Did Martin Chemnitz use a rosary?

One of my favorite Lutheran theologians is Martin Chemnitz. I have often wondered about that “rosary” that shows up in the most well known portraits of him. Well, last April, Rev. Paul McCain, the now sainted publisher for Concordia Publishing House shared this with me. I share it with you for your information.

We notice sometimes in portraits of our Lutheran fathers what appears to be them holding a “rosary”… at least what’s what some say and I’ve seen then people trying to justify the introduction/use of a “Lutheran rosary” and what-not. I won’t bother with that bit of nonsense.
But…the point here…
The “rosaries” being held in portraits are NOT rosaries, rather, it is a “pomander” which was a standard bit of detail put into portraits of professors, clergy, government officials, a kind of “this guy is a big deal” … I suppose we could say it would be a tad like portraying a dapper man with a full pocket watch chain set on his waistcoat….
Any rate, here is what I found again today.
There is a well known portrait of Martin Chemnitz from 1569 that depicts the reformer in a black coat and clutching what looks like a string of beads.


These beads can also be seen in this later portrait:


Many have speculated that these are in fact rosary beads, and that the rosary must have been part of early Reformation practice. Later to be stamped out by Baptist admiring Lutherans.


Look at the silver filigree ball at the end of the beads. This is a pomander.


Men and women wore girdles as belts. They hung around the waist and then down about two feet. They were decorated and the part that hung down was held in the hand. The one in Chemnitz’s portrait appears to be decorated with beads, which were wildly popular in the later 16th century,and topped off with an elaborate silver pomander ball, which contained fragrances.


Since people didn’t bathe for fear of catching the plague, these pomanders helped mask, well, b.o.

And you could look rather fashionable at the same time.

5 thoughts on “Did Martin Chemnitz use a rosary?

  1. Anytime, and thanks for continuing this fine confessional Lutheran blog!

    Also, the second link for the other portrait of Chemnitz as an older man should have been this:


    The pomander is of course not visible in the original link. I think I posted that one because I thought it was cool that there is actually a Martin Chemnitz church out there somewhere in Germany, while forgetting that the image doesn’t show the entire portrait. I obviously don’t proofread most of what I write.

  2. Regardless of whether or not Lutherans should say the “rosary” (which is a set of prayers and meditations, not really the beads, and I would say not there), what they are holding is certainly not a set of beads used to pray the rosary, but is very probably a set of paternoster beads with a pomander on the end. These were extremely common at the time and also functioned as jewelry to show rank, as you noted. They were meant to be worn from the belt and be highly visible. In fact, they were among the only piece of jewelry you could sometimes get away with wearing without being accused of vanity in some situations. Anyhow, in Western Europe, prayer beads, which obviously date back to the early Church, came to be called paternosters for their use in counting prayers (Our Fathers, etc.). Over time the Hail Mary was added, especially in the 1200s. By the 1300s, personal paternosters were extremely common. Early paternosters were straight strings of beads usually, not connected in the pattern of modern rosary beads. They initially usually ended in a tassel with whatever number of beads. By the early 1400s some of them started to form circles, but this isn’t common yet. By the early 1500s, by far the most common “end” of paternoster beads in continental Europe and the German lands was a pomander bead (relic or scent container because things stunk) or a prayer nut. Crosses were not common at all except maybe more so in England. The standard form of prayer beads for praying the set of prayers called the “rosary” wasn’t formally established until 1569. So, it’s totally anachronistic to say they were “rosary” beads, which they would have probably rejected as a set of prayers anyway. But they are very probably paternoster beads which also function in the way set out by Paul McCain above. The two things were absolutely not mutually exclusive at this time in Europe.
    See https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Sacred_Home_in_Renaissance_Italy/7NhjDwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=paternoster+beads+pomanders&pg=PA124&printsec=frontcover

  3. Confessional Lutherans do not have the attitude of “regardless of whether or not Lutherans should say the “rosary.”

    Luther addresses the issue of repetitive prayer in the LC:

    “But this is true indeed that such prayers as have been offered hitherto when men were babbling and bawling in the churches were no prayers. For such external matters, when they are properly observed, may be a good exercise for young children, scholars, and simple persons, and may be called singing or reading, but not really praying.”

    “Therefore we have rightly rejected the prayers of monks and priests, who howl and growl day and night like fiends; but none of them think of praying for a hair’s breadth of anything. And if we would assemble all the churches, together with all ecclesiastics, they would be obliged to confess that they have never from the heart prayed for even a drop of wine. For none of them has ever purposed to pray from obedience to God and faith in His promise, nor has any one regarded any distress, but (when they had done their best) they thought no further than this, to do a good work, whereby they might repay God, as being unwilling to take anything from Him, but wishing only to give Him something.”

    Repetitive prayer, including pater misters, probably developed among desert dwelling monks. The rosary developed from St. Dominic’s 12th century Marian vision, with beads for repetitive prayer following about a hundred years later.

    In contrast, Chemnitz sports beads hanging from a belt (or girdle) that were popularized in Venice and spread throughout Europe in the latter half of the 16th century. There were 24 beadmaking manufactories in Venice in 1525, which boomed to 251 by the end of the century.

    “In civil dress the belt of the 14th century was worn by men of rank over the hips of the tight, short-skirted coat. Then, as well as in the 15th and 16th centuries, there were laws to check the extravagance of rich girdles worn by men and women whose stations made such display unseemly. Even priests were rebuked for their silver girdles with baselards (short swords). Purses, daggers, keys, pens and inkhorns, beads, and even books dangled from girdles. After the early 16th century the girdle continued as a mere strap for holding up clothing or as a sword belt.” (Britannica)

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