Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=113059
Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:25:02 PM CST
1977 Jesus Tortilla
1996 The Clearwater Virgin
1996 The Nunbun
2003 The Milton Madonna
2003 The Virgin Stump
2004 Allah on a Lamb
2004 Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese
2004 Jesus Fish Stick
2005 Jesus Potato Chip
2005 The Nunbun is stolen
2005 The Virgin Mary of the Underpass
2005 Jesus Rock
2005 Mary and the Baby Jesus on a pretzel
2006 Virgin Mary firewood
2007 Virgin Mary on a pizza pan
Apparitions of religious idols rarely discriminate. They find their way onto grilled cheese, tortillas, potato chips, pizza pans, pretzels, rocks, lumps of firewood, livestock, hospital windows, building facades, tree stumps and even fish sticks.
In Nashville, Tenn., a cinnamon bun was dubbed the “NunBun,” after it bore a striking resemblance to Mother Teresa, according to some viewers.
Chicago’s own apparition emerged in 2005 as a salt stain in the form of the Virgin Mary, located underneath the Kennedy Expressway at the intersection of Fullerton and Damon avenues.
Throngs of people come and pay their respects to this divine chemical reaction, which the Illinois Department of Transportation attributed to salt runoff.
Among concrete expressway ramps and strewn belongings from the homeless who reside there, visitors leave flowers, artwork, notes, lit candles and various other mementoes.
But a few weeks ago the popular image, which even has its own entry on the Roadside America Web site, was defaced with devil horns and cloven hoofs. Last week the Illinois Department of Transportation responded to the situation by laying a thick coat of beige paint over the celebrated stain.
Defaced with the words, “big lie” in 2005, and later with eyes and an open mouth playing off Munch’s “The Scream,” authorities have previously responded to the situation by removing the paint and restoring the image. But this time the stain was concealed along with its vandalism.
“We tried to remove paint with rags and a brush. It was not working, so the graffiti only was painted over,” said Marisa Kollias, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Chicago police said that no suspects have been apprehended and the investigation into who is responsible for the defacement is ongoing.
The patrons of the obscured image have yet to come to IDOT with complaints, but Nayeli Urguiza, a receptionist for the nearby St. Hedwig Church, said many of their parishioners often visit the shrine and will likely be upset to see the image is no longer visible.
“A lot of people didn’t believe in it, but there were also those who did,” Urguiza said.
The Archdiocese of Chicago declined to comment on the status of the stain.
Chimera or miracle, Michael Schuck, an associate professor of theology at Loyola University Chicago said that, “Catholicism is diverse and wacky. Catholics find different places where their faith gets physical.”
For some, divinity is served up in a grilled cheese sandwich or on the wall of a concrete underpass.
Religious or not, perception can be a powerful thing, said Galen V. Bodenhausen, a professor of social psychology at Northwestern University.
“People tend to see what they hope to see when they are confronted with something ambiguous,” Bodenhausen said. “People want to believe in all sorts of things that make them feel less uncertain about the world.”
A 2006 study conducted at Cornell University found that the power of wishful thinking influences what people see. When shown visually ambiguous images and told that a certain interpretation would have more favorable outcomes, volunteers tended to see the figure the way that would most benefit them.
"These studies support the growing body of evidence that people's motivational states -- their wishes and preferences -- influence their processing of visual stimuli," said David Dunning, co-author of the study.
For Mary Ward, 42, a practicing Catholic, removing the paint from the famous stain seemed insignificant.
“If it really is the Virgin Mary she will come through the paint.”