Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran a photograph of the damage the monster storm Sandy had inflicted on the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. This beachfront community had been hit hard by air, water and fire, leaving the fourth classic Greek element, earth, strewn with rubble and ashes. The front-page photo, reproduced five columns wide, was taken by Natalie Keyssar. Its most striking feature was the centered presence of a wholly intact and upright sculpture of the Virgin Mary, still placed in an equally unharmed shell-crowned niche. Spread out behind the statue were blocks of devastation where private homes had once stood.
The stunning survival of this statue soon earned it the name of the Virgin Mary of Breezy Point. The sculpture and its setting of ruins were also featured on news coverage by Fox, CNN and NBC, among others. Not surprisingly, this statue’s dramatic appearance has been linked to the discovery of the “9/11 Cross,” the horizontal and vertical beams found standing amid the ruins of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Both have been viewed as miracles or divine signs.
The idea of the holy being imperishable to fire or other forces has deep roots within the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the Book of Exodus, Moses encounters God speaking from the Burning Bush, which although it is on fire, “is not consumed.” In the Book of Daniel, when Babylon’s ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, seeks to make a public example with his execution of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, he places them in a fiery furnace. When the three (there is also a protective angel with them) emerge untouched by the blaze, the ruler grants them freedom of worship.