This article originally appeared on Fish Eaters and is being used under Section 107 of the Copyright Act. It is for non-profit use to bring about the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart into the world. If you have any questions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 (“memorial 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.