scaffold as a last souvenir for the Catholics who were near him. This rosary, flung at random, hit me in the chest, so that I had but to put out my hand to take it....

  6. 2 Reframing Representation
    (pp. 47-76)

    The piazza in front of the Church of Saint Dominic in Bologna has been a public gathering place since medieval times. Paved with pebbles, it served as the spot where the townspeople could stroll, shop, listen to outdoor sermons, gather to gossip, or bury their dead. Inside the church lies the body of Dominic Guzman, founder of the Order of Preachers (“Dominicans”), who died there on August 6, 1221. Also inside is a spectacular Cappella del Rosario, featuring a historic organ on which young Mozart played in 1769, and festooned with art by some of the leading painters and sculptors...

  7. 3 Reframing Ritual
    (pp. 77-113)

    Anqasa Berhan(Gate of Light), an ancient hymn still used by Ethiopian Christians in public liturgy and private devotion, begins with a series of ecstatic salutations that acclaim “our Lady and God-bearer”:

    Holy and happy, glorious and blessed, honoured and exalted, Gate of Light, Ladder of Life and Dwelling-place of the Godhead, Holy of Holies are you, O our Lady and God-bearer, Mary Virgin.

    You are named the Good-pleasure of the Father, the Dwelling-place of the Son and the Shade of the Holy Spirit. O blessed above every creature, you replaced the heights of heaven, for you were the heights...

  8. 4 Reframing Religious Identity
    (pp. 114-151)

    Rome is a city built on hills, each of which has a unique relation to Roman history—from its position as a Western “center of empire” in late antiquity to its role as “capital of Christendom” in the Middle Ages. The Aventine Hill—today a rather prosperous, upscale area—boasts one of Rome’s most notable churches, Santa Sabina, a basilica built in the early fifth century shortly after the tenure of Pope Innocent I (d. 417). Its alabaster windows and carved wooden doors (featuring one of our earliest surviving depictions of Christ’s crucifixion) are matched, inside, with an monumental fresco...

  9. 5 Reframing the Rosary
    (pp. 152-192)

    In a letter written to his brother in 1591, the Florentine painter Giovanni Battista Paggi (1554–1627) commented that “the hand is the instrument of the intellect, and without intellect, nothing good can be created.”¹ By connecting hand and intellect, Paggi was pointing to the physical roots of human knowledge, a position that would probably have pleased Aristotle, who had argued that hand is to the body what intellect is to the soul.² The human hand—with its opposable thumb—is not only a marvel of creation and evolutionary engineering but also a rich source of metaphors. What is the...

  10. 6 Reading the Beads
    (pp. 193-236)

    Visitors to the northern Indiana campus of the University of Notre Dame usually arrive well equipped with cameras or camcorders. They can often be seen prowling around the perimeter of Notre Dame Stadium (popularly known as “the house that Rockne built,” after the legendary football coach), seeking out the best angle for a photo. Others congregate on the south side of the Theodore M. Hesburgh Library near the rectangular reflecting pool to check out “Touchdown Jesus,” part of a larger-than-life mosaic that (despite the moniker) actually celebrates Christ’s connection with ancient Israel’s prophets, priests, and kings. Still others stalk off...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 237-242)

    This short petition—dating back to perhaps the third century—is one of the most ancient prayers to the Virgin Mary that we possess.¹ Found in many languages—Greek, Latin, Coptic, Old Slavonic—it came be used in both Eastern and Western Christian liturgies.² It is not a prayer that recounts the past but one that seeks immediate assistance in the present and looks forward to delivery “from all dangers,always.” The compact but intense language of this prayer (usually cited by its Latin title,Sub tuum praesidium, literally “under your protection”) recalls a comment Eithne Wilkins makes toward the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 243-312)
  13. Index
    (pp. 313-324)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 325-325)