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The luminescent virgin statue of Jalhay

by Bruno Van de Casteele

April 13, 2014

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Donate During the month of March, the small town of Jalhay in the Belgian Ardennes was in the national spotlights. The reason was a small statue of the Virgin Mary, that suddenly lighted up during the night. The statue itself, as the owner explains in the video below, was bought almost 40 years ago in the nearby pilgrim site Banneux, where the Virgin supposedly appeared in 1933.

The actual owner inherited it 15 years ago, and it was placed in a small shrine in the kitchen. As he explained, one night he went to get some wine glasses in the dark, and the statue was brightly illuminating the kitchen. There were no previous reports of such handy nightly illumination.

Over the following weeks, dozens of people came over to the kitchen with attention from local, national and even some international press. The town even had to intervene in the street to ensure security. The Virgin of Sart, as she became called, even started healing people (e.g. one reported healing of eczema), and some people also reported that they were unable to take pictures of the statue during illumination (disproven by professional journalists afterwards taking perfect pictures and video). It was also reported that people who prayed before the shrine, "felt better" afterwards. It seemed also that the statue did not lit up when no humans were present, although that was based on the parish priest trying to peer through the veranda windows.

In agreement with the owners, the statue was taken out of the house and brought to a scientific laboratory at the University of Liege. The researchers quickly identified that it wasn't radioactive, and that the illumination was due to the presence of zinc sulfide. conspicuously, at the press conference in Jalhay where the results were presented, the owners choose not to be present, supposedly because of a disagreement where the statue would go afterwards (they wanted the town to build a small chapel).

Zinc sulfide is quite common (for instance in cathode ray tubes), and its attributes are well known. Over time, it loses its illuminating qualities. The research also showed that the product has always been there, and wasn't recently applied (exclusing trickery or pranks), and that the statue always lit up, even when no humans were present. To explain why it only lit up recently, some media reported the possibility that the changed lamps in the kitchen (LED instead of incandescent) might explain why. No scientific investigations were done in situ.

So, case closed? The national media reported on the case, and to be fair, some media had even featured experts pointing exactly to this possible explanation before the actual investigation. Even the bisschop of Lige accepted the scientific results but hastened to add that the prayers were of course still valid.

The owners however refuse to believe the explanation, arguing that if the scientists were that smart, we wouldn't have that many problems on Earth (name that fallacy!). And the parish priest joined them, stating that "not all questions have been explained". Which questions is a bit unclear, although he referred to the healings. In my opinion, he seems to hang on semi-anecdotes, as to me the explanation is logical and scientifically valid.

The statue will now return to Jalhay, and according to town officials will be placed in the church entrance hall (after the currently ongoing renovations have ended). The owners had preferred a dedicated chapel, so it's not clear if that will be the actual location of the statue. What is sure however is that believers will continue to come to the statue, wherever it is, even when a perfectly valid explanation exists and has been proven.

by Bruno Van de Casteele

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