Memento Mori - new interest in an old tradition. March 2, 2020 17:14
Ever wondered what Memento Mori are?
Maybe you've seen a rosary with a skull attached and thought it was a bit of a strange thing to be included among the beads?
Memento Mori means "remember you must die", and it is represented by objects such as death-heads or skulls. Many saints like St Gerard Majella kept one close at all times to remind him that every day is important, as which will be our last day is unknown.
There is a current revival of the old tradition of symbols reminding us that life is fleeting so we had better make the most of it .... read on!
Memento Mori are symbols or objects which are a traditional addition to a rosary or chaplet, intended for the living as a reminder of the brevity of life. They are not meant to be morbid, haunting or promote fear - they are intended as a reminder to get on with living life to the fullest while you can.
To quote Steve Jobs:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Or as it says in Psalm 89:46 of the Bible - “O Remember how short my time is.”
The use of symbolic skulls in rosaries & chaplets dates all the way back to the late middle ages (1050 - 1500). They were particularly popular in Italy, Germany, and Mexico and especially with priests, nuns and monks - and those who wanted a visible expression of their piety.
Skulls on rosaries have been used for hundreds of years, and historical art and doctrine supports the use of skulls in the rosary. Today, Memento Mori are becoming popular again in rosaries, jewellery and decor items. A rosary or jewellery item including Memento Mori can be found ghoulish by some, but they have earned their place in the rich history of symbols of devotion.
Memento Mori often are skulls or death’s-heads; antique ones are sometimes double-sided with a face on one side and a skull on the other.
Often made from carved bone, wood or ivory, they are also seen formed in crystal & precious metals, especially when used in religious jewelry. Memento Mori were sometimes a sign of the owners wealth and status in society. Some memento mori are very elaborate, true works of art.
Crystal skulls were very popular in earlier centuries, & an educated European might place an actual skull on a desk or side-table.
Memento Mori are not as popular today as in previous centuries, when they were commonly seen on tombstones and in graveyards. Their purpose there was to help keep the living on the straight & narrow for fear of heavenly judgment. Today, as life seems to become faster than ever, Memento Mori are a visual reminder to take time out to center ourselves in a peaceful & God-centered way, one day at a time.
A prayer was usually said when contemplating a Memento Mori reminder, in thanksgiving for life, such as these examples:
I dwell upon the goodness in my life.
I cherish in my heart Your gift to me.
I notice the blessings of life, breath, loving and sharing.
I am grateful.
For the winter, when we are held safe in Your arms through the darkness;
For the hope of spring, as we are filled with renewed hope & life;
And for autumn days, as leaves fall to seed new growth.
You are with us always.