Church aims leafleting campaign at trendsetters who use prayer beads as fashion accessories
BY FREDDY GRAY
THE ROSARY is for worship, not style, and celebrities who wear the prayer beads as fashion accessories should stop now, according to the bishops of England and Wales.
All over the world the fashionable are wearing rosaries, and celebrities such as David Beckham and Britney Spears are promoting them as items to wear casually around the neck or wrist. In Australia rosaries are said to be “as popular on the dance floor as they are in the church”.
Such is the concern over their misuse that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has issued a leaflet explaining the significance and purpose of the rosary.
Fr Allen Morris, secretary for the Department of Christian Life and Worship, explained that the leaflet was designed to teach people, who might otherwise have no idea, about the religious significance of the rosary.
“Apparently the rosary has joined the crucifix as a desirable secular fashion accessory,” he said. “People who wear a cross or a rosary and ignore the religious significance of the symbol trivialise something that is very important to Catholics.
“It is also very odd. Without its religious significance, the cross is a symbol of torture and execution. The cultural equivalent would be people walking round with little electric chairs around their necks.” He added that although wear ing rosaries for the sake of fashion was “offensive”, the craze did provide an opportunity for evangelisation. “Many people are entirely ignorant about the story of Jesus. Although this leaflet does not explain everything, it can certainly help.” The Department of Christian Life and Worship wants the leaflet to be inserted into rosary bags, so that anyone buying a rosary will have access to information.
David Beckham, the fashionobsessed England football captain, embodied the trend in May last year when he was pictured on the front cover of Vanity Fair magazine, bare-chested, apart from a “rosary necklace” worth £550.
The Milan office of Dolce and Gabbana, the Italian fashion label that sells the “Beckham rosary”, was unavailable for comment on the bishops’ leaflet, but a London employee described recent sales of rosaries as “absolutely fantastic”.
The pop star Britney Spears was also seen wearing a white rosary in Dublin this year. Darius Danesh, another singer, and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, a reality television star, have also been photographed wearing rosary beads in public.
This is not the first time Catholic objects have been adopted by the fashion world. In the 1980s, Madonna, the singer and dancer, launched a similar trend by wearing crucifixes and rosaries in sexually suggestive music videos. But the look soon became unfashionable and “cheesy”, according to fashion experts. However, rosaries are now back in vogue, with sales rocketing in recent months.
Kristina Cooper, editor of the Catholic Charismatic magazine Good News, sees this rosary fad as a good opportunity for evangelisation, and welcomed the bishops’ leaflet.
“I live on a council estate in South London and many teenagers there are really interested in the rosary,” she said. “When someone asks me for one I explain what it is for and ask them to show me that they have learnt the Our Father before I give them one. If they ask for a second one, depending on the person, I ask them to tell me a good deed they have done, or teach them the Hail Mary.” Ruth Rees, the Catholic writer whose book The Rosary in Space and Time was published this month, said that the interest in rosary is part of a misguided obsession with dubious religiosity. “There is all sorts of nonsense going around. It is a bit like famous people adopting Kabbalah [the mystical branch of Judaism], and all sorts of things they don’t understand. This awful fashionable thing is just dumbing down the rosary. I feel sorry for these poor twits who have no idea about its importance. I would suggest these people look at my book because it might just jar them into real prayer.” Some fashion experts, however, say that fashion has moved on. Richard Ascot, chief designer of London-based fashion label Rodnik, said that the real fashionistas have already lost inter est. “The whole thing was a bit of a flash in the pan, and is disappearing from the fashionable scene so quickly. I think a bit of celebrity endorsement catapulted the rosary briefly on to the fashion stage, but it didn’t last.
“It’s like Oscar Wilde said, fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months – except now it is more like every five minutes.” Pope John Paul II is known to have a particular affection for the rosary. Indeed, he gives rosaries as presents to just about everyone who meets him, including Bono, the lead singer of the Irish group U2.
Inaugurating the Year of the Rosary in October 2002, the Holy Father described the rosary as the “a Christocentric prayer” that has “all the depth of the Gospel”.
“The family that recites the rosary reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the centre, they share in its joy and its sorrows,” he said.
He encouraged young Catholics to take up the rosary as a prayer: “Why not try it? ... If the Rosary is well presented, I am sure that young people will once more surprise adults by the way they make this prayer their own and recite it with the enthusiasm typical of their age group.” In 2002, the Vatican reportedly drew up a blacklist of celebrities who had offended the Church by wearing crucifixes simply as a fashion accessories. Some stars are reported to spend as much as £20,000 on their crosses.