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A large crucifix that has hung for years in a church in Marshall is causing a stir after villagers claim it started bleeding.
4/17/2004 8:21:00 PM
By SHEILA TOOMEY -Anchorage Daily News

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A miracle at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
People report that a crucifix in the Catholic church in Marshall started to bleed and become flesh-colored on Easter Sunday. (Photo by David Irion)

A large crucifix that has hung for years in a church in Marshall is causing a stir after villagers claim it started bleeding.

The statue of the crucified Christ began leaking from classic stigmata points on Sunday or Monday and has continued to do so, according to witnesses.

Mayor Ray Alstrom, reached by phone Thursday, refused to comment, citing the "separation of church and state." But others were more than happy to share the news.

The "miracle of Marshall," a Yup'ik village of 360 people on the lower Yukon River, began during midnight Easter services at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, resident Maureen Fitka-Larson said, although only a few people noticed it then.

"They were too scared to say anything," said Fitka-Larson, who belongs to the local Russian Orthodox church but has been visiting Immaculate Heart every day this week to pray and watch the statue.

"Since that evening and continuing up to today, the crucifix is still bleeding," she said. "You wouldn't see it dripping or anything, but over a period of time. You go up and check it the next day, you notice."

It is unclear if the statue had any painted blood as part of its original design. But Fitka-Larson said the new blood has dripped noticeably on the statue's loincloth.

Word of the bleeding crucifix spread like floodwater up and down the river this week and, by Thursday, pilgrimages already had begun. A spokesman for Hageland Aviation Service in nearby St. Marys said his company flew several charter flights over to Marshall this week for people wanting to see the statue.

Another resident said the statue used to be white. But, in addition to the "blood," its color seems to be changing to flesh tones, she said.

"Everyone is going to look at it," she said. "It really got me. ... It's something we can't explain."

Leslie Hunter, who runs the village hotel, hasn't visited the church himself and sounded skeptical. But "one of my friends ... went up and checked it out," Hunter said. "It was bleeding from the head, where that wreath is. ... He touched the blood. He tasted it. He said it tasted like blood."

If it is, it means "the world is going to end pretty soon," Hunter said.

A couple of village teachers visited the church to check out the talk and confirmed Thursday that they saw the staining.

David Irion, who photographed it, said his students asked him what he thought. "I told them, 'There are only two choices. Either it's real or it's fake.' "

Religious statues and icons that allegedly bleed or weep pop up regularly all over the world. They are dismissed by nonbelievers as hoaxes, and the church usually keeps its distance from any claim of miracles. Perhaps that's why repeated calls to the church in Marshall and diocese offices in Fairbanks on Thursday were not returned.

People in Marshall are trying not to leap to conclusions. After all, plug "hoax Jesus bleeding" into the Google Web search engine and you get more than 2,400 hits. With DNA testing now available, faking blood is difficult. But in a religious heart, science rarely wins the day. One Web site tells about blood from a bleeding Jesus that tested out as having come from a female. Believers were undaunted. That's probably because Jesus only had a mother, they said.

At the request of parishioners, Father Max Isaac, who was raised in Marshall and returned three years ago as the village Russian Orthodox priest, went to view the Catholic crucifix. He didn't get too close, he said, and didn't touch anything, "but between Sunday and yesterday, Wednesday, I did notice that even more color was evident."

The village is "a melting pot of emotions" over the crucifix, Father Max said. "There are some people who are scared, some people are glad. I can only say we've had an increase of telephone calls from many different villages throughout Alaska and in this region."

Father Max said he is not bothered by having noticed that the blood from the torso wound on the statue is on its left side. Christian iconography generally puts the wound on Christ's right side.

Father Max and Fitka-Larson rejected totally the possibility that someone in the village, even for the best of motives, might be doctoring the statue so it appears to bleed. "Nobody, out of respect, would go into the church and do this," Fitka-Larson said.

Some people were talking about stories that statues have turned up with chambers inside, full of stuff that would start to leak after a certain time, Fitka-Larson said. So she climbed up on a chair and looked at the wounds very carefully and did not see any holes.

"I don't think our church would go and pull a prank on us like that," she said.

Father Max said he hasn't reached any conclusions about the validity of the bleeding crucifix, but he is ready to accept a miracle if that's what it proves to be. "There are mysterious things that cannot be explained by science. There's mysterious things that do happen."

Fitka-Larson has accepted the miracle and believes the blood is a message from Jesus. "I think in his own way he is trying to tell us something -- to go to church more, to pray more, to love more."

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Daily News reporter Sheila Toomey can be reached at stoomey@adn.com.



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