Paternosters are one-decade rosaries. They are more easily documented than rosaries, since many rosaries were destroyed during the Reformation. Beaded cords used to recite prayers have been found in many cultures and over many years. In fact, our word “bead comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “biddan” meaning “to pray” and “bede” meaning “prayer.”
It was very dangerous to be a Catholic during the Reformation. To possess a rosary or any other Catholic paraphernalia was to risk imprisonment or death. One way that Catholics chose to practice their faith in secret was to carry Paternosters instead of rosaries. They were easily portable and concealable. It was possible to use the paternoster discretely while going about daily life in public because it could fit in the palm of a hand.
Pre-Christian people valued certain stones for their talismanic or protective qualities. Among these were coral – to strengthen the heart, rock crystal – for purity, amethyst – to protect against drunkenness, and agate – for protection. Other materials that were used included amber, carnelian, and emeralds. When Christianity became popular, beads fell out of favor. God was to protect you – not the beads. But old habits die hard. When people made rosaries, the used the same stones, for the same reasons.
Paternosters are not meant to be worn, but used. Following the standard order for rosaries, the prayers go as follows: at the cross, recite the Nicene Creed. At each of the ten following beads (Aves), recite the “Hail Mary” prayer. At the final bead (the Paternoster), recite the “Our Father” prayer.
The Book of Beads – Janet Coles and Robert Budwig
The History of Beads – Lois Sherr Dubin
Sacred Origins of Profound Things – Charles Panati