Friday, February 5, 2010

German: Bonifatiuspfennige; English: St. Cuthbert's beads

The word Bonifatiuspfennige (Saint Boniface's pennies) stands for the German version of Saint Cuthbert's beads (or Cuddy's beads). St. Cuthbert's beads are separated segments of fossil crinoid (sea lily) stalks, found, for example, in northeastern England or in parts of Germany such as the Elm mountain range near Braunschweig (Brunswick), Lower Saxony. They are disk-shaped and have a central hole, making them look like coins or beads. In Germany these disk-shaped fossils are named after Bischof (bishop) Bonifatius (683-755): Bonifatiuspfennige or Bischofspfennige [2] (Pfennig means penny). Anna Marie Roos describes the natural history and discovery of these ancient objects in her fascinating article on crinoid fossils [2], including the following section on mythology and naming:
In other parts of England, the coinlike beads were known as fairy money, and intact cylindrical stems, ringed with ridges, as screw stone. Beads with pentagonal shapes were called star stones, and legend had it that they were created in the clouds and dropped to the Earth during thunderstorms. The sixteenth-century German author Georgius Agricola, in his work De Re Metallica (“Of Metallic Things,” a work also devoted to other minerals and to fossils), described the same sort of stones. But the Germans called them Bonifatiuspfennige, or Saint Boniface's pennies, displaying pride in their own local religious luminary [all bold face mark-up mine].
Yet other German names for Boniface's pennies, such as Hexengeld, Hünentränen, Wichtelsteinchen, Zwergensteinchen, Mühlensteinchen, Sonnensteine, Rädersteine or Sonnenrädchen point back in time to superstition and mystical beliefs in the “dark” Middle Ages [3]. Scientists in Germany simply call them Trochiten after the Greek word trochos for wheel [4].

Keywords: Echinodermata, Crinozoa, Crinoidea, crinoid stalks, paleontology, history, German-English translation

[1] wissenschaft-online:
[2] Anna Marie Roos: Lilies of the Sea. Natural History December 2009 / January 2010, Volume 118, Number 10, pp. 26-30.
Chapter with title “Trochiten in Volksglauben und Brauchtum” at
[4] Wikipedia: Trochiten.

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