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A half a grilled cheese sandwich with a bite taken out was recently sold for auction on eBay. It fetched $28,000. The reason for the high price is that the seller claimed, apparently in full sincerity, that it had on it an image of the Virgin Mary.
I expect most people would be able to envision a face on the sandwich. It is a well known neurological / psychological phenomenon by which the brain perceives specific images from vague details.
This finding of images is not uncommon. Nearly all of us see them at various times in the clouds, in wallpaper patterns, in stains, in grime covered windows, and in rock formations.
So, the identification of a face in a random pattern of scorch marks in a grilled cheese sandwich is not surprising. But why should this particular face be identified as that of the Virgin Mary?
I can understand why a cinnamon bun can be considered to look like Mother Teresa, even if it makes her look somewhat simian - but we actually know what Mother Teresa looked like. We have a genuine model to compare the perceived image with.
Yet, when people claim to see Mary or Jesus, they have no idea what the original individuals (if they even existed) actually looked like. All they know is the standard artistic models developed hundreds of years after these two were supposed to have lived. In fact the current accepted image of Jesus is radically different from that of the early days of Christianity when he was portrayed as a beardless young man wearing a short roman tunic, quite different from the robed hippie Jesus commonly found in a grease spot on the kitchen wall.
And to me, that image in the sandwich does not look like the popular image of the Virgin Mary found in Catholic churches worldwide, nor does it look like a teenage Middle Eastern girl (which is what Mary probably looked like.) I look at it and I see either a generic cherub, or perhaps Shirley Temple.
The Virgin Mary? Almost certainly not.
1. For further reading on this phenomenon:
- Rorsach Icons by Joe Nickell, Skeptical Enquirer November / December 2004
- Pareidolia - http://skepdic.com/pareidol.html
2. Interestingly, while developing this article, I discovered an image of the Virgin Mary on a pita. Obviously, as pita bread has existed relatively unchanged since biblical times, it had to be Mary. No other interpretation is possible. Unfortunately, the pita is not available for sale. It was stuffed with salmon, tomato, lettuce, and onion, and consumed. It was good.