Sanal Edamaruku investigates Irish “Moving Mary” statue

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Travelling South and North Ireland during the last week of November, Sanal Edamaruku spoke in public meetings in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Belfast and met politicians, professors and students and supporters of atheist and rationalist organisations in several places. Before he left for Germany, the leaders of Atheist Ireland, who organized and hosted his journey, invited Sanal to visit the village Ballinspittle, the place of the famous Catholic “miracle” of the “Moving Mary” statue.


In Summer 1985, a Mary Mania broke out in Ireland. There were claims at some fifty different sites all over the country that Mary statues had started moving. Thousands of believers rushed to offer prayers and witness the alleged signs of god. Over the years, most of these claims died down, but the grotto of Ballinspittle kept attracting miracle hungry pilgrims from all over the world.

The little statue, some five feet high and with a halo of small light bulbs, stands some 20 feet up the side of a hill in an ivy-clad grotto, surrounded by a natural garden. There is a balustrade down some fifteen meters away that keeps visitors at a distance. As expected, Mary did not move during Sanal’s visit. To keep an objective check on her, Sanal fixed a laser beamer on a tripod, throwing the red light dot right on the statue’s face. During more than one hour of careful watching, no movement could be recorded.

“It is obvious that the ‘miracle’ needs certain conditions to happen, and it is easy to understand why,” Sanal explained in a meeting in Belfast. “There has to be twilight or darkness, preferably some wetness and a bit of fog in the air – the typical Irish weather. May be a gentle breeze plays with the leaves surrounding the figure with the halo of sparkling lights. Then imagine a crowd of believers who have come from far off places with great expectations and hopes, murmuring monotonous prayers for hours or singing hymns, occasionally interrupted by a frantic: She moves! See, she moves! In such a scenario, you may actually observe a real movement. But of course its not the statue that moves, but the onlookers themselves. It’s an optical illusion and a mass hysteria.” Sanal recommended a small self-experiment: “Stand still on a spot in the darkness of a park for some time, eyes sternly fixed on a street light in some distance, and count up to three thousand. There are good chances that the lamp post starts swaying by then.”

Interestingly, the Catholic church neither approved nor rejected the controversial “moving” of the statue so far. That is the typical strategy: they would wait for a century or two if a “miracle” develops in a suitable way before officially adopting it and starting the canonization processes. The Vatican is not in a hurry.  Of course, meanwhile they would not forget to position a huge collection box at the site.

Sanal also made another very interesting observation: The statue of “Blessed Virgin Mary” of Ballinspittle was opened to the public in 1954 to mark the centenary of the “Feast of the Immaculate Conception”.  Its alleged moving in summer 1985 was excellently timed. The rumour just spread while the Irish media flashed a well orchestrated series of dramatic reports about unwed mothers giving birth, and while the Catholic church was fighting tooth and nail against attempts in the Parliament to liberalize the law of contraception.  Eventually, the Irish Health Act was amended that year, allowing condoms to be sold without prescription to people over 18. That was a revolution – and marked the beginning of the Catholic church loosing its iron grip on the population.

After Ireland, Sanal paid a short visit to Germany to meet the press, friends and colleagues and then flew to Sweden for lectures in Stockholm, Uppsala and Goteborg.

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Written By: Rationalist International Bulletin
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21 COMMENTS

  1. if there’s one thing i must admire about the modern believer over their iron age counterpart is how generous they are with the term “miracle”. i mean had moses said to god “oh balls, the egyptians are still after us” and god replied “tell you what, hold your hand out over the sea and i’ll make something that’s normally quite still appear to move, see how they like that” the tribal elders that told such tales would understandibly expect slow clapping for a more interesting story but fair play to the modern catlick, they’ll swallow any old shite and gladly stand outside singing about it

    brings a tear to the eye

  2. “Thousands of believers rushed to offer prayers and witness the alleged signs of god.”

