Most recent investigative activities of local skeptic groups have been focused on religious visions and miracles, as I noted in my column in the last issue of JSE. Almost all of these have been associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), either as apparitions or weeping/bleeding statues. There is a long and rich history of BVM apparitions beginning in ancient times with a vision to St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (c. 213-68) and continuing with apparitions to Mary of Egypt (5th century) and others (Delaney, 1980). These are largely based on legend and apparently no movements of public piety followed them. The first apparition in modern times with a significant public impact occurred in 1491 in the Alsatian Vosges where the BVM appeared to a group of men and warned of the dire consequences of God's wrath. Pope Alexander VI issued a Bull declaring the vision authentic (O'Carroll, 1989). In 1507, the dispute between Dominicans and Franciscan's concerning the immaculate conception seemed to be resolved when Mary appeared to Brother Letser, a Dominican friar. She revealed her annoyance at the Franciscans for teaching such heresy and confirmed that she had been conceived in original sin. Brother Letser was an ideal visionary since he fasted, scourged himself, fell easily into ecstasy and developed stigmata. Unfortunately, he was also a victim of a hoax perpetrated by the four heads of the priory, one of whom was accidently discovered in the attire of the BVM. They had colored a Host red, made a statue weep with wet sponges and painted stigmata on Brother Letser while he was drugged. Needless to say, the Holy Inquisition had a barbecue soon afterwards (DeRosa, 1988).
Since the 16th century there have been hundreds of apparitions of the BVM, but only a handful are officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. These include Guadeloupe, Mexico (1531); Lourdes, France (1858); Knock, Ireland (1879); Fatima, Portugal (1917); and Beauraing and Banneux, Belgium (1933). Of most interest to the researcher of paranormal events are the silent, luminous visions that occurred to multiple witness at Knock and Zeitoun, Egypt (1968). The latter was seen by over two hundred thousand people over several years and was photographed. The only scientific examination of that phenomena that I am aware of was done by Derr and Persinger (1989), who correlated seismic phenomena to the apparitions.
Today around the world the BVM has been seen in Kibeho, Rwanda; Naju, South Korea; Betania, Venezuela; and Medugorje (in what's left of Yugoslavia). In this country she has been appearing in Bayside, New York; Conyers, Georgia; Marlboro, New Jersey; Denver, Colorado; Bella Vista, Arkansas; and Lubbock, Texas. For those interested in finding out more about the fascinating history of these apparitions as well as present day occurrences, I would suggest the following sources of information to start with.
(1) Pittsburgh Center For Peace, 6111 Steubenville Pike, McKees Rocks, PA 15136. Publishers of the newspaper "Our Lady Queen of Peace", an 18-page special issue describing many recent apparitions.
(2) Marian Communications Ltd., P.O. Box 8, Lima, PA 19037. Distributors of the videotape "Marian Apparitions of the 20th Century", narrated by Ricardo Montalban, that traces eleven worldwide apparitions of the BVM ($27.95 including shipping).
(3) World Apostolate of Fatima, P.O. Box 976, Washington, NJ, 07882-0976. Publishers of Soul Magazine and many books on Marian themes.
(4) The Cult of the Virgin Mary: Psychological Origins. (Princeton: Princeton University Press), a 1986 book by Michael P. Carroll about the emergence and development of the cult and his psychoanalysis of the phenomena. and in the more general area of apparitions and visions, the books by Evans (1984) and Vallee (1988) make interesting reading.
Delaney, J. J. (1980). Dictionary of Saints (New York: Doubleday)
DeRosa, P. (1988). Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy (New York: Crown)
Derr, J. S., and Persinger, M. A. (1989) Geophysical variables and behavior: LIV. Zeitoun (Egypt) apparitions of the Virgin Mary as tectonic strain-induced luminosities, Percept. Motor Skills, 68, 123-128.
Evans, H. (1984). Visions, Apparitions, Alien Visitors: A Comparative Study of the Entity Enigma (Wellingborough: The Aquarian Press)
O'Carroll, M. (1989). Medjugorje: Facts, Documents, Theology, 4th edition (Dublin: Veritas)
Vallee, J. (1988). Dimensions: A Casebook of Alien Contact (Chicago: Contempory Books)