Sunday, March 20, 2011

Demystifying military rosaries (Part 2)

This post discusses the construction and manufacture of government-issue military rosaries and clarifies what can be considered a "Chaplain" rosary. The previous post attempted to clarify the difference between these pull chain rosaries given to soldiers during WW I and traditional sterling and metal rosaries that are sometimes described as soldier, Chaplain, paratrooper, pilot, Special Forces, etc. rosaries.

Just to repeat this important distinction, these commercially-made rosaries may indeed have belonged to a veteran from any branch of the military. Buyers are cautioned to look at the pictures very closely and decide for themselves whether the provenance is credible and whether an otherwise ordinary rosary is worth the sometimes considerable investment. Trust in the seller is another important consideration, so gather as much information as possible about both seller and item and decide accordingly.

Okay, back to our topic. Like any organization procuring a large number of items, the War Department (today's Department of Defense) created detailed specifications for military rosaries and contracted their manufacture to multiple suppliers. This accounts for minor differences from one rosary to another, while sharing the same basic characteristics:

All had pull chain construction and measured between 16 and 17 inches depending on the crucifix used (see below). Some manufacturers also made pull chain rosaries for sale to foreign governments (including Canada and Australia) and to the general public, but these non-issued rosaries did not follow the exact same specifications of those procured by the U.S. military. I once had a non-issued rosary marked "Lustern" (Louis Stern Company) that was made in the US some time between 1871 when the company began to the early 1950s when it closed.
  • The vast majority were made of silver-washed brass. A very rare few were made of silver-washed tin (magnetic). Depending on how the rosary was stored for the last 90-something years, some may be worn down to the brass with lots of verdigris while others retain much of the silver wash and have a lustrous, glowing patina. Neither is more authentic than the other but as a collector, you may prefer one over the other.
  • Not all crucifixes were the same, but they were all stamped, simple and flat. Many had a graceful swirl or the letters INRI on the end of each cartouche, but there were other designs too. Some people have identified the swirled crucifixes as Chaplain rosaries, but this is not true.
  • Not all center medals were the same, but they all had Christ carrying the Cross on the back, symbolizing the burdens carried by our soldiers in defense of our freedom. Most were oval-shaped and had the Virgin Mary on the front, commonly in profile as the Sorrowful Mother.
  • The same rosaries were used in all branches of the military. The newly manufactured rosaries were distributed to Chaplains of all denominations for distribution to any Catholic soldier or sailor who requested one.
Regarding the rosaries issued by the military to Chaplains, they were exactly the same as the "soldier" rosaries with one difference: the crucifix and center medal were sterling silver and were marked accordingly. (The standard-issue rosaries had no markings whatsoever.) In other words, they had pull-chain, silver-washed beads with sterling components. They were NOT all-sterling, traditionally chained rosaries. These military-issued Chaplain rosaries often found their way to enlisted personnel in the field or in the hospital, simply because they were always in the Chaplain's pocket.

One last comment of interest from our learned friend:

I see listings saying that the military rosary is a paratrooper's rosary or a pilot's rosary or some other Special Forces rosary. There were no Special Forces in the First World War, which is when these rosaries were made, and there was no distinction between rosaries for Army, Navy, Marines, Pilots or Paratroopers. In fact, there was no Air Force as all pilots were Army. Navy and Marine pilots came about prior to the Second World War as did paratroopers. It's important to remember how the military was structured in 1916-18 and not think in terms of today's military."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Demystifying military rosaries (Part 1)

For some time, I have been researching and seeking credible information about so-called military rosaries.  My goal has been to educate myself and confidently provide more accurate information to my buyers.

There is an abundance of misinformation on the web and I have read some outlandish stories describing particular military rosaries at auction. I believe some of this is intentional and driven by greed, which is very sad when you're dealing with devotional items.  Other sellers simply parrot what someone else has written without validating the information.  Like playing "telephone," the information gets more distorted as it proliferates and when it is repeated often enough, it is assumed to be true.

I have contacted the Army through their website several times, but never received a response. Recently a devoted customer and friend sent me a link to some information he found on an eBay seller's "Me" page.  After several e-mails between us, I discovered a kindred spirit with direct, personal experience who shares my zeal for dispelling the myths surrounding military rosaries. Here is his story...

"I'm a retired Contracting Officer for the U.S. government.  Many years ago during my training and internship they used different examples in an effort to teach us our jobs. The Soldiers Rosary was just one of many of those examples. We had to learn the laws and the differences used in the specifications and the resulting end product(s). After training I also had access to very old contracts and references that we often used as templates for similar items. Since retirement and with the invent of the Internet, I have searched many different sources both true and false and created my Me page in an effort to correct, educate and explain the differences. Of course my religion led me in different directions and well, you have read the results."

