Madonna v Madonna in a battle of spirit v flesh

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The Independent Online
'MADONNA' is on booksellers' lips once more, and thousands of pounds are changing hands again - only this time it's the other Madonna.

Hundreds of people have placed advance orders for a book written by a woman who claims to have experienced 10 years of visions of the Virgin Mary in a north London tower block.

The 600-page paperback - Supernatural Visions of the Madonna 1981-1991 London, due to be published next month - has aroused intense interest since the author, Sophia Richmond, 51, who also calls herself Sister Marie, spent an estimated pounds 50,000 on a series of startling newspaper advertisements.

Although the pounds 20 book will be available from only two London bookshops, more than 3,000 people have made inquiries and pounds 20,000 has been paid in advance orders.

The Notting Hill branch of Waterstones has taken 500 calls and 300 orders, a response which its manager, Clarice Faulkner, said easily beats interest in Sex, the recent best-seller by the latter-day Madonna from Michigan. The Modern Book Company in Paddington fielded 2,500 inquiries last week.

This frenzy may have something to do with the claims made for Supernatural Visions: that it carries an 'awesome message' from the Madonna 'to HM the Queen, regarding the future of the British monarchy and the destiny of England'; and that it will reveal the famous 'third secret of Fatima', a message of world importance said to have been conveyed by the Virgin Mary to three Portuguese peasant children in 1917 and subsequently kept a closely-guarded secret by the Vatican.

The Catholic Church appears deeply wary of Ms Richmond's claims. Father Peter Verity at the Catholic Media Office said: 'It doesn't merit any official recognition. Frankly, hundreds of people every month claim to have had visions.'

Ms Richmond, who describes herself as a 'visionary mystic', has published the book herself after it was rejected by several publishers. She says her lavish advertising budget has been financed by a secret benefactor.

Ms Richmond makes a conscious link between her book and Sex. Small, snipped-out pictures of Madonna the singer are superimposed on the many religious photographs in the book, which include numbers depicting the author from the age of two, some crudely coloured-in with ballpoint.

'One of the motives for publishing it is to counteract the shocking book by the US Madonna,' she said. 'It's a battle between two rival Madonnas - the one from Heaven and the one from Hell. The hope is that the US Madonna can be born again and enter a convent for seven days' meditation in order to change her life.'

(Photograph omitted)