While most rosaries these days consist of glass or wooden prayer beads, there was a time when wealthy Europeans used ‘prayer nuts’ – minutely detailed, small-scaled boxwood carvings. Each nut was a masterpiece in itself, decorated on the interior and exterior with intricate carvings representing Biblical stories.
The delicate wooden orbs were designed to be worn on a rosary, or on a belt by members of the nobility or wealthy merchant classes in northern Europe. At times, fragrant substances may have been inserted into the orbs, so that the nuts may have served as pomanders as well.
Recent studies suggest that prayer nuts of the early 16th century were reduced to such a small scale that they might have become impractical to use. The religious significance might have faded away, and these nuts may have later been made just to be studied and marveled at, as private collectors’ items.