The first holy cards were sold during the Middle Ages to pilgrims as keepsakes of their visit to a shrine. The oldest surviving holy card is a black-and-white woodcut image of St. Christopher dating from 1423. These cards were not really cards; they were pictures printed on inexpensive paper. Since they were easily lost, or torn, or destroyed, very few medieval holy cards have survived. But in 2005 one turned up unexpectedly at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, where the art history faculty was mounting an exhibit of artifacts and relics from the period of anti-Catholic persecution in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. Among the treasures on display was a Book of Hours that had belonged to an English family who remained faithful Catholics after Henry VIII broke with Rome. As the curators examined the prayerbook they found, pasted on the last page, a holy card from the early 1500s, hand-colored, from the shrine of the Holy Rood in Bromholm, Norfolk. Only one other Bromholm holy card has survived the iconoclasm of the English Reformation, so this discovery created a sensation among the curators and among art historians and historians of the Church during the age of the Tudors.
Almost as rare as holy cards from Catholic England are the cards that were produced by cloistered nuns in 17th century France. The sisters would mount a holy picture on a piece of plain white paper large enough to create a frame. Then, using the finest razors and penknives available, they cut out bits of the white paper to create elaborate lacy patterns around the holy picture. Such intricate handwork could take months for one nun to complete. Given the fragility of these lace paper cards and the exquisite workmanship involved in creating them, when one appears on the market collectors have been known to bid $1000 or more to acquire such a prize. (Read more.)
Via Stephanie Mann. Share