The pull chain rosaries we all know and love are the real thing... commissioned and procured by the U.S. government and issued by the military, upon request, to soldiers serving in World War I. When describing these rosaries, it is appropriate to refer to them as genuine WW I government-issue rosaries intended for soldiers.

That is NOT the same as a chain rosary that belonged to or was perhaps carried by a soldier. The Internet is full of mid-century, non-military, traditional sterling silver rosaries being sold as soldier or Chaplain rosaries.  Even if a rosary's provenance can be traced to a specific individual, it is simply a rosary that belonged to a soldier.  It is not and should not be described as a military rosary and certainly not one issued by the U.S. government or a military Chaplain.

One other note of caution. Military and sterling rosaries are sometimes sold with other religious items that may or may not have been acquired with the rosary and that are implied to have belonged to a soldier. In some cases this may be true; in others, it is a tactic to add authenticity to the item being sold and enhance its perceived value by patriotic and devotional collectors. Look closely at the photographs when considering such an item. The gentleman sharing his expertise with us tells of one Catholic rosary that was being sold with a Protestant bible!

Two other notes of interest...

"For all intents and purposes, there were very few Issued Rosaries in the Second World War.  Only a few were issued until June of '42 and they were warehoused "unissued leftovers" from the First World War and all were made around 1916. There were some stainless “prototype rosaries” produced just prior to WW II but not many at all (maybe only a few hundred and I don't believe that any were issued) as the military decided to discontinue the rosary issue altogether. Some of the stainless rosaries did end up in use through Army/Navy surplus sales after the War."

"Not every Catholic soldier or sailor got a rosary... they had to ASK for one from the Chaplain. Not all Chaplains were Catholic priests, so some didn't carry many rosaries with them and they especially didn't "push" the GI's or ask if they wanted one. The Catholic Chaplains would have asked so in those units, Catholic GI's would have had more rosaries than other units."

More to follow about the construction of these government-issue rosaries and insights into Chaplain rosaries.

Note: In addition to the information provided in our e-mail correspondence, you can also click here to read the eBay "Me" page about military rosaries and a ton of other great information.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I must be doing something right

Maria, my "miracle child" who just turned ten, was conceived with no medical intervention at the ripe age of 46 after a lifetime of infertility and within months of meeting Dan, the love of my life.  At this stage of the game I was planning retirement and focused on my career, and I knew far more about cats than I knew about kids.  As with any first child it's been hit or miss and at the end of an exhausting (but irreplaceable) day, I know why you're supposed to have children in your 20s and 30s.  So much for "keeping you young."

She recently had a homework assignment in which, as President of the United States, she had to identify three or four issues facing the country and talk about how she would solve them.  We talked about the concept and how to structure her thoughts and then she was on her own.  Of everything she wrote, this is my favorite...

Education / Schools

I think we should have longer school days to increase education in children.  I believe it is important because children should have these facts to get them far in life, go to college, and have a good job.

For the schools that the kids go to, I think we could do a couple of things to make them better: better lunches, a high of 300 calories, and longer recess to let out energy and calories from add-on snacks for kids who are still hungry.

Bathrooms should have a couple of sinks and stalls and good quality soap.

We need tougher lesson plans and more kids in advanced classes in subjects like Social Studies, History and Spelling.  I think that all kids should learn as much as they can learn so they can live their life to the fullest it can be.

I am far from a "tiger mom" yet she gets straight A's and balances the demands of a good education with appreciation for simple creature comforts.  And she's kind, loving, funny, creative, energetic, artistic, helpful and sensitive as well as competitive and a bit of a sore loser.  What more can I ask for?  Nothing, except continued guidance from our Blessed Mother, for whom Maria is named, so she can experience the love, wisdom, faith and adventure that brought her into this world.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In the palm of His hand...

Last week it was nasty critters; this week it was the storm door ripped from its frame by howling winds and the beautiful but now broken lantern next to the door.  My sadness was exacerbated by the expense of replacing everything when there are so many other things we want and need to do in the house: a new bed, remodeling the basement that serves as my home office, repairing the bay window in the living room... you get the idea.  It didn't take long for my mind to travel dark roads and throughout the day, I ruminated on how to prioritize the laundry list of activities and related expenses.

At 4:30 I left to take my daughter to her sewing class.  I turned on the radio, which was set to an Alison Krauss CD (traditional bluegrass and country).  I make a special effort to expose Maria to all kinds of music so she knows there's more out there than tweeny pop stars with a vocal range of five notes.  I was only half-listening when her clear voice and a gentle guitar lick caught my attention.  And then I heard the refrain...

