Most Catholics are surprised to learn that their beloved rosary isn’t the only one on the block.

Despite the mutual respect and admiration Franciscans and Dominicans have for each other, the rosary used by 90 percent of Catholics―and 99 percent of the ones you find for sale anywhere―are Dominican rosaries. This popular version, is composed of five decades with which the Christian is asked to meditate upon 20 principle aspects of Christ’s ministry and life, Passion, death, Resurrection and beyond. The mysteries rotate depending upon the day of the week.

The Franciscan Rosary, also known as the Seraphic Rosary, the Franciscan Crown Rosary or the Rosary of the Seven Joys of Our Lady, recalls the seven joyous events of Mary’s life:

  1. The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38)
  2. The Visitation (Luke 1:39–56)
  3. The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 1)
  4. The Adoration of the Magi (Matthew 2:11)
  5. The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52)
  6. The Appearance of Christ to Mary after the Resurrection (John 20, 21)
  7. The Assumption and Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven (Revelation 12:1)

During Lent, those who pray with the Franciscan Rosary concentrate on seven sorrowful events in Mary’s life commonly known as the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

  1. The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34, 35)
  2. The flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13, 14)
  3. The loss of the Child Jesus for three days (Luke 2: 43-45)
  4. Mary meets Jesus carrying the cross. (Luke 2:34-35,51)
  5. The Crucifixion of Jesus (Matthew 27:32-56)
  6. The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross and placed in the arms of Mary. (John 19:38-42)
  7. The body of Jesus is placed in the tomb (Luke 23:50-54)

These seven sorrowful mysteries can also be prayed on Fridays.

The Franciscan Crown has a fascinating history tracing back to 15th-century Italy and resembles the 12th-century Marian Gaudes prayers.

In 1422, a young novice named Giacomo/James―and subsequently known as “James of the Rosary”―who had, until joining the Franciscans, had the daily custom of offering a wreath of fresh flowers as a crown to adorn a local statue of Mary. Upon being received into the Order, he was curtailed in this devotion. After long deliberation, James decided to leave the Order.

The Blessed Virgin appeared to him in a vision saying, “Remain here, and do not grieve because you can no longer weave a wreath of flowers for me. I will teach you how you can daily weave a crown of roses that will not wither and will be more pleasing to me and more meritorious for yourself."

She then urged him to recite seven decades in her honor every day. The decades were to take the theme of the seven joys Mary experienced when she lived among us. These prayers would take the place of a crown of actual flowers which would otherwise wither every day.

James began this devotion without telling anyone in the Order. However, one day, the Director of Novices saw him praying in chapel with an angel next to him. The latter was weaving a crown of roses, placing a golden lily between each of the 10 roses. When James finished praying, the angel placed the crown upon his head.

The Novice master asked the young friar about the meaning of this vision. After hearing the explanation, he told the other friars and soon the practice of reciting the Crown of the Seven Joys spread throughout the Franciscan Order.

Many famous Franciscan were particularly devoted to the Crown Rosary including St. Bernadine of Siena, St. Bonaventure, Bl. Cherubin of Spoleto and St. John Capistrano.

Hungarian theologian Fr. Pelbart Ladislaus of Temesvár also lauded this uniquely Franciscan devotion.

St. Bernadine of Siena reported a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary while praying the Crown Rosary.

The usual manner of reciting the Franciscan Rosary is as follows:

  1. The Apostles' Creed,
  2. the Our Father
  3. three Hail Marys
  4. the mystery to be meditated upon is introduced/announced for each of the next seven decades,
  5. At the end of the seventh decade, two Hail Marys are added to add up to the number of years that the Blessed Virgin is said to have lived on earth. (i.e., 72)

The Glory Be and The Fatima Prayer may be included in between decades if you wish but it’s not required in the case of the Crown Rosary.

Alternatively, one can start at the mysteries and then “end” at the crucifix.

It is recommended that all members of the Order, secular and otherwise, recite it at least every Saturday, a day dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

A plenary indulgence is attached to the recitation of the Crown Rosary, and is applicable to the deceased each time the Rosary is prayed.

There were no special requirements regarding the number of beads or even holding a blessed Crown Rosary during prayer for gaining indulgences. That is, one can easily use a normal Dominican Rosary to pray the Franciscan Crown Rosary. In fact, it’s not required that the beads be blessed, or in fact that beads be used at all. The indulgence is not attached to the actual physical rosary, but rather, to the recitation of the prayers.

However, a dedicated seven-decade Franciscan Rosary facilitates the devotion.

In 1905, Pope St. Pius X, in response to a petition of the Franciscan Procurator General, added new indulgences to the Franciscan Crown which may be gained by all the faithful. Those who assist at a public recitation of the Franciscan Crown participate in all the Indulgences attached to the Seraphic Rosary.

For public recitations of the Crown Rosary, Isaiah Chapter 53 may be read aloud. For ease of meditation, it’s best that a crucifix be present so that all might focus on it during the recitation.

Franciscans celebrate the Feast of the Crown Rosary on Aug. 27―Conventual Franciscans celebrate it on Aug. 26. Pope Pius X authorized the feast in 1906. The original day was the Sunday after the octave of the Assumption, but, in 1914, it was transferred to the octave day itself; and in 1942, when the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was assigned to that day, that of the Seven Joys was moved to Aug. 26 or 27.

The Franciscans wear the Rosary of the Seven Joys on their habit cord even today.

The Franciscan Crown Rosary is a unique spiritual devotion and its efficacy is well-documented. Try it on for size once and you’ll understand why millions of Christians find succor, comfort and love in it.