Rosary’s Origins

Where did the Rosary come from, who invented it?

The name “rosary” comes from the Latin meaning rose garden.  Many different cultures and religions throughout history have used beads or stones of some kind to count prayers.  Many attribute the origin of the rosary to St. Dominic in the 12th century; however, it is clear that he was merely a promoter of a practice that predates him. 

The following is taken from the website of Catholic Answers (

In its history of the rosary, The Catholic Encyclopedia (vol. 13, p. 184–189) recounts that in the early centuries of the Church monks would recite the Psalms as part of their rule of life. Since learning the Psalms was necessarily restricted to those who could read, a simpler prayer tradition was needed for the illiterate brothers. The Lord’s Prayer was adopted for this purpose; the brothers would recite 150 Our Fathers to correspond to the number of Psalms.

Small stones were used originally to count the prayers. Later, beads were strung as prayer counters. In the early part of the second millennium, with the rise of widespread medieval devotion to the Blessed Mother, the Hail Mary developed and gained popularity and was inserted into the prayer tradition. (See The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 12, pp. 667–670).

During the twelfth century the praying of the Hail Mary spread in the West. Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary was, until the seventh century, the antiphon of the offertory of the fourth Sunday of Advent, a Sunday with particular Marian significance. At that time the Hail Mary ended with “blessed is the fruit of they womb.” The name Jesus and the second part—”Holy Mary, Mother of God . . .”—were introduced around 1483.

Between 1410 and 1439, Dominic of Prussia, a Cologne Carthusian, proposed to the faithful a form of the Marian Psalter in which there were 50 Hail Marys, each followed by a verbal reference to a Gospel passage. The Carthusian’s idea caught on, and psalters of this type multiplied in the fifteenth century. The references to the Gospel grew numerous, at one point reaching 300, according to the regions and favorite devotions.

Dominican Alain de la Roche (1428–1478) did a great work in promoting the Marian Psalter, which during his lifetime began to be called “Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” thanks to his preaching and to the Marian confraternities he founded. The rosary was simplified in 1521 by Dominican Alberto da Castello, who chose 15 evangelical passages for meditation, which included the short prayer at the end of the Hail Marys. The final, traditional form was was standardized during the pontificate of one of Dominic’s spiritual sons, Pope St. Pius V (1566–1572).

In 2002 Pope St. John Paul II proposed for use a fourth set of mysteries called the Luminous Mysteries. In doing so separated it more from its psalter origin.

Author: yuengerwv

Retired Catholic Priest

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