Since World War II (1939-1945), a relatively new phenomenon has begun to manifest in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Statues and pictures of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints have appeared to bleed, and they bleed in significant ways, from the hands or the brow, places where Christ was wounded during His last days on Earth, or from the eyes, as if weeping. While such phenomena had been reported since antiquity, in the twentieth century such reports have taken on added significance in light of the attack on supernatural occurrences in the contemporary secular world. The number of such incidents has increased decade by decade during the last half of the century. Many traditional religionists view such miraculous occurrences as the bleeding statues and pictures in much the same way as Spiritualists view mediumistic phenomena, as a demonstration of a supernatural world.
Typical of such reports is the small statue of the Virgin Mary belonging to Olga Rodriguez, a woman in Santiago, Chile, that on November 14, 1992, began to bleed from its eyes. The people who began to stop by the Rodriquez home alerted police to the phenomenon, and the local Criminal Investigation Department took samples of the liquid for analysis. It turned out to be type-O blood. That same year similar reports came from Lake Ridge, Virginia, where a priest, Fr. James Bruse of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, reported cold weather caused statues of the Virgin Mary to weep tears of blood. Not only had many parishoners seen the primary statue at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church weep blood, but various other statues that Bruse had been standing near. A third incident occurred in San Tomas, Mexico. It was first seen by a young girl praying before the statue for the healing of her mother. Returning home, she found her mother up and fixing supper, the first time she had been out of bed in three months.
In 1994, stories came from Ireland, Australia, and Puerto Rico. In 1996 reports came from Trinidad and Kansas, and in 1997, from Benin (Africa). Through the decade more than a dozen cases appeared in Italy alone. Blood from a statue of the Virgin in Las Vegas that began bleeding in 1998 has been caught on pieces of cotton and given away to the faithful. It has been tied to a number of healings.
As with the case in Chile, many of these cases have been investigated at least minimally, and the substance oozing from the pictures or statues is indeed blood, though the type of blood varies from incident to incident. Many have been seen by large groups and have occurred in such a way that the more obvious means of faking the phenomena have been ruled out. Nevertheless, few of the cases have been given what might be thought of as a thorough investigation.
Possibly the most spectacular modern case of a bleeding statue occurred in Akita, Japan, where a statue of the Virgin Mary wept, perspired, and bled from the right hand in what appeared to be a cross-shaped wound. This case passed a rigorous investigation by local scientists, the local diocesan authorities, and the Vatican. The phenomena were associated with the stigmata and three apparitions of the Virgin Mary received by a deaf Japanese Roman Catholic nun, Sister Agnes Sasagawa.
Skeptics such as Joe Nickell have suggested that many of the bleeding statues and pictures are due to conscious hoaxing and point to two prominent early cases as evidence. In the 1850s a picture of Jesus that bled belonged to Rose Tamisier, a French woman known in her village for her miracles, apparitions of the Virgin Mary, and stigmata. On November 10, 1850, she reportedly caused a picture of Christ to emit blood. Investigators examined the picture and initially pronounced the phenomenon genuine. However, this incident lost much of its impact when the following year Tamisier was charged with imposture and in a formal trial found guilty.
In 1914, psychical researcher Everard Fielding (1867-1936) investigated a more impressive case, a set of incidents that had begun some three years previously around Abbé Vachere in the town of Mirebeau-en-Poitou, France. Abbé Vachere claimed that a picture he owned bled, a statue at a nearby grotto sweated blood, and Eucharistic wafers he had consecrated (believed by Catholics to be the very body of Christ) dripped blood. In 1914, church authorities asked that the picture be turned over to them. After complying with their request, Abbé Vachere revealed a second picture like the first that also began to bleed. Fielding had samples of the substance analyzed in England. It proved to be blood.
Fielding returned to follow up his earlier investigation. However, this time he discovered that the church had reason to doubt the veracity of the priest and had excommunicated him. Fielding took added precautions and discovered the former Abbé in a hoax, though he had trouble accepting the facts, given the kindly demeanor of the elderly priest.
While skeptics have attempted a full reduction of the incidents of bleeding statues and pictures to the mundane, either deliberate hoaxing, an unusual natural phenomenon, or hallucination, parapsychologists have attempted to take the bleeding objects out of the supernatural realm and explain them psychically. In a large percentage of cases where an adequate investigation has been made, hoaxing has been detected. There are so many ways in which even amateurs have produced a seemingly spectacular flow of blood, that bleeding statues appear to hold within conservative Roman Catholic circles much the same position that materialization phenomena hold within Spiritualism. Apart from obvious hoaxing, the most common explanations relate them to poltergeists and/or psychokinetic occurrences.
The marked increase of phenomena such as the apparitions of the Virgin Mary and the bleeding and weeping statues and icons, the reports of which have primarily circulated in Roman Catholic circles, have been discussed in New Age circles as a further sign of the coming changes in human consciousness that many expect. Benjamin Creme, the head of Share International, has held up the phenomena as a further herald of the coming of Maitreya, and attributes them to the combined and coordinated efforts of the ascended masters.
Nickell, Joe. Looking for a Miracle. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Press, 1998.
Rogo, Scott. Miracles: A Parascientific Inquiry into Wondrous Phenomena. New York: Dial Press, 1982.