From       (2200 words no graphics)       Home       Fast-Find Index

Enough to Make a Statue Weep
But not genuine tears

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.

Many precedents
The media people don't seem to be aware that weeping statues have been around for a long time and this particular "miracle" is certainly not unique in Australia. In 1994, a statue of Our Lady of Fatima started to cry in Rooty Hill, near Sydney. Sam Scevola bought the statue in a local antique shop and his mother collapsed in a heap when she witnessed the holy sobbing. Apparently nobody told Mrs Scevola that the statue was supposed to make everyone feel better. Of course watery tears or oily tears are certainly not as dramatic as tears of blood which have also been shed by many a holy statue. In 1997 a statue in Benin, Africa, shed bloody tears, leading one journalist to speculate that this was one of many signs of sadness appearing around the world at that time. Presumably his willingness to believe this nonsense was another sad sign.

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

Miracles at Rockingham
Meanwhile, back in Western Australia, the media had already spoken to the Parish Priest, Father Henry Walsh, who had no doubt that the weeping statue of Rockingham was authentic. He announced, "Miracles are something beyond the power of nature." Similarly Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey thought the statue to be "A truly remarkable phenomenon". He didn't say whether it was a natural or supernatural occurrence, but he did tell the local Catholic newspaper The Record that "The sight of Mary weeping had already had a powerful spiritual effect by calling people back to God". What more could you ask for?

Media comments
At the time media representatives first asked me for my opinion on this supposedly supernatural event. As I had not seen the statue, my comments were along the lines of (1) Weeping staties are not unusual, (2) There is no evidence that supernatural miracles (or even natural miracles) have ever taken place. (3) The tears could easily be analysed. (4) It will probably turn out to be a natural phenomenon or a simple hoax. (5) I would not like to see people exploited by the sale of teardrops or being charged an admission fee to view the statue.

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.

Talkback radio
Comments about the statue from talkback radio listeners were generally of a skeptical nature, with a number of innovative suggestions about how the "tears" might be produced. A professional fibreglasser suggested that the fibreglass statue might be breaking down to form oily material on the outside. Another listener said their freezer had scratches on its side, producing "teardrops" of water, and asked "Should we go and worship this freezer?" Perhaps not, but had Jesus been frozen to death, there might be large numbers of the faithful wearing freezers around their necks today instead of crosses.

Off to Rockingham
Naturally people from the media continued to ask me if I had actually seen the statue. Since I hadn't, I decided it was time to make the pilgrimage. I arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes at about 11.00 am on Wednesday. I didn't expect to find any activity around any church midweek, but in fact the car parks were reasonably full and there were groups of school children making their way into the church. Signs outside the church indicated that the weeping statue would not be on display until Friday. I wandered over to the church and peered inside, noticing immediately that, in addition to the school children, there was a group of people close to the front and, lo and behold, there was the statue.

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
Back in Perth, the media had obtained samples of the "tears" which were passed for analysis to Doug Clarke of Murdoch University. Doug found that the rose-scented tears originated from a recess inside the head of the statue and were basically fresh vegetable oil with rose fragrance added. But how did those oily tears flow when they were needed? In his book The Unexplained (Carlton Books 1997), Dr Karl Shuker shows how to make your own weeping statue by following a few simple instructions, which (modified by me) are as follows:

(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.

A report that the statue was a fake appeared in The West Australian on 11 September 2001, bottom of page 3. This was followed on 13 September by a report from Steve Butler stating that a Murdoch university chemist Doug Clarke had found the "tears" to consist of a mixture of fresh olive oil and a type of rose oil. (In fact he had identified not just the composition of the tears but also their source.) Inexplicably, Steve Butler concluded that the "tears" had defied the university tests. More worryingly, Patty Powell refused to allow further tests on the statue.

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
The commission kept the statue for a month. They confirmed that the tears were vegetable oil mixed with fragrance and were not miraculous. The archbishop ordered that it be withdrawn from church property, so its owner Patty Powell took it back. She and self-proclaimed visionary Ron Jakeman (who lived in her granny flat) then put the statue on display in her home, which they converted into a shrine called the Family House of Prayer. Jakeman claimed to have visions of the Virgin Mary and receive messages from her, and a grotto was set up in the back yard complete with a concrete slab bearing footprints claimed to be Hers. He also claimed to have stigmata, wounds on his hands and feet similar to those said to be on the body of the crucified Christ

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.

From       (2200 words no graphics)       Home       Fast-Find Index