Enough to Make a Statue Weep
By John Happs
This article is about a fake weeping statue that fooled hundreds of people. Instructions for making your own weeping statue are near the end under Testing the tears. The article originally appeared in the Skeptic 22(4), 43-45, Summer 2002, and has been updated. Dr Happs, President of WA Skeptics, is an education consultant.
On 9 September 2001 The West Australian ran a story about a weeping statue of the Virgin Mary, on display at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Rockingham, Western Australia. My telephone started ringing and thus began my two-day involvement in radio and television interviews for stations across Australia and overseas. The 70-cm-tall fibreglass statue was purchased by Patty Powell for $150 during a holiday in Thailand in 1994 and now it is packing believers into the church. Over 3000 people attended during a two-hour viewing period at the weekend. Patty told the media that the statue started to cry rose-scented tears during the Feast of St Joseph and then again at Easter. Apparently, it has been weeping continuously since August and, I suspect, so have many skeptics in Western Australia.
In 1994, Mary Murray, a retired postmistress from Grangecon in County Wicklow, Ireland, also had a statue of the Virgin Mary that wept bloody tears. Apparently, Mrs Murray welcomed travellers from 8.00 am until 11.00 pm every day, at least until a more spectacular statue was found elsewhere and interest in Grangecon dropped off. Earlier, in 1987, blood flowed from the "heart" of a more sophisticated statue of Christ located in Parma, Italy. The liquid was examined by experts who confirmed that it was indeed blood. A local police officer, Giuseppe Melchiorre, proclaimed: "I felt a shiver run up my spine and broke into a cold sweat. I staggered out of the Abbey and, for the first time in my life, I prayed. I am now a firm believer and attend Mass." Clearly, this statue was doing the job it was designed for.
In 1994, another Italian police officer found a statue of Christ on a refuse tip and it also bled profusely but not merely from the eyes or heart. Not to be outdone, this particular statue bled from the eyes, head, hands, breast and feet. Apparently, the statue was confiscated by the Bishop of Castelimare di Stabia who, presumably, thought it was a load of old rubbish.
If you are impressed by the above accounts, then contemplate the following. In 1995, a statue of the Virgin Mary was purchased in Medjugorje and taken to Civitavecchia, near Rome. The family, whose son suffered from poor health, reported that the statue was weeping red tears, which were later analysed and found to be real blood. Unfortunately there were no reports of DNA testing of the blood from the statue. Neither were there any reports of DNA testing of family members for comparison -- clearly a case of overlooking the bleeding obvious. Other cases of weeping and/or bleeding statues have been reported over the years and a weeping statues archive can be found at http://www.mcn.org/l/Miracles/weeparchive.htm
Miracles at Rockingham
Whenever the interstate or overseas media asked if I thought the sick should fly in to see the Madonna, I said yes -- if they could afford it and were both happy to make the journey and able to do so. After all, I suggested, even if the weeping statue doesn't actually heal them, a visit to Western Australia to experience our beautiful beaches, vineyards and restaurants would undoubtedly make them feel a whole lot better. I was not paid by the WA Tourism Board to make this comment. It is simply a reply to those wise men from the East who have suggested that the Madonna stops weeping only when it is taken out of WA.
Off to Rockingham
Another surprise awaited me in the form of a meeting with Patty Powell herself. Patty was in the church and we walked outside to chat. She greeted me in a very friendly way and I was impressed by her warmth and her genuine belief that the weeping statue represented a miracle. She said she had recognised me from my television interviews, and suggested that God had sent me on that particular day since the statue had been placed on temporary display so children from the nearby primary school might come to see it. Patty was quick to reassure me that the "tears" were not being sold to the public and that people were not being charged any admission fee. Indeed, she told me that a portion of the donations made by visitors was being forwarded to the sick and needy in Thailand, where the statue originated.
By this stage, I was convinced that Patty was not the kind of person who would deliberately perpetrate a fraud for financial gain or otherwise. The atmosphere within the church was emotionally charged with many people praying, under the watchful eye of Father Henry Walsh. At the front of the church the scene was one of serenity and total belief, and I would be the first to wish every worshipper well if their personal belief provided them with a feeling of well-being.
But at the rear of the church I was somewhat dismayed to see several groups of very young primary school children being ushered in to witness what one of their teachers told them was a miracle. What visions were being conjured up in the minds of those youngsters? As a professional educator I find any practice whereby innocent children are served doses of supernatural nonsense by well-meaning adults to be an appalling abuse of their adult privileges. The fact that those teachers held their own religious views does not give them the right to indoctrinate children, especially as children have a strong tendency to believe absolutely anything their teachers might tell them.
Testing the tears
(1) First buy a hollow statue made of a porous material like plaster of Paris. (2) Paint or varnish your statue to give it an impermeable coating. (3) When the coating is thoroughly dry, carefully scratch it away on and around the eyes. Light scratches are enough, you don't have to drill holes. (4) Cut a piece of cloth or plastic sponge big enough to fill the head cavity moderately tightly. (5) Soak the piece in any vegetable oil with the optional addition of your preferred fragrance and colouring, drain away the excess, then stuff the piece into the head cavity. In due course "tears" will slowly leak out of the scratches. If too copious, you scratched too hard; use a thicker oil. (6) Wait until the crowds gather and start collecting your tax-free dollars.
No matter. Archbishop Barry Hickey announced that the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth would officially investigate the statue. The investigation would be conducted by a team of three people: Father Kevin Long, Principal of St Thomas More College at the University of WA, Dr Michael Shanahan, surgeon and former secretary of the Catholic Doctors Association of WA, and non-Catholic scientist Dr Thelma Koppi, lecturer in microbiology at the University of WA. What follows is based on articles by Joe Spagnolo in the Sunday Times during April 2007
Verdict and subsequent events
All this was promoted on a website, and during the next four years thousands of people from all over the world flocked to see the statue's rose-scented tears, which attracted more than $60,000 dollars in donations. Rockingham parish priest Father Finbarr Walsh initially supported Jakeman but eventually (after four years) concluded he was a fake and expelled him from the parish as "a nuisance" and "a huge embarrassment". Critics said the statue started weeping only after Jakeman arrived in Rockingham, and Father Walsh said it stopped weeping shortly after Jakeman left. In April 2007 the police announced they would investigate to see if worshippers who had donated money had been deceived. Archbishop Hickey said it was not a church matter since neither church property nor church officials were involved.