The Golden Virgin
Albert Basilique Notre-Dame de Bebrières Turm Statue.jpg
The Golden Virgin Sculpture atop the Basilica [A]
Coordinates50°00′13″N 2°38′53″E / 50.003611°N 2.648056°E / 50.003611; 2.648056Coordinates: 50°00′13″N 2°38′53″E / 50.003611°N 2.648056°E / 50.003611; 2.648056
Location20 Rue Anicet Godin, 80300 Albert, France
DesignerAlbert Roze
Height5 m (16 ft 5 in)[1]
Completion date1897
Dedicated toThe Virgin Mary

The Golden Virgin, which is also known as The Leaning Virgin[B] is a gilded sculpture the depicts the Virgin Mary offering up Baby Jesus skyward. The sculpture stands atop the Basilique Notre-Dame de Brebières (French) Basilica of Our Lady of Brebières, a Catholic Church in Albert, France. It was sculpted by Albert Roze and was nearly toppled by shellfire in the 1916 Battle of the Somme.[C] It became a symbol of resilience and a great visual icon during World War I. The original statue was damaged and leaning in 1915, and went missing after it fell in 1918 as a result of a British bombardment. The statue's destruction was elevated to mythical proportions.[3] The anticipated toppling of the statue was superstitiously ascribed as having an effect on the outcome of the war. It was later recast and replaced.


The Golden Virgin sculpture was covered with thousands of gold leaves. Pope Leo XIII christened the church and seeing the Golden Virgin, he called the basilica the “Lourdes of the North”. The sculpture was fastened to the bell tower.[4] In 1915, it was leaning after 2000 shells hit the town and Basilica.[4] Engineers fastened a chain to prevent it from toppling.[D]


Photo from 1915 depicting the leaning Golden Virgin and the Basilica badly damaged from the shelling of Albert, France during World War I.
Photo from 1915 depicting the leaning Golden Virgin and the Basilica badly damaged from the shelling of Albert, France during World War I.

In 1915, during The Battle of the Somme of World War I, the Golden Virgin sculpture was shelled and left leaning at an angle of more than 90 degrees to the vertical axis.[2][7]

In 1914. German forces suspected a French observation post was housed in the church's bell tower so from October 1914 they shelled the dome. By January 7, 1915, the dome was destroyed and by January 21, 1915, the base of the statue was hit and the statue "tilted alarmingly".[8] The sculpture was designed by French sculptor Albert Roze in 1897 and it was placed atop the Basilique Notre-Dame de Brebières. The sculpture depicts a golden-colored Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ high above her head. Although artillery shells destroyed much of the town of Albert, the statue of Mary remained attached to the Basilica but was tilted at an extreme angle.[7]

Photo of the near complete destruction of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Brebières taken after the golden Virgin fell and went missing in 1918. Photo by Brigadier General William Okell Holden Dodds commanding officer of the 5th Canadian Division Artillery.
Photo of the near complete destruction of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Brebières taken after the golden Virgin fell and went missing in 1918. Photo by Brigadier General William Okell Holden Dodds commanding officer of the 5th Canadian Division Artillery.

Superstitious soldiers studied the sculpture daily; they wrote about it in their diaries and remarked it was knocked over and threatening to fall at any time. Messages about the statue were passed between troops; it was often said to be a portent; “When the Virgin falls, the war will end”. Soldiers also said whoever knocked down the statue would lose the war.[E]

The statue became a symbol to British and German troops; soldiers remarked the Virgin Mary was keeping the baby Christ from falling.[10] By 1918, German troops occupied the city of Albert and the British shelled the Basilique to deprive the Germans of the elevated position, and the statue was toppled. It was never recovered.[1][8] Coincidentally, WWI ended November 11, 1918.[11]

According to a report:

It was the tradition of the French peasants that when the Virgin fell the war would come to an end. It is said that an Australian gunner finally brought it down. At any rate, when the Germans were beaten back at the beginning of the last Allied offensive and Albert was retaken, the tower and statue had fallen in ruins. The peasants believe that the luck of the Germans had deserted them when the Virgin of Albert fell. From that day the power of the enemy waned, and this leaning statue certainly marked the high tide of the German invasion.[12]