    I know I’m not religious, but I really find it strange that if one believes in the “almighty”; truly believes that He is so powerful that He can not only create this mind-blowing universe, but actually set in motion a full plan for the whole of time etc ….. I would definitely be looking for something a little more spectacular than a ceramic figurine allegedly moving a centimeter or two as proof.
    I mean, there’s some spectacular stuff in the universe, exploding supernova, black holes, northern lights etc .. or even the complexity of gene expression through the myriad of gene events that need to take place for it to happen correctly to the wonders of embryology or the sheer variety of ways plants get pollinated; even man made spectacles can be impressive, like a Chinese firework display, the Millau bridge or the water circus .. and these people flock to see some dimly lit porcelain bint sway in the wind as proof of ultimate power. A fire-cracker would be more exciting. I just don’t get it.

  3. “It is obvious that the ‘miracle’ needs certain conditions to happen, and it is easy to understand why,” Sanal explained in a meeting in Belfast. “There has to be twilight or darkness, preferably some wetness and a bit of fog in the air – the typical Irish weather…”

    It’s very true that you can get optical illusions of movement from stationary objects in bad weather.

    I’ve been caught in “white-out” conditions quite a few times when skiing and, when you stare at people or objects that you can only just glimpse through the fog or falling snow, they can often appear to jump about all over the place, even though you know they are stationary.

  4.  rosbif ,the explanation is very simple: the more spectacular the display the more difficult to achieve.Think of all the so-called crying statues,jesus on toast, bleeding statues…These are very easy to create.An 800 ft vision of jesus over Tower Bridge would be a lot harder to create.Moral- keep it simple and the sheep will believe and put money in the box.

  5. Yes, a very feeble miracle, does not warrant the description. Reminds me of a parallel claim- that aliens must have built the pyramids; to which I asked “surely an advanced civilization capable of interstellar travel could have done better that huge piles of stones??”

  6. God is bored. Wanted to create a universe, but matter appeared spontaneously out of nothing. Wanted to create life, but that came naturally by chemistry alone. Wanted to create morale, but that evolved culturally and self derived from then on. So he rested for six days and, on the seventh day, he got up and made a statue move. Some days, one should just stay in bed.

  7. What a racket religion is. 
     
    In my teens I sometimes had occasion to walk past a grave yard on the way home. One dark evening I was astonished to see a glittering cross hovering about four feet above the ground.

     
    I entered the church grounds and walked towards apparition, only to find that what I’d seen was a granite cross the bottom part of the upright section of which was hidden by a tomb stone, and the crucifix was reflecting light from a lamp post. 
     
    Bit disappointing really.

  8. I have to laugh at the hocus pocus contained within Catholic dogma. Mary, being the mother of Jesus, is herself by dictat of the RCC, declared free of original sin.  Mary’s mother however, St Anne was apparently married to a Joachim, and depending upon your theologian to two others also! Undoubtedly all full of original sin, being mere human beings!  So Mary’s sinning parents, by a wave of God’s magic wand, somehow conceive a child free of original sin!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I

    Jesus, in the meantime, has no daddy apart from Himself. He contains no original sin, again by RCC dictat. And yet He goes around smiting an innocent fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season, and threatening non-believers with the lake of fire. “I come not in peace, but with a sword”.

    Now I wonder what Mary made of her delinquent son!

  9. dimly lit porcelain bint sway in the wind

    Simple and ethereal can be very attractive. Many want balm, not bang, to feel god’s presence.

    I just don’t get it

    These Jesus and Mary statues are “miracles” personified.
    Perhaps this is better proof of god than, say, a quasar.

    *edited

  10. Just to show Mary has a sense of humor — she makes her followers travel to Ballinspittle, lol

    —————

    “Interestingly, the Catholic church neither approved nor rejected the
    controversial “moving” of the statue so far. That is the typical
    strategy: they would wait for a century or two if a “miracle” develops
    in a suitable way before officially adopting it and starting the
    canonization processes. The Vatican is not in a hurry.  Of course,
    meanwhile they would not forget to position a huge collection box at the
    site.”

    I’m not sure what “canonization process” the author’s referencing here, other than the usual, “this event is worthy of belief — but isn’t a requirement”.  Also, the authority most responsible for investigating these things and for recommending their acceptance is the local bish, not the Vatican.  The local diocese is also the entity most likely to benefit from any monetary offerings.

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