Crying statue's woe

IT SEEMS nothing will daunt the good citizens of Civitavecchia in their efforts to turn their city into another Lourdes, writes Andrew Gumbel in Rome. Ever since a plaster statue of the Madonna was sighted weeping tears of blood in an electrician's garden two months ago, the mayor's office and the local church have been working overtime to claim a modern miracle.

With Easter fast approaching, local firms are building car parks, toilets and facilities for the disabled in anticipation of a flood of pilgrims. They are doing the work for free, clearly in the expectation of rewards in the future.

The only trouble is, the pilgrims won't be able to see the statue itself. The bishop of Civitavecchia, Girolamo Grillo, had planned to unveil the Madonna in time for a special parade on Good Friday. But the local magistrature has intervened, ordering the statue to be kept under a kind of house arrest while tests are carried out to check whether it is a fraud.

Yesterday, the people of Civitavecchia were outraged. Old ladies in the market deplored the judiciary's lack of faith, while Bishop Grillo claimed only the church had authority to rule on a matter of worship. The Vatican has remained silent.

Italy has been gripped by the Civitavecchia statue and her many imitators - around a dozen Madonnas elsewhere have been reported to be weeping blood and other bodily fluids. The Civitavecchia statue came originally from Medjugorje, the Bosnian town where the Madonna was allegedly sighted in the early 1980s.