Thursday, November 3, 2011

Prayer Beads & Lady Godiva?

Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman in the 11th century A.D. who, according to legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventry in order to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband (Leofric, Earl of Mercia) on his tenants.  Did this actually happen or not?  Scholars are still debating that. 

According to the popular story, Lady Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry, who were suffering grievously under her husband's oppressive taxation.  She appealed again & again to her husband, who obstinately refused to remit the tolls.  At last, weary of her entreaties, he said he would grant her request if she would strip naked and ride through the streets of the town.

So, Lady Godiva took him at his word and, after issuing a proclamation that all persons should stay indoors and shut their windows, she rode through the town, clothed only in her long hair. Just one person in the town, a tailor ever afterwards known as 'Peeping Tom', disobeyed her proclamation in one of the most famous instances of voyeurism.  In the story, Tom bores a hole in his shutters so that he might see her pass, and is struck blind.  In the end, Lady Godiva's husband keeps his word and abolishes the onerous taxes.

Both Leofric and Godiva were generous benefactors to religious houses. In 1043 Leofric founded and endowed a Benedictine monastery at Coventry on the site of a nunnery destroyed by the Danes in 1016.  In her will (c. 1075), Lady Godiva bequeathed to the monastery she & her husband had founded, “a circlet of gems that she had threaded on a string, in order that by fingering them one by one as she recited her prayers, she might not fall short of the exact number.”  They were to be hung on the statue of 'Our Layde of Coventry' (Virgin Mary) after her death.

Although there are earlier legends regarding St. Anthony and the counting of prayers with pebbles in the 3rd century A.D., as well as, a string of beads preserved in Belgium that is said to have been buried with the saintly Abbess Gertrude (d. 659)....Lady Godiva's will is the first written record to be found in England.  Clearly, the use of beads to count prayers is likely much older than that. 

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