The History of Memorial Cards

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Many people who have attended a Catholic funeral will have seen a memorial card. Memorial cards, also known as funeral, mourning, or in memoriam cards, are used as a tribute to those who have passed. 

 

They are personalised, often to include:

 

Memorial cards can often be as small as a business card, for people to store it in their purse or wallet as a keepsake; However, in modern times memorial cards also come in the form of small leaflets and folded cards. 

 

Whilst funeral cards can be used in any religion, or even non-religious ceremonies, it has traditionally been those following Catholicism that have used the distribution of cards as part of their religious traditions. The earliest known holy card is a woodcut from Germany in 1423 which depicts Saint Christopher, which you can see in the photo below.

 

Holy Card from 1423 depicting Saint Christopher

 

For a long time holy cards, also known as prayer cards, were produced and distributed to Catholics. Even relatively recently they were still used almost like trading cards, some older Catholics might remember swapping them with friends to try and collect the printed Saints and other religious imagery. Whilst they continued to be designed and made for this purpose, prayer cards also made their way into the Catholic funeral process, in the form of memorial cards. These are estimated to have started a few hundred years later in the Netherlands in the 1700s. 

 

The people that really popularised memorial cards however were Roman Catholics in the 1800s. The Industrial Revolution brought on the development of lithography (an early method of printing), allowing easier production of funeral cards - which at the time were being used more like an invitation to the funeral. They were still relatively expensive for the era and therefore were considered quite a posh addition to a Victorian funeral - the higher the social status of the deceased, the finer the memorial card. 

 

As the industry continued to grow and other, cheaper and quicker, forms of printing started becoming commonplace, the exclusiveness of using funeral cards faded away. Along with this some of the stricter Victorian traditions ended and so funeral cards were no longer used as an invite, but now a small way to pay respects and remember the deceased. 

 

These days the tradition has continued at many Catholic and Irish funerals, where funeral cards are now more often used to commemorate the deceased, rather than as a collectable. It has become easier and cheaper than ever to make and order personalised funeral cards. If you’re looking for memorial cards, here at Memorial Card Shop we offer a wide selection of cards and religious imagery in various styles, which you can browse here: