As long as I’ve been Catholic, I have known about the existence of Holy Cards. Since I’ve been at the monastery, I’ve seen them passed back and forth as enclosures in notes, used as bookmarks, or even as a memory aid – many of the modern laminated ones have a prayer on the reverse side.
While many of the saints portrayed under the plastic skin of the laminate are inspiring figures, I have to admit that the art on most of the contemporary holy cards doesn’t evoke much devotion in my heart.
On my first visit to the North American Martyrs Shrine in Midland, Ontario – and especially to the museum at the reconstructed site, Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons, I was very surprised to find that a small medal of the Sacred Heart – about the size of those one finds today in religious goods stores – was found among the ruins of the mission, which was burned to the ground in 1649 when the Jesuits were forced to flee.
Since then, I’ve become aware of the greater variety – and often greater beauty and spiritual depth – in devotional art in earlier times. This modern reproduction of work made by the nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburg in the 15th century is about the earliest instance of a holy card I’ve seen thus far.
While St. Christopher and the Christ Child are both recognizable in what has become the traditional story, it’s is certainly stylistically quite different from those we see today – in the facial features and style of art.
As I find other examples, and begin to discover patterns, I’ll certainly post more on this.