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The leaning Virgin of Albert

 
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BerichtGeplaatst: 23 Aug 2008 7:09    Onderwerp: The leaning Virgin of Albert Reageer met quote

The starting point for any tour of the Somme Battlefields, Albert is a small town in the Province of Picardy. It found itself in the heart of some of the hottest action on the Western Front throughout the Great War. Unfortunately, Albert had one target that towered over the village making it an excellent observation post for whomever occupied it and an irresistible target for opposing gunners. Earlier town fathers, attempting to turn the community into a destination for Christian pilgrims, had built an impressive Romanesque Basilica crowned with a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary holding up her baby son to God. The Virgin also appears to be lame, an apparent message of the power of prayer for the handicapped.

During the early days of the war German artillery had shelled the Basilica, trying to knock it down and prevent the French artillery spotters from using it. They had only succeeded in dislodging the statue of Mary, which by 1916 hung at a precarious angle just below the horizontal. This was just too visible and too heavenly-connected for the soldiers passing through the town. The Legend of the Leaning [or Hanging] Virgin was born.

The British rendition was that whoever knocked her down would lose the war, the Germans apparently believing the opposite. Another version of the legend had it that the fall of the Virgin would signal the end of the war. The details of the various versions seem secondary to the belief by troops of all sides that the Virgin's natural descent was halted temporarily by a Divine Hand so its final destruction could mark the War's end. It must have provided a double psychic reassurance that the Forces of Heaven had taken an interest in protecting the Virgin and her Child and would eventually take steps to end the suffering on the battlefield.

Interestingly, the man most responsible for finally knocking down the Leaning Virgin survived the War and shared his tale many years later:

I have read with great interest Mr. Harvey's article [in Air Pictorial magazine]. . .On page 136 there is a picture of Albert Cathedral as it stood in 1917, and Mr. Harvey makes a note that legend had it that the monument's fall would herald the end of the war.

In 1918 I was on the staff of the 5th Corps, Heavy Artillery, and an Army Order had been issued that no more buildings were to be demolished by gunfire. One early morning we had a telephone message from the Infantry Colonel of the Battalion holding the line quite near to the Cathedral to the effect that he was suffering heavy loss from machine gun-fire from the Cathedral. Tower, and he asked that we should blow the place to blazes. My General was out on reconnaissance work, and my Brigade Major was absent at the time so I (quite a young Captain) was in charge. Realizing the Army Order and knowing that I should get no satisfaction from Army H.W., I chose one of the 8-in. Batteries in the Corps, worked out some imaginary trenches well beyond the Cathedral, and then ordered the Major of this Battery to fire a couple of hundred rounds at these imaginary trenches, knowing full well that the line of fire would go clean through the Cathedral!

The Major was thrilled with this order and it was duly carried out and the Cathedral Tower and most of the surrounding Cathedral was blown to hell, thus probably saving the lives of many of our Infantry
F. G. Petch, M.C., Vice-President of the Air League, London, E.C.2.

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BerichtGeplaatst: 23 Aug 2008 18:54    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

THE GOLDEN VIRGIN

A memorable instance of the prevailing urge towards myth is the desire felt by everyone to make something significant of the famous leaning Virgin and Child atop the ruined Basilica at Albert. No one wanted it to remain what it literally was, merely an accidentally damaged third-rate gilded metal statue now so tenuously fixed to its tower that it might fall any moment. Myth busily attached portentous meaning to it.

Mystical prophecy was first. The war would end, the rumor went, when the statue finally fell to the street. Germans and British shared this belief, and both tried to knock the statue down with artillery. When this proved harder than it looked, the Germans promulgated the belief that the side that shot down the Virgin would lose the war. This is the prophecy recalled by Stephen Southwold, who associates the wonders attaching to the leaning Virgin with those ascribed to miraculously preserved front-line crucifixes:

There were dozens of miracle-rumors of crucifixes and madonnas left standing amid chaos. In a few cases the image dripped blood or spoke words of prophecy concerning the duration of the war. Around the hanging virgin of Albert Cathedral there gathered a host of these rumored prophecies, wonders and marvels, the chief one being that whichever side should bring her down was destined to lose the war.

