Recently I’ve seen small replicas of skulls that are made to be attached to rosaries. What is the origin of this? Are they considered “proper” by the church?
I’ve seen many saints, such as St Francis, St Jerome and St Mary Magdalene, portrayed in art either holding or otherwise with a skull. And there are whole chapels, such as a Capuchin chapel in Rome, which are in fact decorated inside and out with the bones of those people who have been interred there.
Sounds bizzare, but these are what is known as ‘memento mori’ - a reminder of the shortness and impermanence of our earthly lives and the certainty of death for all of us.
I don’t see any problem with attaching something like this to your Rosary for such a reason. Of course the medal may not have been designed for such a purpose, but that’s beside the point …
There are also “Skull and Crossbones” on some Crucifixes. This is located at the bottom signifying Christ’s triumph over death.
Dude…that is so cool. I don’t even really know how to pray the rosary (sad I know). But still…I pretty much by anything that has a cross on it
That is sad my friend. Let’s see if we can fix that. Do ya have a Rosary?
There is a perpetual Rosary thread here at CAF which may help you learn the prayers and get you started.
Also, you can find the A Beginner’s Guide to the Rosary and with a simple mailed in request, you can get a FREE CD of the Rosary to pray along with (I use mine mostly while driving about 20 minutes) and it will help teach you.
I highly recommend it.
BTW, this is an appropriate discussion for Lent when we are reminded of our mortality and the brevity of life with “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return”
Yeah I have like a collection of them just floating around… But i don’t know what to do with them. I know you use them to say hail mary’s but. Theres some sort of sequence, that I don’t get. Like theres some sort of theme or something.
I saw an Ivory rosary skull on eBay from a Carmelite nun’s rosary. BTW… The bidding was up to $305, but it must not have met the reserve. Looks like it started over again.
one of the coolest aspects of the rosary to me is that while I SAY the Hail Mary’s outloud I am THINKING about each Mystery and it is like being in two places at once. It lets you get outside of yourself by putting you in more than one place. A total experience of the senses too–you hear it, see it, touch it, smell it (if the beads are made of rose petals or you imagine the smell of roses for each Hail Mary), and in a sense ‘taste’ it by putting yourself in the Mysteries. It is a trip, in the good sense of the concept. I have a CD of Pope John Paul II doing it in Latin—wow! You can find many different versions of it on the EWTN website for download or listening.
The use of symbolic skulls in rosaries and chaplets dates all the way back to the late middle ages (1050 - 1500). They were particularly popular in Italy, Germany, and Mexico with priests, nuns, and brothers. But, skulls on rosaries have been used for hundreds of years, and historical art and doctrine supports the use of skulls on the rosary.
The Skull used in Religious Art
There are many depictions in paintings of Saints with skulls. Some crucifixes depict a skull at the bottom, to signify Christ’s victory over death. Some rosaries feature a skull bead to serve as a “Memento Mori,” or a reminder that one’s life is not infinite.
There are also depictions of the crucifixion that show a skull at the base of the cross. The Hebrew name of the location Christ was crucified was “Golgotha” and it’s meaning is “Place of the Skull”. It is believed that Adam was buried in that same location, so some use the symbolic skull to signify the first man created by God and Christ’s gift to mortal man.
References to the “Memento Mori” in Catholic writings
The Latin phrase “Memento Mori”, meaning “Remember you must die”, was influential in art and religious life dating back to Medieval Europe. It is a reminder both of our mortality and of the judgment that will follow our death.
From the Canticle of the Sun written by St. Francis of Assisi:
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.
And St. Benedict of Nursia calls us to:
Fear the Day of Judgment: be in dread of hell. Ardently desire everlasting life with deep spiritual longing. Keep death daily before your eyes. (Rule of Benedict 4:44-47).
On Ash Wednesday, the words when you receive the blessed ashes on your forehead refer to our mortality. This is actually taken from Genesis 3:19:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
And finally, in our “Hail Mary” prayer, there is a reference to our mortality:
Full of Grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus.
Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now,
and at the hour of death.
So in our prayers, a skull bead is simply a reminder that we are mortal on this Earth. They are not to be used as “goth jewelry” or for those who have a devotion to Santa Muerte but instead as a reverent reminder of our time on earth and our day of judgement when that time is over.