Over dinner last night my German-speaking husband let drop that our English word bead derives from the German beten, which means to pray.

Not one to receive a piece of information lying down — if I had written my own marriage vows, my responses would all have been, “Oh, yeah?” — I went looking for some corroboration. Here is what I found:

Bead derives from the Old English noun gebed , meaning prayer. This in turn comes from a Germanic word which I can’t spell with the typeface available to me. Interestingly, the modern German word bitte, meaning both please and you’re welcome — when pregnant in Germany, you ask for some Clausthaler, bitte, and they give it to you and say bitte, before you can say danke schoen . . . Anyway, that ubiquitous word of German politeness springs from the same root. It all has to do with praying.

So our word bead comes to us via the rosary, which might come as unsettling news to all the pagans of various flavors whom I have known, the fairy-wing-wearing frequenters of Renaissance Fayres, the vociferous if ill-informed dissenters against the notion that Christianity had anything to do with shaping the culture they enjoy, the makers — and this would include a heck of a lot of them — of bead jewelry.

Now, there’s an intersection for you: an amnesiac do-it-yourself New-Age culture with Saint Dominic, Our Lady, and the Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary, all in the one word bead.

In any event, if you’re reading this blog, likely you fall into the camp of the rosary. At least, it’s to be hoped that you wouldn’t be unsympathetic, and that you’d find it in you to appreciate the loveliness of this tactile form of prayer.


And though it’s hard to find really beautiful, distinctive rosaries — I blogged some time ago about Alan Creech, who makes lovely Franciscan-inspired single-decade rosaries — I think I have unearthed another source: Calistiana Designs.


Many designs and prices to choose from. Heirloom quality, artisan-made.


Beads, prayers. Prayers, beads.


[Rating: 95/100]

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Articles by Sally Thomas

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