Our Italian hidey-hole has an empty niche in an external wall. As in Belgium, traditionally niches are for a Madonna or a saint, and so I have been Madonna hunting. The niche has awkward dimensions. The statue cannot be more than twenty-five centimetres tall. The two ladies in the illustration are my best finds to date. Both are between fifty and a hundred years old. The one on the left comes from Wallonia, the one on the right from Flanders and, more particularly, is modelled on the sixteenth century statue in the old shrine at Scherpenheuvel. The owner of the antiques shop where I found it gave me some touching information. In the past I had occasionally seen Madonnas at the Place de Jeu de Balle and at other such markets with hands or even the baby Jesus snapped off. The reason, the antiquaire explained, is that until the mid-twentieth century an illness or death in the family, because it meant that for some reason prayers had not been answered, would be marked by snapping off a hand or an arm from the statue. If you ever come across a Madonna where the baby Jesus has been broken off, this is not an act of vandalism or clumsiness. It means, sadly, that a child died in the household.