|Holy cards are such a distinctive part of the Catholic
"visual culture" -- inexpensive images that we use as bookmarks and
keepsakes, tuck into picture frames, slip inside Christmas and greeting
cards, keep in our wallets, give to our Godchildren and those we
sponsor into the Church for their special occasions... We keep ones
with relevant prayers and images on them to hand out to friends who are
going through a hard time, and order special funeral
cards") inscribed with the name and dates of birth and death of the
dead person. Nowadays, one can buy customized holy cards inscribed with
personal names and dates as keepsakes for Baptisms,
First Communions, Confirmations, etc. In
Catholic culture, holy cards are ubiquitous and
have been for a long time.
The earliest holy card -- a wood block print of St. Christopher --
dates to 1423. In that century, hand-cut and die-cut paper lace holy
cards became extremely popular and were known as dévotesdentelles
in France, and as Andachtsbilden in Germany.
Modern holy cards developed when a German, Aloys Senefelder
(1771-1834), developed lithography, an inexpensive way of multiplying
graphics. In the 1840s, French companies in Paris in the area of the
Church of St. Sulpice began mass-producing holy cards with designs
characterized by soft and feminine-looking images, a style that became
known as "St. Sulpice Art" ("l'art St. Sulpice"). While many of these
cards were sold in America, other companies, such as Carl Benziger and
Sons (later the Benziger Brothers), a Swiss company in operation since
1792, opened branches in America. Nowadays, the best and most
commonly-seen holy cards are produced by the Bonella Brothers company,
based in Milan, Italy.
You can buy paper cards, laminated cards (they last much longer), cards
imprinted with traditional art and icons, and tacky modern-looking
cards. They generally cost between 30¢ and $2.00 and can be bought at
most Catholic bookstores and giftshops.
Note: See The Three Hearts page to learn about the
symbolism of the graphic at the top of this page.
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