A statue of the Virgin Mary which allegedly smiles in the day and weeps miraculous tears of oil by night has been moved from the porch of a house to a church after surrounding streets became congested with pilgrims.
The quiet residential street in Ontario, Canada, became a pilgrimage destination for thousands of worshippers when US media reported on the phenomenon of the weeping statue last week.
But neighbours of the house in residential Windsor have grown annoyed as their streets became jammed by stream of pilgrims who would even come to pray at the porcelain statue in the early hours of the morning.
They began bickering with the visitors whose cars had congested the streets, and on some occasions exchanged obscenities with them.
Amid mounting numbers of complaints Windsor City Council told the owners that the shrine violated planning rules and that they had to either move the statue by November 19 or obtain a permit for it.
Although Orthodox Christians Bassam and Fadia Ibrahim, the owners of the house, raised enough money in just one day to pay for the permit they agreed to transfer the life-size statue to St Charbel Maronite Catholic Church in nearby Oldcastle, after pilgrims ignored their pleas to stay away.
Some pilgrims believed that the statue has miraculous healing properties. Others had gone to lay flowers outside the house and to pray to Our Lady for favours.
The Ibrahims have so far forbidden anyone to examine the statue.
Fr John Ayoub, the priest at St Ignatius of Antioch Orthodox Church in Windsor, had discouraged pilgrimages.
He said he has spoken to the couple and later publicly said he did not believe their supernatural claims to be true.
He said that Mrs Ibrahim, who says she first noticed the statue weeping tears of oil in March, should stop talking about the statue.
“I can’t agree with whatever she is saying,” he said, adding that his refusal to endorse the weeping statue has led to hysterical reactions from some believers, including angry phone calls.
He said: “A week ago, a lady— I never gave her my number — she called me and said, ‘Don’t you believe?’ And she started screaming at me.”
As pilgrims began to descend on the city, a spokesman for the Orthodox Diocese of Windsor issued a statement saying the claims were being “investigated under the watchful eye of our bishop”.
“Like any claim of miracles, our church requires concrete scientific proof of such claims,” he said. “Such investigations take time and deep scientific and spiritual examination before any conclusion may be made.”
The Catholic Diocese of London has distanced itself from the claims. “It’s not within our jurisdiction to investigate,” said spokesman Mark Adkinson.
“Any investigation that could be done, would be done by the Orthodox Church.”
The Catholic Church is generally cautious in dealing with claims of so-called “private revelations” because so many later turn out to be false. Hundreds have been reported in the last century but only a few are considered to be authentic.
The Vatican says it believes most are the fruits of the imaginations of the alleged visionaries or the elaborate hoaxes of people seeking to gain financially.
Five years ago, for instance, a statue of St Pìo of Pietrelcina, a 20th century priest commonly known as “Padre Pio”, was said to have wept blood in a church in Marsicovetere, Italy, but tests later showed that the blood belonged to a woman.
In 2007 the Vatican also dismissed as “hysterical” the claims that the Mother of Christ was appearing to a woman in the back garden of her home in Surbiton, Surrey.