Holy Apparitions and “Cryptic Photos”

November 25, 2013

On November 10, 2013, my wife Diana and I went on one of our religabouts (excursions to observe or experience some religion-related event—see my blog of January 14, 2013). We responded to an ad in the Buffalo News to learn about “the powerful apparitions” of Jesus and Mary and “awe-inspiring cryptic photos” at a Catholic shrine in Queens, N.Y.

We sat through an hour of praying the Rosary and introductory remarks by two visiting members of the celibate Lay Order of St. Michael. These remarks contained repeated denunciations of “evils” that included abortion, contraception, and homosexuality. With a series of slides the duo told the story of Veronica Lueken (1923–1995), a housewife and supposed seer of Bayside, N.Y., who said Heaven had bestowed on her the title, “Veronica of the Cross.” She began to experience various “manifestations” in 1968, and in 1970 began to receive visions of Mary followed by those of Jesus and several saints.

Mrs. Lueken, who claimed a remarkable number of afflictions—ranging from heart and kidney ailments to arthritis, chronic fatigue and many more—styled herself a “victim soul” (one who allegedly suffers for others). She was also a stigmatist (upon whom the wounds of Christ’s crucifixion are supposed to appear spontaneously) and Marian visionary (who purportedly channeled messages from the Virgin Mary to the faithful). (See for example https://www.smwa.org/Veronica_of_the_Cross/Document_Veronica_of_the_Cross.htm; accessed November 15, 2013.)

Unfortunately, such phenomena inevitably fail to withstand scrutiny. For example, I have noted that the linguistic style of “Mary” varies from channeler to channeler—often exhibiting distinct or faulty diction like that of the channeler herself, who invariably has traits associated with a fantasy-prone personality. (See my The Science of Miracles, 2013, 269–75). Lueken’s alleged channelings are no exception: “Mary” speaks in clichés (“This vale of tears”), erroneous words (“the great cataclyst [sic]”), and poor diction (“Heaven is greatly of heart for you”) (see https://www.smwa.org/Message/Text/1980_1989/83_28_05.htm; accessed Nov. 15, 2013).

Indeed, Church authorities have denied the legitimacy of Lueken’s apparitions. The Diocesan Bishop of Brooklyn at the time of the claimed apparitions, Bishop Francis Mugavero, having conducted “a thorough investigation,” concluded in 1986 that the so-called “‘visions of Bayside’ completely lacked authenticity” and that the alleged “‘messages’ and other related propaganda contained statements which, among other things, are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church” (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Veronica_Lueken; accessed Nov. 15, 2013).

As well, numerous supposedly miraculous photographs—featured in a shrine brochure titled “Cryptic Photos from the Other Side”—are nothing of the sort, as CFI photo expert Tom Flynn and I determined. Many have meandering streamers due to low-light conditions causing the camera’s shutter speed to automatically slow, while the camera continues in motion after the amateur photographer assumes the shutter was closed. In this accidental manner a light source in the scene, such as a candle, may trace an erratic bright line in the picture; multiple light sources may produce parallel streamers—a tell-tale indication of this familiar type of photo glitch. Photos with words, numbers, or other too-good-to-be-true elements can be produced by deliberate trickery involving a time exposure. Many other photo effects thought miraculous can also be attributed to accident or manipulation. (See my Camera Clues, 1994, and, again, The Science of Miracles.) The touted miracles at Bayside are simply, like others of their ilk, examples of deception, including self-deception.