Residents discussed placing the sculpture in its famous war-time pose but later decided to place it in its original standing pose.[1] The sculpture of the Golden Virgin was recast in 1929[4] and fitted atop the 76-metre (249 ft 4 in) bell tower during the reconstruction of the Basilica.[13]

A photograph of leaning statue was a fascination for many; it appeared on many postcards of the time.[2][9] The actions of French engineers who shored it up continue to be a source of amazement. Over 100 years later, it remains a symbol of the triumph of good over evil.[14][F] It is a landmark[2] and a tourist attraction.[16] and an artistic inspiration.[17]

The events surrounding the church and its sculpture are the subject of Henry Williamson's 1957 novel The Golden Virgin; Volume 6 of the series A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. It was selected as a Daily Mail Book of the Month. [18]


On September 8, a novena is celebrated to honor the Leaning Virgin.[19][20][21]

See also



  1. ^ Basilique Notre-Dame de Brebières with the recast Golden Virgin atop of the bell tower. The original sculpture was created by Albert Roze and subsequently destroyed and lost during World War I.
  2. ^ "Most Tommies called it the ‘Leaning Virgin’ or the ‘Golden Virgin’. When the Australians arrived in July 1916 they had another name for it – Fanny Durack ... an Australian female Olympic swimmer who had won a gold medal in the 1912 Olympics. The Diggers thought it looked like Fanny diving into a swimming pool!"[2]
  3. ^ "The Battle of the Somme was fought from north of the Somme river between the towns of Albert and Arras. The Battle began on the 1 July and was called off on the 18 November 1916. The Battle of the Somme is famous for the loss of 58,000 British troops (one third of them killed) on the first day of the battle, 1 July 1916, which to this day remains a one-day record."[3]
  4. ^ Some credit French engineers.[5] Other sources say it was either the British or the French who secured the statue with a thick cable.[6] The discrepancy is understandable amid the battle and hindered battlefield observation or recording. It may be attributable to the fog of war.
  5. ^ "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 portent[i]ous meaning to it."[9][4][7]
  6. ^ The Golden Virgin statue was recast and placed upon the reconstructed basilica.[15]


  1. ^ a b c Holt & Holt 2016, p. 368.
  2. ^ a b c d Reed, Paul. "WW1 Landmarks: The Leaning Virgin, Albert". Retrieved October 15, 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Item MM 120129 Photograph - 'Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebières', Albert, France, Sergeant John Lord, World War I, 1916". Museums Victoria. Retrieved October 15, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d Daubs, Katie (October 15, 2018). "'When the Virgin falls, the war will end'". Toronto Star. Retrieved October 13, 2021.
  5. ^ Middlebrook 2018, p. 51.
  6. ^ Aonghais 2014, pp. 380-381.
  7. ^ a b c Walsh 2011, p. 177.
  8. ^ a b Sumner 2018, p. 45.
  9. ^ a b Fussell & Winter 2013, pp. 131–135.
  10. ^ Neiberg 2014, p. 39.
  11. ^ "Armistice Day: World War I ends". History. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved October 13, 2021.
  12. ^ Edgar, William G. (November 23, 1918). Victory at the British Front. The Bellman. p. 580. Retrieved November 16, 2022.
  13. ^ David, Samantha (March 2, 2021). "€180million facelift for WW1 bombarded French basilica". The Connexion. English Language Media. Retrieved October 12, 2021.
  14. ^ Part-time Priest (November 7, 2015), Sermon: The Leaning Virgin
  15. ^ "Basilique Notre-Dame de Brebières, Albert, France". Retrieved October 14, 2021. A graceful building, topped with a golden Virgin and "flying baby".
  16. ^ Bailey 2014, p. 194.
  17. ^ Miller, Francis Trevelyan; Muirhead Bone, artist (1918). "Church of Notre Dame de Brebières in Albert, France—The Leaning Virgin from an etching by Muirhead Bone". Journal of American History: 14, 68. Retrieved November 16, 2022.
  18. ^ Williamson, Henry. "The Golden Virgin (Vol. 6, A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight)". The Henry Williamson Society. Retrieved October 14, 2021.
  19. ^ Ziolkowski 2018, p. 24, 189.
  20. ^ Roy 2005, p. 76.
  21. ^ Santoro 2011, p. 171.