‘Miracle’ Statue of Fatima
After years of crossing paths with it, I finally met up with the Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Fatima (Figures 1 and 2), which has been traveling the world to relate the “message” of the Lady of Fatima—that of world peace. At times, the statue “weeps,” with some believing that the purportedly miraculous tears “are related to the tragic legalization of abortion” (“Miracles” 2012).
Fatima, Portugal, was the site where—in 1917—the Virgin Mary appeared to ten-year-old Lucia Santos and her two cousins. The only one to talk with the apparition, Lucia clearly exhibited the traits of a fantasy-prone personality. Her own mother would come to declare her “nothing but a fake who is leading half the world astray.”
At the end of a six-month period of appearances, there occurred the famous “Miracle of the Sun,” proclaimed as such by the Catholic Church. Of thousands in attendance, some maintained that the sun spun pinwheel-like, while others claimed it danced or seemed to fall toward the spectators.
However, since people elsewhere in the world—viewing the selfsame sun—did not see the reputed gyrations, it is likely that the effects were optical ones caused by temporary retinal distortions (from staring at the intense light) or by darting the eyes to avoid fixed gazing. Meteorological phenomena and so-called “mass hysteria” may have also played a role. Sun miracles have since been reported elsewhere (Nickell 1993, 176–185; 2009).
In 1947, the statue was created, based on Lucia’s description of her apparition, and sent on its travels. A year after the attempt on his life in St. Peter’s Square in 1981, Pope John Paul II ordered that the bullet removed from the vehicle he had been riding in be set in the statue’s crown—in gratitude for his life being saved. The attempt was supposedly predicted by one of three “secrets” that had supposedly been delivered to Lucia by the apparition. The message told of a bishop in white being killed by soldiers in a hail of bullets and arrows that also killed other bishops and priests. In fact, the visionary “prediction” could only be associated with the pope by ignoring or rationalizing its many errors in that regard. (For example, in the attempted assassination no one was killed, there were no arrows, and so on.) (Nickell 2009)
The statue has frequently been reported to weep, most notably in 1972 at New Orleans. As an archdiocesan spokesman stated at the time, “There are all sorts of possible causes. This is a very humid climate here.” The suggestion of condensation is underscored by the fact that the wooden statue has glass eyes. Hoaxing is another possibility, as evidenced by numerous cases of bogus “weeping” statues and icons, many of which I have investigated on site. (See, for example, my case study in Nickell 2011.) Imagination is another factor: according to the statue’s website, “Frequently, an individual sees the tears on the statue while others at the same time do not” (“Miracles” 2012).
When I saw the statue on its visit to St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Amherst, New York (September 16, 2012), it looked quite ordinary. However, claims that it sometimes miraculously weeps are ironic in light of the anti-idolatry teaching in Catholic bibles. They contain an extra, fourteenth chapter of Daniel, which tells about the worship of an idol that daily consumed food and wine placed before it. But Daniel said to King Cyrus: “Do not be deceived, O king; for this is but clay inside and brass outside, and it never ate or drank anything.” Daniel proposed a test. The food and wine would again be placed, but, before the temple door was sealed with Cyrus’s royal signet, Daniel secretly sprinkled ashes on the floor. The next morning footsteps were discovered in the ashes, leading to secret doors used by the priests and their wives and children (Daniel 14: 1–22, Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition). It is unfortunate that this pointed lesson against idolatry is not recalled more often.
“Miracles.” 2012. Online at www.pilgrimvirginstatue.com; accessed September 6, 2012.
Nickell, Joe. 1993. Looking for a Miracle. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
———. 2009. The real secrets of Fatima. Skeptical Inquirer 33:6 (November/December), 14–17.
———. 2011. The case of the miracle oil. Skeptical Inquirer 35:3 (May/June), 17–19.