One of the sets of beads in the collection.

Prayer bead exhibit displayed in diocesan Archives

Originally Appeared in : 9906-3/14/19

During my time at the Archives I have been working with a collection of about 65 sets of prayer beads that were donated to the diocese. The pieces in the collection represent every major religion and come from all over the globe. 


Prayer beads are used for keeping count of prayers or formulas repeated in religious devotions. The materials of which they are made range from natural berries or locally common wood to costly metals and precious stones. Prayer beads are most well known in the U.S. in the form of rosaries used by Roman Catholics. But long before they came into vogue in Europe and among Christians, mechanical devices for counting the repetition of prayers were in use among various Eastern religions and at present, some form or another of prayer beads are used by about three-fourths of the world’s population.


As part of my degree with Georgia Southern University, I am doing a thesis project in place of a written thesis. My project consists of building an exhibit for Office of Archives and Records using the beads. Originally assembled beginning in 1900 by Miss Adele Lathrop of Wellesley, Massachusetts, a portion of the collection will be on display in the Archives beginning April 12. The exhibit will follow the history of prayer beads from their origin to the present day. There are several fascinating pieces that will be part of the display including two Qing Dynasty court necklaces, a string of carved peach pits from China, and a large Roman Catholic Rosary made of water chestnut seed pods. The pieces range in size from a 12-inch Jiu-Dzu made in Japan to a 131-inch Roman Catholic rosary from Lourdes. 


My research has ranged from the history of beads as a means to keep track of prayer recitations to the significance of particular materials used to make prayer beads in various religions. I have also looked into Lathrop and developed a mini-biography of her life. The methods I have employed in my research have been a bit unorthodox. This includes joining a network of professional and casual bead collectors. Their assistance has aided me in the identification of several pieces and their origins as well as the materials and methods used to make them. 


If you would like to learn more about the collection or prayer beads in general, please come to my presentation at 2 p.m. on April 6 at the Bull Street Public Library and make sure to come see the exhibit on display at the Archives.


A graduate student of public history at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Savanna Puterbaugh has interned in the Diocese of Savannah’s Office of Archives and Records Management since September 2018. 

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