Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Sending your Prayers to Me Will Cure the Ailment of the Soul" or The Bayer Aspirin Prayer Card: Guest post by Laetitia Barbier

One of the more intriguing new additions to the Morbid Anatomy collection is this glow-in-the-dark Bayer Aspirin Prayer card. Its donor, Enric H. March of the wonderful Barcelona history blog Bereshit explained to me that it dates from the 1940s and was produced during the Spanish Civil Postwar, while the Nazis were reshaping the map of Europe.

How to explain this heady mix of Christian imagery and medicine? In March's words: "aspirin and sacred wafer are similar in form and content, and complement each other: where there is no faith, aspirin; where there is aspirin, faith. This image is made with fluorescent paint, and lights the darkness. If you look intently image for thirty seconds and then directs you to view a white surface, it appears God. True. I do not need faith. As with aspirin."

Following is a guest post by Morbid Anatomy Library head Librarian Laetitia Barbier based into her research into this wonderful new addition to our collection:
After the Congress of Curious People in Barcelona, Joanna came back with a suitcase full of newly acquired books and artifacts for the Library. Within all these treasures, one piece of ephemera was particularly fascinating and enigmatic to me: a Bayer-produced religious card which appeared in Spain around the 1940s, and which was kindly donated by Enric H. March.

If “The Sacred Heart of Jesus” is fairly common motif  in catholic devotional icons, this one revealed itself to one of a kind. Beneath its minimal, black and white design, this compassionate-looking Christ had indeed more than one story to tell.

First curious fact: the right hand-corner is embossed with a cross-like logo which has nothing religious, as its the emblem of BAYER, the german pharmaceutical firm which synthesized and patterned Aspirin in the 19th Century. A “major remedy,” and a universal one, as indicated the small text in spanish that Jesus points-up to our attention with his benedictory hand gesture. I was pretty confused myself: was this a pious image or a commercial ad? The idea that a Jesus image could become an advocate of Aspirin’s effervescence and miraculous virtues was odd and pretty incongruous. However, it appeared clear that BAYER designed this object to be both a religious icon and a way to publicize their medicine.
In the manner of catholic prayer cards, The BAYER Sacred Heart was probably mass produced as a devotional object that people could carry around in books or wallet and use for private veneration. Nowadays, pharmaceutical firms give away pens, mugs, and other every-day objects to potential clients, so why not an icon when you want to seduce a Roman Catholic country? Moreover, the cardboard icon is coated with glow-in-the-dark-ink, leaving Jesus’s heart to glare metaphorically once the lights go out, after the night-time prayer. This card had to become a major artifact in people’s daily religious routine.

But beyond its novelty aspect, its most fascinating side dwell the underlying message which form the core of this twisted commercial strategy. If this Christ could talk, he will probably whispers to us this exact slogan: "Sending your prayers to me will cure the ailment of the soul. But for the prosaic torments of the human body, there is Bayer Aspirin.”
This is the third guest post Laetitia has written based on her favorite curiosities in the Morbid Anatomy Library; to see all posts by Laetitia, click here. Click on images to see larger, more detailed versions.

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