Earlier this morning, I found myself reading a couple of posts on social media about “the story behind your Rosary” and the memories particular sets of beads may hold for the owner. There were also some posts about that well-known Catholic habit of ‘collecting Rosaries’, which I’m sure many of us can identify with and may even have some experience of.
Anyway, this reminded me of my having made Rosaries in days gone by, and what had led me to do so.
A very good friend of mine, Gayle Murphy, lived in Hopedale, Massachusetts, in the United States of America. She is now gone and I miss her terribly, although I remember her with the greatest affection for several different reasons. Many years ago, she and I used to talk a lot online and I am only regretful that we never had the opportunity to meet in this life – I had never been to America at that point.We had a conversation once where we spoke about a very old book my Aunt Margaret had given me, called ‘The Reign Of Jesus Through Mary’. This little book – which I had lost some years before – had a profound impact on my spirituality and upon the subsequent development of my spiritual life. And so it was with some surprise that later on, a little package arrived quite unexpectedly and I recognised the handwritten label as coming from Gayle. She had managed to track down a copy of the book in a little religious bookshop in Framingham, Massachusetts, and she had very kindly inscribed the book and then sent it to me. I can’t tell you how touched I was. Even now, twenty five years later, that little book is sitting here on my desk just beside me and I treasure it enormously.
Gayle made the most exquisite handmade Rosaries I have ever seen. Her inspiration was a Waterford crystal Rosary given to her by her mother in law on her wedding day. A lovely set of beads, Gayle was struck by how well made it was – she commented that “this Rosary will never break”, unlike many of the other beads she had bought over the years. She determined that she would make similar heirloom Rosaries of really good quality. Gayle created the ‘wire-wrapping’ technique, which made her Rosaries unbreakable and able to remain sturdy through a lifetime of use. Since then, many others have copied her technique – but she was the first.
To begin with, Gayle gave these away as gifts and they were truly prized by all who were fortunate to receive one. Eventually, she opened an online store to sell her beads; it was called ‘Queen Of Peace Rosaries’ and I know that everyone who ever bought one of Gayle’s Rosaries loved it, so beautifully and carefully were they made. She very kindly sent me a black onyx Rosary – which, unfortunately, I no longer have as it was buried with my father; he, having dementia, had lost his own Rosary.
Because of Gayle, I thought I would try making Rosaries of my own. I tracked down a supplier of really good quality beads and sterling silver wire – they were in Albuquerque, New Mexico, so the import taxes were quite considerable. I waited for the first parcel to arrive and set to work. Gayle had taught me everything I needed to know – and, most crucially of all, the ‘wire-wrapping technique’ which would ensure the sturdiness and longevity of the beads.
With practice, my Rosaries got better – though never anywhere near as good as Gayle’s beads. As she had done initially, my Rosaries went out as gifts – an amethyst and rose quartz set for my sister on her Wedding Day; snowflake obsidian for my father; lapis lazuli for another friend in the United States. I never sold a Rosary as this was not the reason for making them.
Now, I make a Rosary from time to time but mainly for particular reasons or special occasions.
In the Fatima centenary year of 2017, I made a garnet and sterling silver Rosary as a reminder of that occasion – it is pictured at the top of this page. It took several nights to make, as I wanted to do it well and because time was limited. I finished it on the Friday night. Saturday was 17th June, exactly one hundred years from the day when, at Fatima, the Blessed Virgin had first mentioned the devotion to Her Immaculate Heart and had promised this Immaculate Heart would be “your refuge and the way that will lead you to God”. I went to Mass early that morning, taking the Rosary with me. After Mass, I asked Father Hennessy, a good and – I believe – very holy priest, to bless it for me, which he kindly did. And so for me, this particular Rosary is intimiately associated with Fatima and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Indeed, the colours of the Rosary – garnet beads capped in sterling silver, were designed very much with this is mind.
The last Rosary I made is my ‘every-day’ Rosary. This one was designed with durability in mind – to be practical, not beautiful; to be used often and well. And like the other, it was attached to a particular event.
In 2019 I renewed my Consecration to Jesus through Mary according to the formula of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, which I had first made in 1981 when I was sixteen. This was a formal renewal, preceded by the full period of preparation which the Saint had recommended. I did three things to go along with this particular renewal – I had a painting of the Immaculate Heart of Mary professionally framed and then solemnly blessed; I wrote out a special and very personal prayer, a copy of which was pasted to the reverse of the painting and which I now pray every single day; and I made this Rosary as the sign and symbol of my renewal of Consecration – my parish priest, Father Devlin, very kindly blessed the beads (and the painting) for me. This Rosary has simple haematite beads, thick sterling silver chain, and a handmade sterling Crucifix which was a birthday present, so that it has particular meaning for me. Beacuse of the haematite, it is a very heavy Rosary, such that I am constantly aware of it’s presence. This Rosary is with me constantly, always in my pocket if not in my hands, and I put it to good use every day. It will go with me to my grave.
All of this happened because of Gayle and our friendship, and her kindness in teaching me how to make a decent Rosary. I remember her with much affection – our letters and the phone calls where she said she couldn’t understand a word I was saying because of my accent and how fast I was speaking; our catching up on each others’ lives; and my sadness when I learned of her death, which I spoke about later with her daughter, Marion.
Marion has now taken up the tradition begun by her late mother; you can see her work – and read her story – at SimpleRosaries.
I pray that now, Gayle is with the Lady of the Rosary, whom she loved so deeply.