Rosaries: A spiritual symbol or trendy accessory?

Traditionally, the″>rosary is more about spiritual function than fashion.

But these days the ordered string of beads is as likely to be found in a house of fashion as it is in a house of prayer.

“It’s a big celebrity trend,” said Amber Gutierrez, a sales associate at Fly High Little Bunny, a jewelry store on South Shepherd. “I’ve seen it on people in clubs.”

Although a number of these pieces are simply rosary-inspired, some jewelry cases also contain actual vintage rosaries.

They’re out there in all price ranges: Abejas Boutique on Kirby carries SYdney Evan designs made with diamonds, some of which cost more than $3,500. The lifestyle store Kuhl-Linscomb on West Alabama carries Rebecca Lankford designs ranging from $300 to $440. At Fly High Little Bunny, in-house designers fashion rosaries on demand, with costs varying according to the materials used. Religious supply stores such as the Sacco Co. on San Jacinto sell authentic rosaries for as little as 25 cents to about $100.

Rosaries and what they symbolize periodically have moved from the pew to the catwalk.

In the 1980s, Madonna posed “Like a Virgin” with a rosary hanging around her neck. Soccer star David Beckham, bare-chested, wore a rosary on the cover of Vanity Fair in 2004. Lindsay Lohan was recently spotted sporting about in a rosarylike design by SYdney Evans.

Perhaps more provocatively, last month’s W magazine featured a photo spread of hip Dolce & Gabbana designs dubbed “In the Raw.” In one of the images, a near-naked man held a rosarylike necklace by D&G.

“The rosary has been a universal symbol,” said Martha Means, a buyer for Kuhl-Linscomb. “It is a sign of faith for some people. I don’t know if it is fortunate or unfortunate that it has become a fashion symbol.”

Throughout the ages, some people of faith have objected to seeing their sacred symbols dangling from richly adorned necks.

For Catholics, the rosary functions as a prayer tool, said the Rev. Donald Nesti, director of the University of St. Thomas’ Center for Faith and Culture. Each section has significance, and the faithful recite prayers using the beads as markers.

As Los Angeles-based designer Rosanne Karmes sees it, the pieces she creates for SYdney Evan draw on customers’ deep desires.

“People today are looking for something of meaning, not necessarily religious, but something of meaning,” said Karmes. She considers herself someone who has “a high regard for all the religions that teach good morals and values.”

Karmes often mixes religious symbols from various faiths in her designs. One of her rosarylike pieces contains an evil eye in sapphires and diamonds.

Her goal, she said, is never to disrespect the religious tradition from which she borrows. “I think it is exposing the religious symbol without mocking it,” she said.

A recent Fly High Little Bunny design made a world peace statement by including symbols from Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

The motivation of the person wearing the rosary is, of course, hard to determine — even when that person is strutting around on MTV. But the rosary as bejeweled object does seem to miss the point: the religious attributes of humility, poverty and dependence on God, Nesti said. “It becomes a distraction from the divine rather than a means to the divine,” he said.

Nesti’s own rosary is made of simple olive wood from the Holy Land.

Traditionally, a rosary contains five groups of 10 beads, or decades, separated by a large bead. Prayers including the Hail Mary and the Our Father are assigned to each bead. The beads are used to combine repetitive vocal prayers with meditations on the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries of Jesus’ life.

“It is supposed to help you to focus on these mysteries,” Nesti said. “There is nothing magic about it.”

When Gutierrez tried her hand a jewelry design, one of her first efforts was a rosary. But as she made it, she became too attached to the work to sell it.

“It is a representation of who I am,” Gutierrez said. “I think whatever draws attention to the Catholic Church is great, even if it is worn as a fashion statement.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday March 15, 2007.
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