Saturday, April 17, 2010


Pat Haber asked about a device called a paternoster. It is an elevator, but one that operates in a continuous motion rather than in the familiar start-and-stop motion. You’ll find an illustration in the SIDEBAR below this post.

The first two words of the Our Father in Latin are Pater Noster. The prayer/meditation called the Rosary uses beads to count off the prescribed number of prayers. There are five decades in each recitation of the Rosary. Each decade begins with an Our Father (Pater Noster) and is followed by ten Hail Mary’s (Ave Maria).

If you watch the fingers of a person using a rosary, you’ll notice the beads slipping smoothly and regularly through his or her fingers. Traditionally, the Pater Noster bead is larger than the other beads to signify a new decade coming up, or it is distinguished in some other way so as to be a tactile signal.

Since the paternoster elevator consists of a chain of small compartments that move slowly in a loop, someone evidently thought that the progression resembles rosary beads slipping through the fingers, each Our Father (Pater Noster) signaling a new compartment.

It seems to me that it would take a good degree of agility and coordination to step on and off at will rather than push a destination button. Perhaps that’s why paternosters are not as popular as conventional elevators.

Historically, paternoster also once referred to a measure of flax, a weighted fishing line with hooks placed at regular intervals, and a row of bead-like architectural ornaments.

[For a related article, enter “paternoster” in the search box at the top of this page.]

SIDEBAR: A paternoster in motion at the University of Leicester

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