The statue remained hanging until April, 1918, after the British had given up Albert to the Germans. Determined that the Germans not use the tower for an artillery observation post, the British turned heavy guns on it and brought it down, statue and all. Frank Richards was there:

The Germans were now in possession of Albert and were dug in some distance in front of it, and we were in trenches opposite them. The upside-down statue on the ruined church was still hanging. Every morning our bombing planes were going over and bombing the town and our artillery were constantly shelling it, but the statue seemed to be bearing a charmed existence. We were watching the statue one morning. Our heavy shells were bursting around the church tower, and when the smoke cleared away after the explosion of one big shell the statue was missing.

It was a great opportunity for the propagandists: "Some of our newspapers said that the Germans had wantonly destroyed it, which I expect was believed by the people that read them at the time."

But while the statue was still there, dangling below the horizontal, it was seen and interpreted by hundreds of thousands of men, who readily responded with significant moral metaphors and implicit allegorical myths. "The melodrama of it," says Carrington, "rose strongly in ourhearts." The most obvious "meaning" of the phenomenon was clear: it was an emblem of pathos, of the effect of war on the innocent, on women and children especially. For some, the Virgin was throwing the Child down into the battle, offering Him as a sacrifice which might end the slaughter. This was the interpretation of Paul Maze, a French liaison NCO, who half-posited "a miracle" in the Virgin's precarious maintenance of her position: "Still holding the infant Jesus in her outstretched arms," he says, "the statue of the Virgin Mary, in spite of many hits, still held on top of the spire as if by a miracle. The precarious angle at which she now leaned forward gave her a despairing gesture, as though she were throwing the child into the battle." Philip Gibbs interpreted the Virgin's gesture similarly, as a "peace-offering to this world at war."

Others saw her action not as a sacrifice but as an act of mercy: she was reaching out to save her child, who--like a soldier--was about to fall. Thus S. S. Horsley in July, 1916: "Marched through Albert where we saw the famous church with the statue of Madonna and Child hanging from the top of the steeple, at an angle of about 40 degrees as if the Madonna was leaning down to catch the child which had fallen." Still others took her posture to signify the utmost grief over the cruelties being played out on the Somme. "The figure once stood triumphant on the cathedral tower," says Max Plowman; "now it is bowed as by the last extremity of grief." And to some, her attitude seemed suicidal: she was "diving," apparently intent on destroying herself and her Child with her. But regardless of the way one interpreted the Virgin's predicament, one's rhetoric tended to turn archaic and poetic when one thought of her. To Stephen Graham, what the Virgin is doing is "yearning": "The leaning Virgin . . . hung out from the stricken tower of the mighty masonry of the Cathedral-church, and yearned o'er the city." The poeticism "o'er" is appropriate to the Virgin's high (if vague) portent. In the next sentence Graham lays aside that particular signal of the momentous and resumes with mere "over," which marks the passage from metaphor back to mere clichŽ: "The miracle of her suspense in air over Albert was a never-ceasing wonder. . . ."

Whatever myth one contrived for the leaning Virgin, one never forgot her or her almost "literary" entreaty that she be mythified. As late as 1949 Blunden is still not just remembering her but writing a poem of almost 100 lines, "When the Statue Fell," imagined as spoken to a child by her grandfather. The child has asked, "What was the strangest sight you ever saw?" and the ancient responds by telling the story of Albert, its Basilica, the statue, its curious suspension, and its final fall, which he makes coincide with the end of the war. And in 1948, when Osbert Sitwell remembered armistice Day, 1918, and its pitiful hopes for perpetual peace, he did so in imagery which bears the deep impress of the image of the golden Virgin, although she is not mentioned at all. His first image, remarkably, seems to fuse the leaning Virgin of one war with the inverted hanging Mussolini of another:

"After the Second World War, Winged Victory dangles from the sky like a gigantic draggled starling that has been hanged as a warning to other marauders: but in 1918, though we who had fought were even more disillusioned than our successors of the next conflict about a struggle in which it was plain that no great military leaders had been found, we were yet illusloned about the peace."

