Holy Card from the 15c Century

StChristopher15cEichstatt, originally uploaded by Edith OSB.

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.

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  1. My dear Edith,

    It is difficult for me to believe that you are a convert. What on earth were you before, and how did you come to the Church? I have long been bemused by the number of converts who sooner or later take up a religious life–all the more so since Catholic religious and priests are celibate, and I have heard so much from cradle Catholics about how awful it must be, giving up family life for the sake of a religious calling.

    Are you a convert to Sociology as well–did you study something else before? I have to say that (as a social worker/psychotherapist for the last thirty years) I started out attending to psychology for the most part, and ignoring the social aspects of my clients’ problems. But in recent times I find myself paying attention more and more to the social situation as opposed to the internal (psychological) situation. Maybe it’s because there’s so much good sociology being done nowadays, and that’s a great help in understanding the often herd-like behavior of young people. They are all so much more social animals than we were forty years ago when we were their age.

    All the best good wishes for your newish blog.


    • Dear Bill,
      You asked a pair of questions that are amusing in their answers:
      a) I was raised without a religious belief by parents who were agnostic/atheist. So first I had to discover that there was a God and then figure out who knew about God and finally how I could get to know God. When I was in high school, I read Karl Rahner’s little book, “Encounters with Silence” and said, “I want to know God the way that guy knows God.”

      b) On the other hand, I have sociology almost as a birthright: my father is a sociologist, and my mother was his primary helper in research for all of my childhood. Not that our dinner conversations were about Durkheim. But growing up on the south side of Chicago, and having parents who were tuned in to the impact of social factors, it came naturally.

      Thank you for the good wishes. I still have hope that Blogger will at least give us back our old blogs long enough to send out a “where we moved” message.


      Sister Edith

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