Massed. At first sight this appears to be solidly religious: even the water-carrier might be taken as a reference to Egypt and Moses. But the geisha and the little mock-marble figure of the child, to say nothing of the pictures, are distinctly less pious. Then there is the Native American, lower centre.

As their grandmothers and great-grandmothers die off, more and more French people take to vide-greniers to sell off the symbols of religion that were so common in their houses when they were children: religious statues, holy water bottles, votive candle holders, religious medals, souvenirs of Lourdes, rosaries and (above all) crucifixes. A few years ago I started collecting crucifixes, and by early 2016 I had over forty on the wall of my entry-hall. I never pay more than 5 euros; most were two or three; and many were a euro or under. Before that, though, I had started a photographic series called La Religion Recyclée: recycled religion. There's more about the photography here.

Military cross. Plus some distinctly elderly wiring on the lamps in the background

Some stallholders seem to specialize in religious artifacts and memorabilia, or maybe they just come from very religious families. Often, though, it is the juxtapositions that make the pictures so remarkable.

Our Lord of the Fly-Spray. The pump-action sprayer beneath the cross was the normal way of spraying insecticide before the widespread adoption of aerosol cans; in Britain it was known as a "Flit Gun" after the leading brand of insecticide, Flit

As so often, the Christ Himself is quite badly corroded.The vivid green to His right (our left) is fluorescent spray-paint, which is often used to mark out pitches at vide-greniers. Sometimes I think of painting some of the more battered crucifixes, perhaps in hallucinatory colours, but I suspect that the results would have more shock value than artistic value.

Our Lord of the Old Boots. Crucifixes vary enormously in size: the boots and the garden fence give some idea of the scale of this one. The biggest on my wall is about 40 cm high (16 inches) while the smallest, possibly a refugee from a worn-out rosary, is about 6.5 cm tall (2.5 inches).

The materials of which the crosses themselves and the Christs are made come in a wide variety. I have crucifixes or Christs, or sometimes both, in wood, marble, bronze, plaster, ceramics, ebony, iron, pot metal, plastic, zinc, light alloy and silver plate. Ivory is very rare and probably beyond my budget anyway. Over the years I have become more and more selective in what I buy, though I have an increasing weakness for battered crucifixes. Were they the only thing saved from a bombed-out house? Or did they receive their scars when Great-Grandmother died and they were thrown none too carefully into a box to take to a succession of vide-greniers until they sold?

Our Lord of the Rusty Bicycle. Bicycles that unlikely ever to run again are commonplace at vide-greniers; one wonders who buys them. Equally inexplicable is the fashion that must have existed at some time for plush crucifixes. Somehow the plush seems to be missing the point.

Our Lord of the Blue Plush. The colour is truly spectacular, and the contrast with the crucifix itself is dramatic. What sort of room was it bought to hang in? A dark one, perhaps, where it would leap out from the shadows. In the bright light of day, it is not exactly garish, but it is certainly eyeball-searing.

On the subject of "leaping out", it is surprising how often small children will hold up crosses as if warding off vampires. Sometimes they even have battles with one another. The laughter on their faces suggests that this is, for them, a more familiar use for a crucifix than as an object of devotion.

Mary and Joseph and Tom and Jerry. I'm never sure whether to rearrange things in order to get a better picture. There's no real reason not to, because after all the things on the table are put down more or less at random. On the other hand, it seems to me to detract from the authenticity of the pictures, and besides, the compositions never seem to be as immediate after I have moved things, so I very seldom do it.

Our Lord of the Broken Toy Tank. Who on earth is going to buy a toy tank with a missing turret? An especially mean uncle who doesn't like his nephew very much? An artist whose oeuvre is based on broken toys? It must be quite a small market even when everyone is included. Or perhaps its owner is in his 50s and cannot bear to throw it away. Such questions are rendered all the more pointed when there is a crucifix in the mix.

Son of a Carpenter. You can get involved in quite deep theology and indeed sociology at vide-greniers, especially if you start photographing religious images. Was Joseph really a carpenter, despite the iconography in the picture earlier in the page (the square and plane)? Or would "educated man" be a better translation? Is the square he is holding actually a Masonic symbol? Is a man's life defined by the tools he uses? If so, how? Is a computer keyboard or a camera any less of a tool than a bill-hook, a pair of pliers, or a trowel? How does a Christ lose His cross? You don't need to answer these questions. Merely thinking about them is enough.

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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016