The Redeemer pic­tured in the sky


Be­fore break­fast one day last week, I checked out a YouTube video, “ Face of Je­sus ap­pears in toast.” Un­der­neath are the words, “ I have kept the slice in a plas­tic bag to pro­tect it.” Though Skep­ti­cal is my mid­dle name, I couldn’t help but stare at my slice of toast a lit­tle longer than usual be­fore down­ing it.

For read­ers who are so in­clined, they can also check out videos dis­play­ing ap­pari­tions of Je­sus in a potato chip and a cab­bage, and on a can­dle and an ash­tray af­ter a party in Aus­tralia.

I im­me­di­ately re­mem­bered a story I once read in the St. John’s news­pa­per, Mail and Ad­vo­cate. For your read­ing plea­sure, here it is in its en­tirety, as it ap­peared in the Au­gust 9, 1915 edi­tion.

“ Yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, some peo­ple who were driv­ing city­wards from Tor­bay, and amongst whom was one gen­tle­man whose po­si­tion is a war­rant for his ve­rac­ity, wit­nessed a phe­nom­e­non which they will re­mem­ber with awe and rev­er­ence as long as they live.

“ It was about 3:30 p.m. when sud­denly they ob­served in the clouds a vivid pic­ture of the Redeemer of a bril­liantly red colour. Ev­ery lin­ea­ment of the sa­cred fea­tures and per­son was plainly out­lined and the right hand was raised and pointed up to­wards the heav­ens.

“ The be­hold­ers, one of whom was Mr. John Doo­ley, cab­man, who drove the party, were over­come with emo­tion at the spec­ta­cle and viewed it for fully 20 min­utes. It ap­peared sud­denly and faded from view sud­denly.

“ What it por­tends it is im­pos­si­ble to say, but that it presages some­thing of an un­usual char­ac­ter can­not be any doubt.”

Re­ally? Two months later, the news item was picked up by an Amer­i­can Pen­te­costal pe­ri­od­i­cal, Word and Work. By De­cem­ber, it had also ap­peared in an English Pen­te­costal pe­ri­od­i­cal, Con­fi­dence. I won­der, what is it with these early Pen­te­costals?

Af­ter read­ing the item in the St. John’s news­pa­per, I con­tacted Philip His­cock of the Depart­ment of Folk­lore at Me­mo­rial Univer­sity.

“ That’s a won­der­ful piece of lo­cal folk­lore,” he said. “I hadn’t heard about it be­fore, but it cer­tainly fits in with some other lo­cal phe­nom­ena.”

He re­minded me of the day in 1905 — June 24 — when the St. John’s pho­tog­ra­pher T.B. Hay­ward cap­tured a snapshot of the leg­endary Vir­gin Mary ice­berg, which sub­se­quently came to be known as Our Lady of the Fjords and the Crys­tal Lady. In his per­sonal mem­oir, “ Bal­ti­more’s Man­sion,” Wayne John­ston wrote about the so-called Vir­gin Berg.

“ The ice was en­folded like lay­ers of gar­ment that bunched about her feet. Long drap­ings of ice hung from her arms, which were crossed be­low her neck, and her head was tilted down as in stat­ues to meet in love and mod­esty the gaze of sup­pli­cants be­low.”

Michael Fran­cis Howley (18431914), the Ro­man Catholic arch­bishop at the time, ac­tu­ally wrote a sonnet about the ap­pari­tion.

It reads, in part:

I also con­tacted the con­tem­po­rary dean of ur­ban le­gends, an Amer­i­can pro­fes­sor, Jan Harold Brun­vand.

“ It doesn’t seem to me so much an ur­ban le­gend, as just a re­port of a quasi-re­li­gious sight­ing,” he said. “ This sort of thing … hap­pens all the time, with peo­ple find­ing sup­pos­edly holy im­ages in ev­ery­thing.”

Through the twen­ti­eth and twenty-first cen­turies and, per­haps, long be­fore that, there have been al­leged sight­ings all over the world of Je­sus and his mother. They have ap­peared on oil stains, tor­tillas, gar­den veg­eta­bles, rock walls, win­dows, piz­zas and else­where. There have even been ap­pear­ances in tree rings, tree trunks and tree bark. At Toronto’s Ave Maria Cen­tre, there’s an im­age of the Blessed Vir­gin em­brac­ing Pope John Paul II.

“ See­ing such im­ages in clouds or smoke is fairly com­mon,” Brun­vand added. “ Some even saw the devil’s face in the smoke and dust that came from the World Trade Cen­tre tragedy on 9/11/01.”

He called the im­age of the Redeemer pic­tured in the sky over St. John’s in 1915 an “ in­ter­est­ing early ex­am­ple of the phe­nom­e­non, and it’s in­ter­est­ing that sev­eral peo­ple claimed to see the vi­sion for a rather long pe­riod.”

Please be as­sured my pur­pose here is not to dampen peo­ple’s en­thu­si­asm for such divine ap­pari­tions. Rather, I wish to make two sim­ple points. First, to be per­fectly hon­est, God knows I’ve be­lieved some wild, wacky and weird things — re­li­gious and other­wise — through the years. Sec­ond, to tweak Eve­lyn Beatrice Hall’s well­known quo­ta­tion, “I (may) dis­ap­prove of what you say, but I will de­fend to the death your right to say it.”

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