Origins of the Rosary?

Q. I heard that the Rosary was given to us by the Blessed Mother. Can you tell me when and how the Rosary was started? Did it have something to do with the apparitions of Mary? I am a convert and have never heard anything about its beginning. 

Gertie, via e-mail 

A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D:

Credit for the Rosary is commonly attributed to St. Dominic, but its history antedates his time. It was a 15th-century Dominican, Alan de Rupe, who first gave St. Dominic credit for instituting the use of the Rosary. 

It is obvious that if a prayer is to be repeated many times, persons will devise some mechanical means for counting the prayers. The use of counters for prayers, or as we would say, rosary beads, has been widespread from ancient times. 

Various devices used for this purpose have been found in the remains of cultures from pre-Christian times. Muslim worshippers have also long used a bead-string (with 33, 66 or 99 beads) to count the times they devotionally invoke the name of Allah. In the 13th century, Marco Polo discovered that the King of Malabar used a rosary of over a hundred precious stones to keep track of his prayers. 

Among Catholics, the earliest form of a string of beads was used to count one’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Consequently, the strings of beads were called paternosters (from the Latin for “Our Father”). In the 13th century, in Europe, there were well-known guilds of artisans who made paternosters. Even today in London there is a street by that name which was once the center of this trade. 

Around the middle of the 12th century the Hail Mary began to be used as a form of devotional prayer. Among religious of that time and earlier it was common practice to recite the Psalms divided into groups of 50. Following that practice, the custom arose of repeating 50, or 100, or 150 salutations to Our Lady. Historians tell us that a Carthusian, Dominic the Prussian, originated the practice of connecting certain meditations with the repeated salutations to the Blessed Virgin.