Archives Diary: Norman Castle Holy Cards

A crowned Mary standing and holding the infant Jesus. Norman Castle Holy Card Collection, MS2005-054, Box 1, Item 65. John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

A crowned Mary standing and holding the infant Jesus, Box 1, Item 65, Norman Castle Holy Card Collection, MS.2005.054, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Norman Castle Holy Card Collection (MS.2005.054) at the John J. Burns Library at Boston College includes 182 Catholic holy cards produced in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. These cards cover a variety of devotional subjects including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Saints, sacraments, angels, and the Holy Spirit.  The materials in this collection are written in several languages including French, English, Latin, German, Spanish, Italian.

The front side of the holy card often includes a small amount of text. The back of the card usually contains the text of prayers, contemplations, explanations of religious figures or events, or indulgences. The back also sometimes includes a handwritten note from the giver to the recipient of the card. This reflects the manner in which holy cards were distributed – as gifts and rewards. (This Flickr set does not include images of the cards’ backs.)

Jesus sitting in hay holding three nails. Norman Castle Holy Card Collection, MS2005-054, Box 1, Item 16. John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Jesus sitting in hay holding three nails, Box 1, Item 16, Norman Castle Holy Card Collection, MS.2005.054, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

These cards were collected by Norman Castle, a Boston College librarian. Castle was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts on December 31, 1908.  He earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Boston College in 1930.  While at Boston College, Castle – the “laughing philosopher” – participated in Sodality, the French Academy, and the History Academy.  As an undergraduate student, he also worked in the college library 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. In 1967, Castle became the Boston College Planning Librarian, a position he held until his retirement in 1974. He died in San Francisco on December 6, 1984.  If you would like to look at these beautiful holy cards in person, then please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Shelley Barber, Library/Archives Assistant, John J. Burns Library
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