A couple of weeks ago, the college art history class that I teach was studying the pilgrimage churches in Medieval Europe. A part of the draw to get pilgrims to these churches was religious relics that these churches possessed. These relics would range from inanimate objects like a piece of the cross to actual body parts of a saint-like a knuckle or foot.
Attempting to make my lecture more contemporary and engaging, I asked what are some of the modern-day relics that draw pilgrims? A couple of my students mentioned the shroud of Turin, and it wasn't long before the grilled cheese sandwich with the image of the Virgin received snickers of acknowledgement. They all knew that is was sold on eBay for a reported $28,000. Most also knew that the skillet used in grilling this "sacred sandwich" was also being auctioned on eBay.
As I drove home from class that afternoon, I heard a news report on the radio about another appearance of the Virgin Mary-this time not in a grilled cheese sandwich but on the wall of the Fullerton underpass that exited off of the Kennedy Expressway.
I thought that it was a strange place for the Virgin to make her epiphany. She surely could have found a more appropriate place like a church or even Wrigley Field-lord knows that the Cubbies could use some divine intervention.
I knew the area of her appearance quite well because my son lives within a couple of miles of this site. Therefore, I knew that I had to make plans to see for myself so that I could inform my readers of the Telegraph and those that read my column on the Internet. I also needed to get some photos of the "Virgin of the Underpass"-as she is known to some. My problem was picking the right time to visit the Virgin. The early reports indicated huge crowds of people were waiting in long line to see and even touch her. Several days later, the spring weather turned to a rainy and bitterly cold day resembling the late fall just before the arrival of the snows of a Chicago winter. This was a perfect time for me to make my pilgrimage to see the Virgin Mary.
As I rushed out of the house, my wife said like a mother, "Don't forget your coat." I replied that I had left it in the car and off I went to the Fullerton underpass. By the time I got to Chicago, the rain was heavy and had almost morphed into snow.
I parked my car and reached for my camera and lenses. It was then that I realized that my winter coat wasn't in the car. I felt like a little boy who had ignored his mother's warning about bundling up before going out to play. Since I hadn't checked for my coat, I had to run in the rain for four blocks to the underpass. As I ran, I had also forgotten how cold a rainy day could be in the Windy City. When I finally ducked under the Fullerton underpass for protection, I was soaked and shivering.
However, like a miracle of Lourdes, I noticed a
warm aroma coming from the makeshift shrine twenty yards away. This
aroma therapy warmed my insides and seemed to insulate me from my wet
clothes. I stopped in my tracks not understanding this pleasant feeling
that had come over me. There was not only a pleasing smell waffling
about as cars and trucks passed by overhead, but I felt quite warm.
What intrigued me was that the secular person would have looked at the wall and explained away the epiphany as merely salty seepage dipping down a small crack in the wall of the underpass. To the religious, this was an urban miracle. What you see is what you get.