Another “Weeping” Statue

December 15, 2010

Another instance of “Mariolatry”—in this case involving a statue that “weeps” at night in Windsor, Ontario—has made the news. I was alerted to the story on November 4 by one of my Facebook friends, Doug Brink, who said the place was “crazy with media and hundreds of people around” and suggested I come and investigate. I was out of town at the time and then preparing for other trips; however, I eventually received a query from The Toledo Blade , whereupon I began to look into the case and eventually talked with Blade reporter David Yonke who called fresh from the site.

The phenomena centered on a 48-year-old woman named Fadia Ibrahim who is a walking repository of miracle claims. She purported to be receiving messages from the Virgin Mary beginning some two years ago. Ibrahim alleges that the Virgin first caused the letter M to appear in blood on her leg, followed by other “messages” on her body, and even verbal communication, claiming that Mary spoke to her and urged people to renew their faith. Ibrahim’s resulting notoriety drew donations from local Catholics. The plaster statue was donated, as was money to build an enclosure for it at the front of her home. (The statue has since been relocated to a Maronite Roman Catholic church.) Soon Ibrahim was claiming that the statue was supernaturally animated: although it seemed to be smiling during the day, at night it “wept” oily tears. Ibrahim also alleged that she herself secreted oil from her hands—healing oil, credulous pilgrims believed. They brought cotton balls so they could collect some of the “miracle” oil.

Such activity is nothing new. In Pavia, Italy, in 1980, for example, a woman was caught surreptitiously applying “tears” to a plaster bas-relief with a water pistol. In Quebec in 1985 a statue of the Virgin seemed to weep bloody tears because a confessed pious hoaxer had mixed his blood with animal fat so it would liquefy and flow when warmed by the body heat of pilgrims. In 1995, analysis of blood on a weeping statue in Sardinia revealed the DNA was that of the statue’s owner. Again, tests of oil at a site in Worcester, Massachusetts, proved it to be 20 percent chicken fat—suggesting the substance came not from heaven but probably the home’s kitchen. And so on. At one time or another, I have examined not only icons or statues that dripped oil, but also those that “glowed,” or even reportedly exhibited heartbeats, among other phenomena (see my article, “The ‘New’ Idolatry,” Skeptical Inquirer 30:3, May/June 2006, 18-21).

Such common fakery, coupled with the fact that science has never authenticated a single “miraculous” image, prompted me to tell Blade reporter David Yonke that the Windsor case appeared to be one of “pious deception”—especially given such a variety of supposedly supernatural phenomena (“weeping” statue, body markings, visions, oil appearing on hands, and so on).

Nor am I the only skeptic. The pastor of Ibrahim’s own Antiochan Orthodox Christian church, Rev. John Ayoub, stated he did not believe the statue was miraculous, having personally investigated the case. He pointed out that his church neither recognizes nor worships statues. A theologian at Assumption University, Anne Shore, said laughing, “A lot of these statues that weep are helped, OK?”—explaining that people place oil on the effigies “at night.” (See Dalson Chen, “Skeptics question . . .,” Windsor Star , Nov. 4, 2010.) Another skeptic is Rhett Rushing, a social scientist at the University of Texas-San Antonio, although I take issue with his statement to the Blade that “You can’t scientifically debunk or investigate something that’s based on faith.”

True, one cannot investigate something that exists only as faith, but—as I have already shown—actual physical occurrences may well be investigated and in some instances exposed as tricks. As I have done in the past, I am prepared to take custody of Fadia Ibrahim’s statue, whereupon I predict it will cease to “weep” oil or I will explain the phenomenon.