“Do you deceive in miracles?” (Weeping Statues and Shroud of Turin)


The most frequently-cited wonders centering on Biblical characters are weeping statues and the Shroud of Turin. One is temporary, the other permanent, but both lack scientific evidence for being genuine.

Weeping statues are representations of Mary from which tears are said to be gushing forth. The crying is usually interpreted as her trying to tell us something. A more impressive miracle would be the statue opening its mouth and leaving no doubt about the message. Then again, who these days could understand Aramaic?

Weeping statues are usually frauds to drum up attention and money, though a few are caused by natural phenomenon such as condensation or a chemical reaction to air. When done as a hoax, olive oil is usually employed since it never dries.

An Italian skeptic with the preposterously wonderful name of Luigi Garlaschelli explained how it works. A hollow statue made of a porous material is glazed with an impermeable coating. The statue is then filled with a liquid, with the porous material absorbing it and the glazing keeping it from flowing out. Next, the glazing is imperceptibly scratched under the eyes, causing drops to come forth.

A simpler, lazier method is to smear blood or oil on the icon. This, or just about any technique, will be effective when used on the devout. They already believe on faith, which is impervious to logic, facts, reason, and persuasion. Augment this with the thrill of witnessing a miracle and having to travel a long distance and stand in a long line to do so, and belief is a virtual certainty.

It is noteworthy that skeptics are seldom allowed to examine the statues or take samples from them. When that has happened, the ruse has collapsed. Statues in Quebec had been weeping blood, and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporters were allowed to put it to a scientific test. This revealed that the blood had been mixed with pork fat, which liquefied and ran when the room temperature rose due to the body heat of the faithful.

Mary also showed up in a California tree, with this turning out to be a fungus. She has also visited oil stains, doors, and my Froot Loops this morning.

The most nauseating manifestation of Mary’s presence was though a comatose teen girl in Massachusetts. The child had been unresponsive and bedridden for 11 years after nearly drowning. The family garage became a makeshift chapel, with miracle seekers stopping by to receive healing after seeing the girl and a weeping statue. The statue could cure every malady except for the one which afflicted the girl who lived adjacent to it 24-7. A window was added to the garage so throngs of onlookers could stare at the vegetative girl and pray that she channel God in order to help them find their car keys.

Her mother allowed 20/20 to take a sample of the oil, with the analysis revealing it to be 80 percent vegetable oil and 20 percent chicken fat. In fact, skeptic author Joe Nickell, who penned a book on weeping statues, reported that all he statues he ever encountered were the result of fraud or condensation. Of significant note, neither he nor any other investigator has ever seen an object start to spurt liquid.

While weeping statues can pop up anywhere there’s an adequate olive oil supply, seeing the Shroud requires a trip around the world, unless one lives in Turin.

This piece of cloth has an image of two men on it, one frontal and one rear, with the heads meeting in the middle. The Shroud was probably an artwork from the 14th Century employing red pigment and vermilion paint. Art historian Nicholas Allen, using only techniques and materials available in the Middle Ages, replicated making the Shroud for his doctoral thesis.

The assertion that the image is of Jesus wrapped in a blanket poses serious issues. There are a lack of wraparound distortions across the torso, thighs, and lower legs that would be consistent with a man being wrapped inside. If the cloth were genuine, the face and body would barely be recognizable as such.

As it is, the head is a bit large for the body, the nose is disproportionate, and the arms are too long. But hey, you try hanging on a cross and wearing a crown of thorns for 36 hours and see how peachy you look.

Even if the Shroud had been a malformed man’s burial linen, radiocarbon 14 dating proved it was less than 700 years old. This spurred an ad hoc hypothesis that a blaze in 1532 screwed up the carbon dating, an assertion void of fire science reality. In fact, samples for carbon dating are completely burned to CO2 as part of the procedure.

Meanwhile, University of Turin professor Alberto Carpinteri explained the dating discrepancy this way: “Neutron emissions by earthquakes could have induced the image formation on the Shroud’s linen fibers, through thermal neutron capture on nitrogen nuclei, and caused a wrong radiocarbon dating.”

Other than subatomic influence from natural disasters, other pieces of evidence put forth by the Shroud Crowd is that the cloth contains both AB blood and pollen grains found only in Israel. However, blood blackens when aged, while the “blood” on the Shroud is red. Another miracle, perhaps. Furthermore, the red blots were subjected to a series of tests by forensic serologists, with the results indicating it is not blood.

Even if it were, it could have come from anyone who ever came in contact with it. Likewise, the pollen could have been added by anyone who ever handled the Shroud, either by chance or deception. Though doubtful, it could mean that the Shroud had been in Jerusalem at one point, though this fails to establish that it is Jesus’ burial garment. Nickell, who also wrote a book on the Shroud, cites more circumstantial evidence. He notes the complex herringbone weave is inconsistent with what was used for burial in Jesus’ time and place. Hebrew law also dictated cleansing of the corpse before wrapping, and bodies don’t bleed days after death.

Even if evidence pointed to the cloth coming from the Middle East two millenniums ago, this would fail to establish that it is an image of Jesus rising. No explanations are offered for how the image was impressed onto cloth through a physical resurrection. Holes in the cloth would be better evidence than an image on it.

Believers generally attribute all this to the miraculous. These miracles include the Shroud Jesus precisely resembling how he is portrayed in Middle Age European paintings, as opposed to how a First Century Israeli more likely appeared.

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