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Norman Castle collection of holy cards

Collection MS-2005-054: Norman Castle collection of holy cards


  • Creation: 1867-1950, undated
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1867 - 1914

Scope and Contents

The collection contains 182 holy cards collected by Norman Castle. The cards in this collection address a wide range of devotional subjects including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the saints, the Holy Spirit, angels, and the sacraments. The majority of the holy cards were mass-produced in France and Germany, with only a few individually produced. Most of holy cards are undated, but the artistic styles employed in the production of the majority of them date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Each holy card is described according to three different criteria: 1. Image description; 2. Text description; and, 3. Language. The primary category of organization of each card is a description of the devotional image on the front, rather than the title of the holy card. The next two categories indicate a description of the text (i.e. prayer, handwritten note, indulgence, explanation) on the back of the card, and the languages used on the holy card, many of which employed multiple languages.

Language of Materials

French, English, Latin, German, Spanish, Italian.

Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Historical note: holy cards

Holy cards are one of many religious objects intended to assist Roman Catholics in their prayer life and religious devotions. These religious objects were often exchanged between friends, given to an individual upon the conclusion of an important religious event, or given to children as rewards in school for good behavior and hard work. Holy cards served to commemorate religious events and experiences, as well as deceased family members.

The modern holy card came into existence with the invention of the lithographic printing process in the late eighteenth century. In a short time, printers started experimenting with color printing processes, which came into wide use by the mid-nineteenth century. These printing processes opened the possibility for the mass production and the mass distribution of holy cards.

Several religious goods firms emerged in Europe in the nineteenth century to produce holy cards. Paris, France served as a central location for many of these firms. By 1862, the city was home to some 120 firms. The French firms relied heavily on the artistic style that came to be known as l'art saint sulpice.

The physical make-up of holy cards contributes to the content and functional use of the object. Physically, holy cards are primarily vertically oriented and pocket-sized - with dimensions measuring roughly 2.5 inches wide by 4.5 inches long. Because of the small size of holy cards, they were commonly used as bookmarks in prayer books, kept in pockets, or displayed. Moreover, the easy access and content made holy cards good teaching tools for learning about saints and devotional practices.

The front side of the holy card includes an image of a religious figure, or pertains to religious events or sacraments. The back of the card was devoted to text of prayers, contemplations, explanations of religious figures or events, or indulgences. The back might also include a handwritten note from the giver to the recipient of the card. This reflects the manner in which holy cards were distributed as gifts.


Bollig, Joe. "Holy Cards see resurgence in popularity." Catholic News Service. 19 April 2004.

Calamari, Barbara and Sandra DiPasqua. Holy Cards. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 2004.

McDannell, Colleen. Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

Petruzzelli, James F. "Catholic Holy Cards: Visual, Verbal, and Tactile Codes for the (In)Visible," in The Other Print Tradition: Essays on Chapbooks, Broadsides, and Related Ephemera. Edited by Cathy Lynn Preston and Michael J. Preston. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1995.

Biographical note

Norman Anthony Castle was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts to George T. and Theresa E. (Dorsey) Castle on December 31, 1908.

Castle earned his bachelor's degree in history from Boston College in 1930. While at Boston College, Castle, nicknamed the "laughing philosopher" by his peers, participated in Sodality, the French Academy, and the History Academy. As an undergraduate student, he also worked in the college library during his first two years at Boston College, followed by two years as an Assistant Faculty Librarian.

In 1931, Castle joined the cataloging department at Boston College's Bapst Library and held the position of Head Cataloger. He continued his librarian education with certification in librarianship from the Massachusetts Library Association and from the Massachusetts State Department of Education, both in 1945. In 1967, Castle became the Boston College Planning Librarian, a position he held until his retirement in 1974.

Castle was involved in organizations that highlighted his interest in history. He was President of the Stow Historical Society, served as Quartermaster of the Stow Minutemen Company, and as Chairman of the Historical Committee of Minutemen Companies. As historian of the Minutemen Council, Castle played a crucial role in the publication of The Minutemen, 1775-1975 (1977). Castle's participation in other community organizations included the Stow Boy Scouts, on the Executive Committee of the Stow Civic Club, and as Chairman of the Stow Council on Aging.

Castle died in San Francisco on December 6, 1984.


"Jesuit and Lay Faculty Blank." Boston College form completed by Norman Castle, copy held in John J. Burns Library control file.

"Norman Anthony Castle" Sub Turri, Boston College yearbook, 1930, p.75.

Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910 (NARA microfilm publication T624, 1,178 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.


1 Linear Feet (2 containers)


This collection includes Catholic holy cards produced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These cards cover a variety of devotional subjects including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Saints, sacraments, angels, and the Holy Spirit. These cards were collected by Boston College librarian Norman Castle.


The collection is divided into ten series: I. Jesus, II. Mary, III. Joseph, IV. Saints and Blessed, V. Sacraments, VI. Angels, VII. Holy Spirit, VIII. Souvenirs (flowers), IX. The Holy Family, and X. Other.

Series I. Jesus is divided into six subseries: Infant Jesus, Child Jesus, Adult Jesus, The Passion of Jesus, The Sacred Heart of Jesus, and Other.

Series II. Mary is divided into four subseries: Mary and Jesus; Mary, Our Lady of; Life Events and Feasts of Mary; and Qualities of Mary.

Series V. Sacraments is divided into three subseries: the Eucharist, Extreme Unction, and Ordination.


Because the current accessioning system was not used until January 1986, it is not possible to know exactly the dates of acquisition of materials received before that time.

Norman Castle Collection of Holy Cards
1867-1950, undated (bulk 1867-1914)
Sarah K. Nytroe, 2005. Revised by Mark Clemente, 2012; and Rachael Young
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States