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Wesleys on rosary

17 June 2016


Your answers


It is known that John and Charles Wesley prayed the rosary regularly in their private devotions. Does anyone know anything about a book on the rosary by Charles Wesley? I have it on very good authority that such a book exists, but have been unable to track it down.

The comforting myth that John Wesley possessed and used a rosary will not, alas, withstand the scrutiny of two facts.

First, on 3 September 1756, in a letter he wrote from Kingswood, Bristol, to Nicholas Norton, Wesley sought to correct spurious opinions held by one of his erstwhile preachers, Charles Perronet. One of Perronet’s assertions was “A man may be circumcised, count his beads, or adore a cross, and still be a member of your society.” Wesley’s response was: “I know no such instance in England or Ireland” (The Letters of the Rev. John Wesley, ed. Telford, Epworth Press, 1931, Vol. III, page 190).

Wesley clearly took the view that Jews and Roman Catholics who joined his Societies renounced their former faith and practices and that Irish Papists who joined Methodism ceased saying the rosary or “counting their beads”.

Second, Neville Ward’s often quoted sentence, “Not many [Methodists] know that John Wesley himself used the Rosary; and the one he used is at present to be found among the archives of The Leys School, Cambridge” (The Use of Praying, Epworth Press, 1967) is based on a historical impossibility.

The rosary of which Ward wrote, though indeed originally “presented [to the school] by a descendant of the Wesley family”, has been established by one fairly recent examiner of it to contain “a Miraculous Medal, indicating a nineteenth century origin” (Michael Rear, Walsingham: Pilgrims and pilgrimages, St Paul’s Publications, 2011).

As for Charles Wesley, practically nothing outside his hymns, letters, and a few early sermons survives, and though, like his brother John, he was very sound on the incarnation and the Virgin Birth, a book by him on the rosary would be a find indeed.

(Prebendary) Norman Wallwork

Cowley, Exeter


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