Before he joined the Italian army in the Second World War Domenico Chiocchetti, a young man from Moena in northern Italy was given a small religious card by his mother. It comforted him throughout the war years, especially when, as a prisoner of war, he was imprisoned far from home, in Camp 60, on the small bleak island of Lambholm, Orkney. Encouraged by the camp authorities, he and his fellow Italian prisoners built a small chapel from two nissen huts placed together. Domenico, an artist, designed an altar piece for the chapel sanctuary based on his treasured holy card (a version of Madonna of the Olives by the 19th century artist Nicolo Barabino). The Italian chapel with Domenico’s striking artwork is all that remains of the prison camp. In 1960 Domenico returned to Orkney to assist with the chapel’s restoration, and to this day the chapel is treasured by the people of Orkney.
In 1936 the French composer Francis Poulenc visted Rocamadour, after learning of the terrible death of his friend the composer Pierre-Octave Ferroud in a road accident. At Rocamadour Poulenc had a profound religious experience, which inspired his music thereafter.
While he was at Rocamadour he was given a small religious card which he greatly treasured. On one side was an image of the Black Virgin, on the other a a simple popular devotion to Our Lady of Rocamadour. Inspired by the card Poulenc set the litany to music as Litanies à la vierge noire (1936).
In the much admired novel Diary of a Country Priest Georges Bernanos describes how the priest visits a neighbouring parish priest who shows him his small prayer room in his house. In pride of place was a ‘rather hideous’ picture showing ‘a very rosy chubby Holy Child.’ The host priest comments; ‘See that picture, my godmother gave it me. I could well afford something better, more artistic, but I’d sooner have that.’
Never underestimate the value of a simple religious card given as a gift to a loved one, friend or child. Don’t worry about its artistic merit. It may be treasured for a lifetime, it may even inspire a painting or a piece of music, or perhaps, just as significantly, it may bring great comfort at a time of need or difficulty.