June 24, 1905
“Our Lady of the Fjords”
On June 24, 1905 T.B. Hayward a St. John’s artist and photographer pointed his camera in the direction of a mysterious iceberg off the Narrows of St. John’s, and snapped a picture of what is likely the oldest known photograph believed to be a depiction of a supernatural Christian presence.
The photograph in question depicts what many people believe is a clear picture of a wondrous iceberg showing the figure of the Virgin Mary in the narrows off St. John’s. How similar to a statue the original iceberg looked is unknown. The photographer (T.B. Hayward) was really a painter of Newfoundland scenes, particularly marine scenes. His method was to photograph a scene and then paint the photograph.
The Catholic Archbishop, in St. John’s, Michael Francis Howley, who saw the iceberg from the steps of the Basilica Cathedral, was so impressed by the extraordinary iceberg that he wrote an article published in The Tablet, the Catholic Diocesan newspaper for Boston describing the iceberg as the “Crystal Lady.” He also endorsed the sale of postcards and photographs that were produced by Hayward for mass production.
Archbishop Howley perceived the iceberg to be a sacred sign, so moved by the sight that he composed a sonnet in honour of the frozen statue entitled “Our Lady of the Fjords.” In the sonnet, he refers to the glistening ice figure as “a shimmering shrine – our bright Atlantic Lourdes. The sonnet was published Newfoundland Quarterly in 1909.
Our Lady of the Fjords
Hail Crystal Virgin, from the frozen fjords
Where far-off Greenland’s gelid glaciers gleen
O’er Oceans bosom soaring, cool, serene
Not famed Carrara’s purest vein affords
Such sparkling brilliance, as mid countless hordes
Of spotless glistning bergs thou reignest Queen
In all the glory of thy opal sheen
A Shimmering Shrine; Our bright Atlantic Lourdes.
We hail thee, dual patront, with acclaim,
Thou standest guardian o er our Island home.
To-day, four cycles since, our rock-bound strand.
First Cabot saw: and gave the Baptist’s name:
To-day we clothe with Pallium from Rome.
The first Archbishop of our Newfoundland!
Contemporary Newfoundland author Wayne Johnson says his father grew up in a house blessed by water from this iceberg, which they called the “Virgin Berg.” Johnson wrote about the iceberg in his book Baltimore’s Mansion.
The timing of this wondrous iceberg, this Marian apparition appearing in the St. John’s Narrows was quite significant.
June 24 on the Christian calendar is the Feast of St. John the Baptist. On June 24, 1497 John Cabot “discovered” Newfoundland, it is the feast day of the patron saint of the R.C. Basilica Cathedral and the Anglican Cathedral in St. John’s and the namesake for the capital city, St. John’s.
The Newfoundland Quarterly, LXXXVI, no. 2. (1980)
Kodak Catholicism: Miraculous Photography and its Significance by Jessy C. PAGLIAROLI : Canadian Catholic Historical Association (CCHA) , Historical Studies, 70 (2004), 71_93
Recommended Archival Collection: Very few photographs of Thomas B. Hayward have been identified. If you are aware of other photographs and sketches created by Thomas or his father J. W Hayward the Rooms Provincial Archives Division would love to hear from you.