Rosary (from the Latin: rose garden) is a string of 59 beads, a crucifix, and a stamped metal medallion with the image of the Virgin Mary, used to count and keep track of the number of “Hail Mary’s” recited during Roman Catholic rituals.

The Rosary beads are the Catholic version of the malas of the Hindus and Buddhists and is probably derived from the “worry beads” of the Moslems.

Rosaries of various forms are said by Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. The Catholic rosary, which has several variations but most commonly is devoted to Mary, is thought to have developed seven centuries ago and became popular as a way for the largely illiterate laity to participate in prayers that previously had been reserved for literate monks.

The rosary the thread of beads that Catholics for centuries have used for prayers is making a comeback. Driven by the soaring interest in Wicca and Paganism (synonymous with ritual) and a revival of devotion to Mary by Catholics, rosary sales have gradually but steadily in-creased in recent years. 

The resurgent popularity of praying with the rosary comes after years in which the practice was frowned upon as old-fashioned, distracting, superstitious, or even idolatrous.

The rosary, often said in church until the mid-1960s, is now generally said in private. But sales of rosary beads, according to two Northeastern manufacturers, have quadrupled over the past 15 years.

In the past two years, there also has been an increase in the sale of rosary bracelets, a religious analogue of the charm bracelet that has become popular among teenage Catholic girls. The bracelets can be worn as jewelry, or can be used as prayer beads — five revolutions completes the devotion.

The diversity of beads is growing — rosaries are available in wood, plastic, gems, precious metals, ceramic, cloisonne, coral, crystal, glass, malachite, mother-of-pearl or rhinestone. Particularly popular are rosaries made from a worshiper’s birthstone, or from the fashionable black quartz onyx or the iron-hued mineral hematite, suppliers say.

“There can be a commercial element that is limited only by the marketing cleverness of the seller,” sald John Walsh, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston.

Dealers say sales of high-end rosaries are up — you can now spend as much as $4500, or as little as 49 cents — as are sales to two relatively untapped markets: men and Protestants.

Catholics use the rosary to say a set of prescribed prayers, holding an individual bead for each prayer. The rosary can be said in as little as five minutes, but many people spend a half-hour or longer. Some Catholics carry a rosary in a pocket and say prayers while exercising or driving, while others set aside time each day for the ritual

Rosaries are often purchased as gifts for First Communion ceremonies, as hospital giveaways, or for inclusion in caskets. But the beads also have appeared in somewhat unlikely places and for occasionally irreligious uses.