In the interest of you-never-quite-know-what’s-going-to-pop-up-in-this-space-next, I offer up the phenomena known as pareidolia as it pertains to religious sightings.
I bring this to your attention after having read in the London Daily Telegraph that a Plymouth, Devon, mother by the name of Nelly Noden found Christ looking back at her from a piece of chewed gum that she’d left on her fireplace mantle.
“I’d just got back from going the shops to buy a few things to eat when, as usual, I put my gum on the mantelpiece to have some crisps,” she told the Telegraph. (A nice, telling bit of detail that has one almost wishing a crisp was handy.)
“I went to pick it up again and Jesus was just there, staring at me.”
Well, there you have it. Besides letting the world know that she indulges in the somewhat unsavory habit of parking her gum above the fireplace when not in use, Nelly Noden and her masticating molars had managed to manufacture an image of the Messiah.
Actually, Jesus, the Virgin Mary and a whole host of religious figures have made their presence known through food and drink for decades. For instance, Mother Teresa was found in a cinnamon bun at a Bongo Java Coffee in Tennessee in 1966. Proudly displayed under a glass case as “the nun bun,” it was stolen last year.
Or consider Fred Whan of Ontario, Canada, who discovered a likeness of Christ in a fish stick he burnt while cooking up cod for his kids. Fred thought it looked like a rock star, a son said it looked more like a slightly charred Christ. For my money, the picture looked more like Ché or George Harrison.
Images of Jesus have been found in an onion by a clergyman’s daughter in Florida; a dumpling in Toledo, Ohio; in prawns, pancakes, pizza signs, rusty screen doors, latte swirls, X-rays of molars and streetlights hitting bumpers at just the right angle.
But the supreme sighting of the Son of God has to be the case of Maria Rubio and her “Miracle Tortilla” of Lake Arthur, N.M.
It was October 1977 when a thumb-sized skillet burn on a tortilla turned out to resemble Jesus. Maria built a shrine for it and, by 1979, more than 35,000 people had made a pilgrimage.
The Miracle Tortilla finally met its demise in 2006 when Maria’s granddaughter took the icon to school for show and tell, and it broke into pieces after being dropped — but not before others had discovered a raft of other tortilla-scorched sightings of Christ in intervening years.
One of those sightings was made by Diana Duyer in Florida in September 1994 when an image of Christ appeared on a grilled cheese sandwich.
Now, here’s the kicker. Later that year, Duyer sold her sacred sandwich on eBay for a cool $28,000.
I offer these nuggets of pareidolia — the perception of meaning from natural randomness — not as a dig at beliefs but, rather, as food for thought. Much like Nelly Noden, something to chew on.
Bill Morem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781-7852.