Having begun with a recall of the leaning Virgin as an ironic and broken Winged Victory, he goes on to remember, if subliminally, her bright gilding: "During the passage of more than four years, the worse the present had shown itself, the more golden the future . . . had become to our eyes." But now, remembering the joy on the first Armistice Day, his mind, he says, goes back to two scenes. In both gold is ironically intrusive: "First to the landscape of an early September morning, where the pale golden grasses held just the color of a harvest moon": but the field of golden grasses is covered with English and German dead. "It was a superb morning," he goes on, "such a morning, I would have hazarded, as that on which men, crowned with the vast hemicycles of their gold helmets, clashed swords at Mycenae, or outside the towers of Troy, only to be carried from the field to lie entombed in air and silence for millenniums under their stiff masks of virgin gold." Thirty years after Sitwell first looked up and wondered what to make of her, the golden Virgin persists, called up as a ghost in his phrase "virgin" gold. Perhaps he thought he had forgotten her. Her permanence is a measure of the significance which myth, with an urgency born of the most touching need, attached to her.

This selection is taken from Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory, pp. 131-35. In his notes he cites the sources for the passages he quotes. The entire chapter, "Myth, Ritual, and Romance," deals with the stories and legends, like "The Golden Virgin," that grew up during the war.

© http://www.english.emory.edu/LostPoets/Fussell.html
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BerichtGeplaatst: 23 Aug 2008 20:40    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Waar magisch denken al niet toe kan leiden.... Wink
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BerichtGeplaatst: 23 Aug 2008 21:16    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Nog wat geschiedenis:
Tom Morgan
Apr 26 2006, 10:09 AM
Pals might like to know how the Leaning Virgin - that visual icon of the Somme - came to be there, on top of such a huge church in such a tiny town.

The answer is down to another statue of the Virgin and Child which is inside the church. Not many battlefield visitors bother to go and see it.

In the middle ages a shepherd was out with his sheep somewhere along the Ancre. He called the sheep in at the end of the day but one sheep wouldn't budge. It seemed to be focussing all its attention on the base of a particular tree. the shepherd ran towards it, banging his stick on the ground, when he heard a voice say, "Shepherd, stop! You are wounding me!" The shepherd saw that the end of his stick was smeared with blood.

He began to dig and found a small statue of the Virgin and Child, which he took to his local priest, who put it inside the church. Because of the strange way in which the statue had been found, local people came to look at it and it wasn't long before stories began to circulate saying that the statue had special powers and that miracles had taken place. As a result the faithful from further afield came to pray before the statue and this spread its fame even further. The statue became the focus for local pilgrimage and prayer and it became known as "Notre Dame de Brebieres - Our Lady of the Ewes".

By 1727 the number of pilgrims was growing very large with people coming from many parts of France so in that year the decision was made to move the statue from its original village church out in the fields, to Albert itself.

Pilgrim numbers continued to rise and the coming of the railway gave things an enormous boost. Albert was becoming known as "The Lourdes of the North" and early in the 1880s, for example, 20,000 pilgrims arrived by train in just one day. Albert was becoming a prosperous town, with many of its people making a living from meeting the needs of the pilgrims.

In 1885 work was started on a basilica which was grand enough to house the statue and large enough to accommodate all the pilgrims. The idea was to firmly establish Albert as a pilgrimage centre. This was finished in 1901 and it was the forerunner of the basilica we see today. On top of the tower was placed the famous original "Golden Virgin" statue - 15 feet in height and designed to make the basilica visible from miles around.

Of course the whole place was wrecked during the Great War. Afterwards, the son of the original architect used his father's plans to re-create the basilica (though the replacement wasn't quite as ornate inside as the original). But things had changed. People's faith had been shaken in the war, and anyway, it was some years before Albert was rebuilt. The pilgrims never returned in the numbers that people had seen in the pre-war years.

Today the statue is still inside the church. Although the story dates from the middle ages, the present statue dates from the 14th century. It's about three feet high and it's a crowned virgin holding a child, with a ewe beneath the Virgin's feet. If you walk down the side-aisle on the right-hand side of the basilica, you will be able to go behind the altar, up a small flight of steps to the statue, down some steps on the other side and back along the other side-aisle. This was how the basilica was designed to cater for a constant flow of people. On the way out, you'll see how visitors had to pass the Basilica Shop!

Albert still caters for pilgrims, of course, though they have come to see the battlefields now.

Tom

van:
http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/lofiversion/index.php/t51460.html
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BerichtGeplaatst: 23 Aug 2008 21:22    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Voor:


© http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/pozieres-albert/index.html

Na:


© http://percysmith.blogspot.com/2007/04/chapter-36-albert.html
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BerichtGeplaatst: 23 Aug 2008 21:47    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

En is het gaatje nog te zien dat die herder er ooit heeft in geprikt?
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