I'd rather be in the palm of Your hand
Though rich or poor I may be
Faith can see right through the circumstance
Sees the forest in spite of the trees
Your grace provides for me

It's hard to drive when your eyes well up so I took a deep breath and ingested the deep comfort of these words.  And yet again, in unexpected ways, I am reminded that all is well in my world.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

It's all good...

For several days this past week, we were immersed in learning about and eliminating the presence of head lice. At first it felt hopeless... hair gels, combs, nit picking and a never-ending stream of laundry. Not to mention that we couldn't stop scratching ourselves, mostly from being creeped out. Then we found a local service that guarantees removal so several hundred dollars later, we were pretty happy.

Instead of going straight home we stopped at "the Mary woods" for a hike along the outdoor rosary and a visit to the gift shop. "The Mary Woods" is Maria's name for a local replica of the Lourdes shrine run by the Sisters of the Most Holy Trinity.


It's a wonderful, healing place and I have gotten many an answer praying in the grotto. As we walked the icy path, Maria asked me why God created lice. I had no answer in the moment because I couldn't think of one redeeming quality for lice, fleas, cockroaches, flies and other creepy-crawlies that share the earth. Then this morning I read something that put it in perspective.

A dear and generous customer recently gifted me with a little book called "The Way" by Saint Josemaría Escrivá. Divided into sections like Prayer, Character, Direction and Charity, it's filled with 999 brief teachings to help us see and embrace "the light of the world." There in the "Presence of God" chapter was my answer:

     Make it a habit to raise your heart to God,
     in acts of thanksgiving, many times a day.
     Because he gives you this and that...
     Because someone has despised you...
     Because you don't have what you need,
     or because you do have it.

     And because he made his Mother,
     who is your mother, so beautiful.
     Because he created the sun and the moon
     and this animal or that plant.
     Because he made that man eloquent
     and you he left slow of speech...

     Thank him for everything,
     because everything is good.

What a wonderful summation! And what a great reminder that there's a purpose for everything and that it's all good.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Devotions to Our Lady

I am always amazed at how many iterations of Mary there are in the world.  Many are local devotions based on miracles, apparitions or statues that survived war and plunder.  I recently acquired several vintage medals pertaining to The Virgin of Rocío, a Marian image venerated in Almonte, Spain (province of Huelva; southeast Spain).  Within Almonte is the village of El Rocío, whose shrine is the most important Marian pilgrimage site in Spain. Who knew?

What began in 1270 as a simple chapel sheltering a statue of Our Lady has become an elaborate ritual that attracts over a million people for the main celebration in May and hundreds of thousands who visit the shrine throughout the year.  In the 1600s, brotherhoods or "hermandades" began forming, each representing a city or village in Spain devoted to El Rocío.  To date there are 102 brotherhoods, the most recent formed in 2004.

At the annual procession, each brotherhood's members march in a very specific order (matrix), wearing a medal hung on their chest that identifies their brotherhood.  The medals I acquired represent four of these brotherhoods.  Each is quite large and dramatic and features an ornate rendering of the Virgin.  If you'd like to learn more about this unique veneration of Our Lady, there's a Spanish language website with tons of information and pictures of the medals.
Our Blessed Mother touches everyone, everywhere in so many ways.  May she bless and inspire your life today, and always!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

St. Anthony's Gifts

I attended a community pasta dinner last night and had occasion to sit with a local 90+ year old "celebrity" known for his boundless energy and unselfish service to our country, our community and our schools. Our conversation ran the gamut from Pearl Harbor, where he was stationed during the infamous attack, to the city's Memorial Day celebration and our respective trips to Italy.

When I mentioned that during my second trip I stayed in Padua instead of Venice, his eyes lit up as I spoke of making multiple visits to St. Anthony's wonderful basilica and spending time in the gift shop and in the presence of his relics. What is it about this gentle Franciscan saint that touches so many people, myself included?

I have handled countless medals of St. Anthony embracing and being embraced by the Christ Child, and every one of them exudes love, devotion and surrender. Most depict Jesus sitting on St. Anthony's arm, but I especially love the scarce, older renderings with little Jesus standing on St. Anthony's lap. Some are a bit crude, but they still convey the deep, intimate connection between them... something we all strive for through our prayers and deeds.

St. Anthony's unique and miraculous power to inspire through oration seems diminished by his more familiar association with finding lost objects. However it is with his help, sitting in his church with fellow pilgrims, that I reconnected with the truth of my spirituality and "found myself" during a troubled time in my life.

What has St. Anthony helped you find today?