A week before Christmas in 1996, an apparition reportedly appeared on the side of a Clearwater building. The iridescent figure, which stretched almost 60 feet high and more then 20 feet across, was said to resemble artists’ interpretations of the Virgin Mary. On Monday morning, the alleged religious icon was destroyed. According to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, some people have claimed the damage was prompted by the recently released movie The Passion of Christ.
Blaming the highly controversial movie for this vandalism is a difficult accusation to prove since this is not the first time someone has attempted to destroy the adorned image.
This image, which glass experts say is caused by corrosion, drew almost 500,000 visitors within the first couple weeks of its discovery, according to the Associated Press. Despite experts’ statements, many believed this image was a miracle and some set up a shrine beneath it. Sam Meo, who has undergone three open-heart surgeries, told the Times that he regularly prayed to the Virgin Mary, “I pray for her, she prays for me. Prayer has been keeping me alive.”
According to AP, police said they found three ball bearings inside of the Shepherds of Christ Ministries building, none of which had gunpowder residue, leading them to believe the bearings were launched from a slingshot at close range aiming at the “head” of the image.
Some have pondered whether the controversial film The Passion of Christ inspired the damage.
This act of destruction was not the first time the building was the target of vandalism though. The Times reported in May 1997 that a person threw an unknown liquid onto the windows, defacing the glass panels where the image appeared. After heavy thunderstorms, however, the blemishes caused by the liquid were washed away and the image of Mary remained.
Blaming The Passion appears to be an easy way out for people who are trying to find an explanation for the destruction. As the recent defacement of the posters that made up part of the “Coexistence” exhibition in Straub Park in St. Petersburg demonstrates certain members of society are prone to commit vandalism against cultural or religious sites. Sadly, it is not an uncommon occurrence. But to hold filmmakers or other artists responsible for acts that coincide with the release of their work wrongly attempts to shift the blame for inexcusable behavior.