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Winking Jesus Statue: Mystery Solved!

Joe Nickell

August 9, 2005

On July 28, 2005 —according to a Hoboken, New Jersey, street “preacher” —a plaster Jesus statue he had installed as part of a sidewalk shrine suddenly opened one eye. “Some believe it is a miracle,” reported the Associated Press. “Others believe someone doctored the sculpture” (“More” 2005).

The partially blind, unemployed Catholic, named Julio “Sly” Dones, had retrieved the two-foot-tall, Sacred Heart of Jesus statue from a garbage bin a year before. He had made it the centerpiece of a shrine of Madonnas, crucifixes and cherubs that he had set up outside a housing project on Jackson Street. Dones says that while he was cleaning the “sleeping”figurine, which is visibly scuffed and has peeling paint, it opened its right eye (Schapiro 2005; Vernon-Sparks 2005).

Stories soon also spread of the statue blinking its right eye, turning its head, and streaming tears (Arrue 2005). These effects were not verifiable, however, and in any case could have been due to the imaginations of what the New York Daily News called the “enraptured witnesses” (Schapiro 2005). As well, statues left outdoors might well trickle moisture. The effect of the wide-open eye, however, was there for all to see (as shown in the accompanying photograph).

A “carnival atmosphere” attended the “Winking Jesus,” and reactions were varied. A traffic attendant said she regarded it as “an absolute miracle,”and a masseuse promised she would “start going to church from now on.” But one fourteen-year-old girl shook her head and stated, perceptively, “It’sjust a sculpture. I think somebody just scraped its eyelid off” (Schapiro 2005).

Analysis of a number of press reports and photographs demonstrates many persons received mistaken impressions and made erroneous statements regarding the alleged phenomenon. For example, the statue’s eyes were never closed, as many thought; rather the figure previously had “half closed eyes” (Vernon-Sparks 2005).

Moreover, as shown by an electronic, high-resolution photo which I studied in close-up detail with the assistance of Skeptical Inquirer magazine art director Lisa Hutter, the blue eyes are not painted plaster. Instead, they are vitreous orbs, probably glass, embedded in the face. These give the eyes significant added realism (except that Jesus probably would not have had blue eyes), and, indeed, they are the secret behind the opening-eye effect. Portions of the upper and lower right eyelids have been broken off, their irregular edges providing unmistakable evidence of this, consequently exposing more of the eye—notably the iris. The breakage may have occurred when the statue was being cleaned, or it may have happened previously and only been noticed later.

Rev. Michael Guglielmelli of St. Francis Roman Catholic Church, which Dones attends, was cautious about the reputed miracle, but he stated: “As a priest, I’m always open to everything. Whatever lets a person pray is good” (Vernon-Sparks 2005). This end-justifies-the-means attitude stands in sharp contrast to an anti-idolatry story told in the fourteenth chapter of Daniel (found in Catholic but not Protestant Bibles).

The story features an idol of Bel that apparently devoured huge quantities of food and wine and won over King Cyrus to worship of the idol. However, Daniel sifted ashes on the floor of the sealed temple and so recorded the footprints of the priests and their families who used “secret doors” to enter and devour the offerings. As he had reasoned, the idol was only made of brass-covered clay and “never ate or drank anything.” Neither, he might have added, do plaster statues move or weep.

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Joe Nickell

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Joe Nickell, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and "Investigative Files" Columnist for Skeptical Inquirer. A former stage magician, private investigator, and teacher, he is author of numerous books, including Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1998), Pen, Ink and Evidence (2003), Unsolved History (2005) and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation (2007). He has appeared in many television documentaries and has been profiled in The New Yorker and on NBC's Today Show. His personal website is at joenickell.com.