“My father grew up in a house that was blessed with water from an iceberg. A picture of that iceberg hung on the walls in the front rooms of the many houses I grew up in. It was a blown-up photograph that yellowed gradually with age until we could barely make it out. My grandmother, Nan Johnston, said the proper name for the iceberg was Our Lady of the Fjords, but we called it the Virgin Berg.”
— Baltimore’s Mansion, Wayne Johnston
•••There was news this week about how Newfoundlanders shouldn’t be surprised if they soon see an iceberg and do a double take.
This past March Dutch sculptor Ap Verheggen placed two iron sculptures of stylized dogsleds on icebergs off Greenland, icebergs that are now drifting south.
It’s hoped the sculptures will generate discussion about climate change.
An iron dogsled is one thing, but imagine how Newfoundlanders felt in 1905 when an iceberg bearing a striking resemblance to the Virgin Mary floated past the Narrows, the entrance to St. John’s harbour.
On June 24th, 1905 T.B. Hayward of St. John’s took a picture of a mysterious iceberg off the Narrows.
A figure stands apart from the main iceberg, an image that many people believe to be of Our Blessed Lady.
Hayward was actually a painter of Newfoundland scenes. He would photograph a scene and then paint from the photo.
The date, June 24th, is significant for two reasons: the anniversary of the discovery of Newfoundland, and the feast of St. John the Baptist, whom the Basilica is dedicated to.
According to the website for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s, the picture is likely the “oldest known photograph believed to be a depiction of a supernatural Christian presence.”
At the time, Archbishop Michael Francis Howley of St. John’s was so impressed by the iceberg that he wrote an article for The Tablet, the Catholic Diocesan newspaper for Boston describing the iceberg that he referred to as the “Crystal Lady.”
He also wrote a sonnet — Our Lady of the Fjords — and endorsed the sale of postcards and photographs that were produced by Hayward for mass production.
•••A few more lines from Baltimore’s Mansion:
“They heard later of things they could not see from shore, of the water that ran in rivers from the Virgin, from her head and from her shoulders, and that spouted from wound-like punctures in her body, cascading down upon the boats below, onto the fishermen and into the barrels and buckets they manoeuvred into place as best they could. Some fishermen stood, eyes closed and mouths wide open, beneath the little waterfalls, gulping and gagging on the ice-cold water, their hats removed, their hair and clothing drenched, hands uplifted.”