Watching an episode of the BBC-TV program, Antiques Roadshow, on a lazy Sunday afternoon I was startled by a wartime photograph of a damaged French church. Where had I seen that image before?
La basilique de Notre-Dame de Brebières rises above the small town of Albert in Picardy. Built at the end of the 19th century, the church’s tower and dome are crowned by a golden statue of virgin and child, designed by sculptor Albert Rozé. In January 1915, at the height of the First World War, a German shell badly damaged the basilica and dislodged the statue. Secured by French engineers, it continued to hang from the tower at a precarious angle for the next three years, giving rise to several superstitions. One held that whichever side, Germans or Allies, caused the statue to fall would ultimately lose the war; another claimed that the war would end only when it did fall. The “leaning virgin” became a familiar, if bizarre, sight to the thousands of soldiers, who passed through on their way to the Somme since the town was only three miles from the front.
|Caption: "Albert" Photographer: Astley James Bromfield, Bromfield Album, NQ Photographic Collection, JCU Library Special Collections.|
|Caption: Studio portrait of Astley James Bromfield|