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Paying Homage to the Monkey God

Celestial signs appearing to the faithful in food are once again hitting the headlines. Perhaps you recall the now-famous image of Mother Teresa that formed in a cinnamon bun some years ago, or the visage of Our Lady in the ten-year-old grilled-cheese sandwich that sold on eBay for $28,000. This past Lent, the resurrected Christ appeared in a rotten potato, and on Good Friday the Virgin Mary appeared to a Texas woman on a hollow Easter egg — both sightings, among others, trumpeted in reports that have fascinated news consumers around the globe.

As silly as it all sounds, it is difficult to overestimate the cultural impact of these “divine” manifestations nowadays, even in a culture of unbelief — especially in a culture of unbelief. The grilled-cheese Virgin Mary, for example, was purchased by an Internet casino that, in its own words, specializes in pop-culture exhibitionism. Goldenpalace.com explained its exorbitant acquisition by saying the cheese sandwich “had become part of pop culture.” The sandwich subsequently went on “world tour.”

Over at the Bongo Java House in Nashville, Tennessee, the Mother Teresa “nun bun” became so popular that the café sold T-shirts, prayer cards, and mugs plastered with the bun’s image — until Mother Teresa’s attorney wrote a letter asking that sales be stopped. Then on Christmas morning in 2005 someone broke into the Bongo Java and stole the nun bun. Shortly thereafter, The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper, began receiving ransom notes about the “relic.” Make no mistake: This is serious business.

In Oregon, a disc jockey at rock station KFLY-FM created a publicity bonanza when he posted a Madonna-and-Child pretzel on eBay, garnering a swarm of national media attention and bids for the “Virgin Pretzel” that topped $2 million — before administrators at the online auction site canceled the bidding, saying that as a perishable item it violated eBay’s safety policy. Nevertheless, the publicity spawned dozens of copycat Virgin Pretzels, while the original “religious icon” is now reportedly stored in a safe-deposit box.

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