Praying Hands—The Origin Of

Hands Joined In Prayer:
9th Century, Europe

“For our ancestors, one of the most ancient and reverential gestures that accompanied prayer was the spreading of arms and hands heavenward. In time, the arms were pulled in, folded across the breast, wrists intersecting above the heart. Each of these gestures possesses an intrinsic logic and obviousness of intent: God resided in the heavens; the heart was the seat of emotions.

The still later practice of joining hands in an apex seems less obvious, if not puzzling.

It is mentioned nowhere in the Bible. It appeared in the Christian Church only in the ninth century. Subsequently, sculptors and painters incorporated it into scenes that predated its origin—which, it turns out, has nothing to do with religion or worship, and owes much to subjugation and servitude.

Religious historians trace the gesture back to the act of shackling a prisoner’s hands together. Although the binding vines, ropes, or handcuffs continued to serve their own law-and-order function, the joined hands came to symbolize man’s submission to his creator.

Substantial historical evidence indicates that the joining of hands became a standard, widely practiced gesture long before it was appropriated and formalizd by the Christian Church. Before waving a white flag signaled surrender, a captured Roman could avert immediate slaughter by affecting the shackled-hands posture.

For the early Greeks, the gesture held the magic power to bind occult spirits until they complied with a high priest’s dictates. In the Middle Ages, feudal lords adopted the joining of hands as an action by which their vassals did homage and pledged fealty.

From such diverse practices, all with a common intent, Christianity assumed the gesture as a sign of man’s total obedience to divine authority. Later, many writers within the Christian Church offered, and encouraged, a more pious and picturesque origin: joined hands represented a church’s pointed steeple.”

(excerpt from ‘Extraordinary Origins Of Everyday Things’ by Charles Panati)


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