Holy Cards

By Chorpenning, Joseph F. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Holy Cards


Chorpenning, Joseph F., The Catholic Historical Review


Holy Cards. By Barbara Calamari and Sandra DiPasqua. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 2004. Pp. 144; 110 illustrations in full color. $24.95.)

This beautifully illustrated book is authored by Barbara Calamari, a freelance writer who has worked in both film and television, and Sandra DiPasqua, a graphic designer and art director. Holy cards have had and continue to have a significant role in Catholic devotional life. For example, they may be carried for protection or out of devotion to a particular saint. They are also given as souvenirs of First Communions, Confirmations, Religious Professions, Ordinations and First Masses, Jubilees and anniversaries, and, most often, wakes and funerals.

A single-page introduction breezily explains the privileged status of visual images in Catholicism without reference to either the central mystery of the Incarnation or the debates on images in Christian history (first, in the Byzantine Empire, and later in Western Europe in the wake of the Protestant Reformation): "Since great art, architecture, and music are believed to be divinely inspired, visual art is an important element in Catholic religious expression" (p. 9). More helpful is a two-page "brief history" of the holy card that surveys its development from late medieval woodcut prints through the invention of lithography (1796) and then chromolithography. These technological advances made possible the mass production of images by companies such as Benziger and numerous other purveyors oisantini who developed their own distinctive way of presenting devotional images. Holy cards of more recent saints, such as St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Mother Cabrini, or Padre Pio, are basic photo-like portraits that resemble head shots or publicity stills. …

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