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Leaning Virgin of Albert


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#1 Arthur J

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 02:04 PM

unsure.gif

Can anyone settle an discussion.

When the Leaning Virgin at Albert was repaired during the war was it done by Army or Civilian engineers


Thanks in anticipation



Arthur

#2 squirrel

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 02:54 PM

I read somewhere it was done by the Royal Engineers - steel hawsers were mentioned IIRC.

#3 Bob Coulson

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 05:18 PM

The Virgin was toppled to an angle in a bombardment in January 1915 and secured first by French and then by British engineers and finally fell on April 16th 1918.

Info from Rose Coombs - BEF.

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#4 Siege Gunner

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 06:06 PM

Did it fall, or was it pushed ? I thought that the Basilica, statue and all, was shot down by British artillery during the Kaiserschlacht to dislodge German machine-gunners or observers.

#5 cockney tone

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 06:52 PM

Somewhere in the mists of time I recall being told that the original 'Virgin' actually went missing near the end of the War! and that the one we see now is a replacement.

Had I had too much Leffe as usual or can anybody please confirm this?

Cheers,
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#6 spike10764

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 06:56 PM

QUOTE (Siege Gunner @ Apr 25 2006, 07:06 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Did it fall, or was it pushed ? I thought that the Basilica, statue and all, was shot down by British artillery during the Kaiserschlacht to dislodge German machine-gunners or observers.

Was it not to stop the Germans using it for ranging their artillery ?? unsure.gif

#7 Tom Morgan

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 07:20 PM

Scottie, you're right. The tower of the basilica - with the statue - fell at a time when the Germans were in Albert, and at the end of the war, no trace of the statue could be found. I think the Germans probably sent it back to Germany for the metal value. The one that's in place on the rebuilt basilica isn't the original one (which must have been damaged beyond any hope of repair, anyway).

The British and the Germans both had superstitious sayings about the statue. The Germans said that the side which shot it down would lose the war, which proved not to be the case. The British said that when the statue fell, the war would soon end, which proved true. (Sort of).

Tom

#8 cockney tone

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 09:32 PM

Tom,

thank you for putting my mind at rest, glad i was not dreaming it, perhaps it might turn up in Egberts Grandads trunk? laugh.gif

Cheers,
Scottie.

#9 Tom Morgan

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Posted 26 April 2006 - 08:09 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

#10 Peter Beckett

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Posted 26 April 2006 - 08:31 AM

Tom,
thanks for that very interesting narrative. Another place to see when we are there biggrin.gif

Peter

#11 dycer

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Posted 26 April 2006 - 08:32 AM

Tom,
I hope the Church Wardens now realise it is a place of pilgramage.
I did try to explain to one in 1999 that I was visiting as my Uncle had bought a Postcard of an upright Virgin and Child when passing in 1915 but she still chased me out of the Church mad.gif
George

#12 Tom Morgan

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Posted 26 April 2006 - 10:56 PM

That sounds bad George. I've been in there quite a few times and never seen anyone else in there apart from the people I was with. So there are miserable jobsworths in France, too, then.

Tom

#13 Frajohn

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Posted 27 April 2006 - 06:02 AM

As it is now

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#14 Frajohn

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Posted 27 April 2006 - 06:08 AM

And, a little closer

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#15 Tom Morgan

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Posted 27 April 2006 - 07:56 AM

Excellent pictures, FraJohn! I was specially interested to see the big close up of the Golden Virgin.

For those who haven't been inside the basilica, have a look at this site to see what it looks like.

Tom

#16 Frajohn

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Posted 27 April 2006 - 01:25 PM

Hi Tom

Thanks for the kind comment. I was pleased with the photo, especially as I do not have a very steady hand!

We enjoyed our visit there in March. Having no problems wandering around for a while.

regards

John

#17 paul guthrie

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Posted 27 April 2006 - 01:48 PM

There was a funeral in place the last time I wanted to take a look inside, it's very bad form to tourist a church when any kind of service is going on. There is an interesting museum in the basement.
Thanks for the link Tom.

#18 dycer

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Posted 27 April 2006 - 02:01 PM

Paul,
Totally agree with you.
There did not seem to be anything on when I visited but equally they may have been preparing for something and she realised my limited French would not allow proper translation so she took the easiest option.
To balance things up.I visited Sailly-Sur-La-Lys Church(an Uncle is buried in the Churchyard), it was unlocked and deserted and I was able to wander round at will.You can imagine what damage I could have done if I had an evil mind.
George

#19 spike10764

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Posted 28 April 2006 - 08:49 AM

Thanks for the background info Tom, I learn something new on this forum every day.
Great pictures Frajohn....

#20 feh

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Posted 13 August 2006 - 06:37 PM

I heard somewhere that soldiers used to say 'When the statue falls we'll lose Albert' or something along those lines, and that it actually did fall when the Germans captured Albert in 1918?

#21 Chris_Baker

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Posted 13 August 2006 - 06:43 PM

There are a few small pics of the Madonna when she was leaning, here

#22 Ralph J. Whitehead

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Posted 13 August 2006 - 10:35 PM

When the Germans first arrived on the Somme the XIV Reserve Corps commander gave orders that the statue and basilica were off limits to the artillery despite realizing it was a superb observation post.

In early 1915 reality took effect and there were attempts to bring the tower down resulting in the leaning statue.

Ralph

#23 Auimfo

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Posted 14 August 2006 - 05:54 AM

The leaning virgin?? I thought it was a statue of Fanny Durack!! laugh.gif

Tim L.