Through the 1980s and 1990s, a profusion of reports of statues and icons weeping tears emanated from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox settings. These reports came from around the world, including Asia and Africa. One of the more spectacular reports came from an icon at St. George's Antiochean Orthodox Church in Cicero, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. In the spring of 1994, tears began to flow from an icon picturing the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus. The tears originated at the eyes of the Virgin. As word spread concerning the occur-rence, thousands of people came to see the phenomenon. Ultimately, Metropolitan Philip, the head of the Antiochean Church, visited and pronounced the phenomenon miraculous.
While the number of reports of weeping statues and icons have multiplied in the last decades of the twentieth century, in part a function of media interest, similar events have been recorded since the sixteenth century. An account has survived from 1527 of a statue that wept just prior to the sacking of Rome. In 1719, a statue of St. Lucy wept in the town of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. Syracuse appears to be the originating point of modern accounts of weeping statues as it was the site in 1953 of a widely reported incident. The eyes of a statue of the Virgin Mary given to a newly wedded couple began to produce a substance which upon analysis proved to be the same as human tears. The story of the statue was widely disseminated through Roman Catholic circles. The incident has been analyzed from both a parapsychological perspective (as a poltergeist phenomenon) and a skeptical (as a hoax) viewpoint.
Possibly the most spectacular modern incident of a weeping statue occurrence is Akita, Japan, where from 1975 to 1981, a statue of the Virgin Mary was seen to weep on more than 100 separate occasions. Sister Agnes, a nun, also experienced the stigmata, three apparitions of the Virgin Mary, and locutions from an angelic being. The statue not only wept, but had previously sweated what upon analysis proved to be human sweat, and bled human blood. The incident in Akita demonstrated the close connection between weeping statues and icons and bleeding statues and icons. Some of the reports of weeping icons concern the weeping of blood, the production of a red substance coming from the eyes.
In 1996, an icon on the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Israel, began to weep tears of blood, a phenomenon seen by many of both Christian and Muslim persuasion. In this case, the eyes on the icon were also reported to have winked at the people viewing it. One skeptical journalist, Stephanie Nolen, a Canadian and lapsed Catholic, reported seeing both the red tears and the wink.
Investigators of such incidents have generally sought initially to rule out the obvious, hoaxes and natural phenomena (for example, a leak above the statue or icon). Enough hoaxes have been uncovered, even among people with reputations for piety and honesty, that an extended search for mundane explanations and the hesitancy of church officials to promote phenomena such as weeping statues except in the rarest of cases is justified. Once obvious natural causes are ruled out, a search is launched for various mundane explanations such as might be provided by the particular substance from which the weeping object was made. Beyond the natural explanation, parapsychologists have offered psychic explanations and skeptics have reached for any possible explanation, in the end suggesting hoaxing as the most widespread cause. Unfortunately, in most cases, especially from Third World countries, no adequate investigation has been done.
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.