The Holy Rosary prayer became known in the Late Middle Ages thanks to the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary founded by St. Peter of Verona, a Saint of the Order of the Friars Preachers.
The Italian word “rosario” (rosary, in English) comes from a medieval tradition which consisted in putting a crown of roses on the statues of the Virgin Mary; these roses were symbols of “beautiful” and “scented” prayers addressed to Mary. This is how the idea of using a necklace of grains to guide meditation was born.
A possible etymology of the word “rosary” is to be found in the Sanskrit word japa-mālā, literally “garland” (mālā) “for prayers” (japa). The word japa-mālā has been in use for centuries to indicate the crown for prayers to the peoples of India.
As indicated by the Indian language scholar AF Weber (1825-1901), changing the short “a” of japa (जप) to the long “ā”, we obtain japā (ा), which no longer means “prayer”, but “rose”. Hence japā-mālā comes to mean garland or crown of roses, of which the Latin rosarium could represent a cast.
However, since Sanskrit has been known in the West only since the eighteenth century, while the term rosarium is at least of late medieval origin, it is unlikely that the supposed mold was made directly from Sanskrit.
In the 13th century, the monks of the Cistercian Order developed a new prayer called “the rosary” since they compared it to a crown of mystical roses offered to the Virgin. This devotion became famous thanks to Saint Dominic, who, according to tradition, received in 1214 the first rosary from the Virgin Mary as a way for converting to religion unbelievers and sinners.
Before St. Dominic, it was a common practice to recite the “rosaries of Our Lord”, which required the recitation of the prayer of Our Lord according to the number of beads in a necklace.
The habit of counting prayers with a knotted string was already widespread from the third and fourth centuries, at the time of the desert monks who lived as hermits.
These instruments were then called “paternoster” in the Middle Ages.
In almost all the houses of Catholic families there is at least one rosary: those who do not know it could define it as a sort of necklace characterized by the presence of “dots” and religious symbols; in reality the necklace is called a crown and the dots are called grains. There are various types of rosaries.
The classic crown
In the most classic form the rosary is a round of grains usually divided into five groups of ten (the tens) interspersed with larger grains and tied together by a metal chain.
The crown closes with a pendant with five additional beads (three small and two large) and closes with a cross. The grains can be made of various materials (precious metals, wood, pearls, glass, plastic …), while the cross is usually metallic. This is only the most common form, in fact there are other types of rosary.
The other types of rosaries are indeed: the tenth rosary (a string of ten grains ending with a smaller string and the cross), the ring rosary (a ring with ten protuberances, one for each Ave Maria, and a religious decoration, often a cross, which corresponds to the Our Father), the psalter (a large crown with fifteen tens separated by other grains or images depicting the passion of Jesus), the brigidino rosary (particular crown composed of six tens: on the golden grains is recited the Creed, on the silver ones the Our Father and on the blue ones the Ave Maria) and the Franciscan rosary (with 70 large instead of 50).