“Memento mori-remember death! These are important words. If we kept in mind that we will soon inevitably die, our lives would be completely different. If a person knows that he will die in a half hour, he certainly will not bother doing trivial, stupid, or, especially, bad things during this half hour. Perhaps you have half a century before you die-what makes this any different from a half hour?”
~ Leo Tolstoy
“Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.”
(Hamlet – Act I, Scene II, Line 75)
Memento Mori – a Latin phrase meaning “remember you must die” or literal translation, “remember death”.
Since the early days of Easter Pup Creations, one of the most popular and ( in my humble opinion) most meaningful creations has been our Memento Mori rosaries. Yet, initial reaction has been wide and varied due to misunderstanding the true meaning.
Reactions have ranged from thinking they were “cool” to disgust saying that they were sacrilegious. Others believe that they were merely a cultural item representing Dia de los Muertos.
Despite the rising popularity and interest over recent years, memento mori isn’t something new and hip relegated to and promulgated by youth and the “YOLO” ( you only live once ) generation.
First off , death has been a subject that pondered and written about over the ages by sages, poets, artists and philosophers. And, of course by the saints and the bible.
For Christians, we understand that our life here on earth is merely a blink of the eye and our next and unavoidable appointment with Our Lord is for eternity. That is where ‘memento mori’ comes in. To remember our death and what comes next is of vital importance. By focusing on our own mortality, our next destination and the love and mercy of Jesus , we live a life in preparation and hope. A life well lived with our eyes on Christ.
Going back to the earliest days of the church , memento mori and the usage of skulls have a long and rich tradition. Many of the cathedrals , early artwork and iconography bear skulls as a reminder of our temporal state. Many artworks and statuaries depict a skull at the foot of the cross representing Christ’s victory over death. Often, a saint is depicted with a skull representing not only our own mortality, but the saint’s wisdom and prudence.
Caravaggio’s masterpiece “St. Francis in Prayer” , c.1602-1604 , depicts the saint holding a skull gazing thoughtfully at it.
Several cathedrals and churches, such as the crypt of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini have a plethora of skulls that are displayed in a place of reverence and honor. Even the catacombs beneath of St. Peter’s Basilica is known to have a necropolis.
But what about rosaries ?
Some of the earliest known rosaries , usually associated with the clergy , bore skulls. These skulls were usually carved from wood or stone and were a physical and visual reminder not only to the priests or nuns who used them but as a teaching tool to those whom they ministered to.
Yes, a memento mori rosary is great during Dia de Los Muertos and especially the month of November. Both are times when we honor, remember and pray for those who have gone on before us. A time when we pray for the faithful departed and the souls in purgatory. And by remembering the meaning and traditions behind memento mori ,we not only focus on our own mortality but remember those who have died before us – those who are asleep in Christ.
Personally, I believe that a memento mori rosary is a beautiful ,rich and traditional way to deepen our prayers and spiritual walk.
But, what do I know … I’m just a simple rosary maker.