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Though skeptics for years have been pointing out the hoaxes and religiously inspired misperceptions that constitute the belief in “weeping statues”, the phenomena is nonetheless touted as “miraculous.”

Unfortunately for believers, modern biology has now pointed to yet another explanation for the phenomenon that has nothing at all to do with the divine: microbes.

It’s Bacteria, Not Blood

Serratia marcescens is a ubiquitous bacterium that can produce a red pigment called prodigiosin and likes to hang out as a pink film in dirty, damp areas.

Bacterial excretion, not blood

Quoting the Scientific American article on the little guys:

These bacterium first attracted scientific attention in early modern times when it was found oozing out of damp Italian statues, communion wafers and, of all things, polenta doing its best impersonation of “blood.” And blood it was taken to be—usually miraculously—until a pharmacist named Bartolomeo Bizio started trying to get to the bottom of what peasants declared to be an outbreak of diabolically cursed polenta in 1819.

Bizio believed a microorganism was responsible. In the test chamber, he found the bacterium happily chowing down on polenta while cranking out red pigment.

People were mistaking the excretions of microorganisms as signs of the devil, seeing what they wanted to see. I do not blame these people for being frightened, it is very unlikely that 200 years ago the lay public had any good idea what microbes were, so they invented something that fit their already firm beliefs. But divine these statues are not. It is muchmore plausible, at least for some of the cases, that these bacteria were simply hanging out in the dew-kissed recesses of religious statues, “cranking out red pigment” that believers mistook as blood. For my money, this is a much more interesting explanation than the religious one.

This does not mean that every case of weeping statues had to deal with these bacteria, but it certainly gives us a more plausible explanation than metaphysical exsanguenation does.

Humans typically find what they want to find. If we want a sign from God, for example, our minds will jump through seriously illogical hoops to get there. While this bacterial explanation will not extinguish the faith that many believers have in the supernatural, it is an explanation that adds one more rung to the materialism ladder.