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.

This Flickr set is a small selection of images of holy cards from the Norman Castle Holy Card Collection (MS.2005.054) at the John J. Burns Library at Boston College. The entire collection 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

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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