|The Santo "Miracles"|
She lies in her bed motionless, except for her eyes, which sometimes blink and dart around restlessly. Saliva must be wiped from her lips occasionally. She is fed through a tube that snakes down into her stomach. Audrey Marie Santo has been like this for over 11 years.
Yet all around her - some say because of her - paranormal events are said to be taking place: spontaneous generation, telekinesis, visions, unexplained odors, and healings. The faithful say 14-year-old Audrey is in communication with God and that these manifestations are miracles worked through her. Scientific investigators and even the Catholic Church, which has launched an official investigation of the phenomena, aren't so sure. Nevertheless, pilgrims are flocking to the Santo home in Worcester, Mass. in hopes of viewing firsthand the wonders surrounding the teenage girl.
|The faithful say 14-year-old Audrey is in communication with God and that these manifestations are miracles worked through her.|
Doctors describe Audrey's condition as "akinetic mutism," a coma-like state that resulted from a deprivation of oxygen to her brain when, at age three, the small girl somehow wandered into the family's swimming pool and nearly drowned. Her brain suffered massive hypoxia, killing off blocks of brain cells and leaving her unable to move or speak. Her parents refused to place her in an institution and have been caring for her at home ever since. The only exception was a trip the family took shortly after the accident to Medjugorje (once part of Yugoslavia), where apparitions of the Virgin Mary are reported, in hopes of a cure. Audrey was not cured, but since that time "miracles" have been occurring around the Santo home.
Some of the reported paranormal events include:
- Religious statues weep a strange oil.
- Oil seeps from some walls of the home (which is sometimes caught in paper cups taped to the walls for distribution to the pilgrims to take home as souvenirs).
- Communion wafers ooze blood during a mass said at the home.
- Chalices fill with oil.
- Statues move by themselves.
- A vision of the Virgin Mary was claimed to have been seen in a cloud formation over the Santo home.
- The overpowering scent of roses (a flower often associated with the Virgin Mary) from an unknown source often permeates Audrey's room or other rooms of the home.
- Spontaneous healings: a local man reported a remission of his throat cancer.
- The appearance of stigmata -- the wounds that Jesus is said to have suffered during his crucifixion -- on Audrey's hands, feet, and side.
Investigations into the strange events are ongoing. The Diocese of Worcester has been conducting an official investigation over the past year, and on January 24 Bishop Daniel Reilly has released his "Interim Findings on Miraculous Claims" [link no longer available.]. In the statement, the Bishop wrote, "We are not yet able to confirm claims of miraculous events occurring at Audrey's home or as a result of a visit to Audrey. Although we can't explain why oils and claims of blood are appearing on religious articles in the home, there is no obvious evidence of chicanery. Paranormal activities in and of themselves, according to the perspective and practice of the Catholic Church, do not provide a basis for proving the miraculous." In other words, the Church investigation cannot prove fraud, but is not quite ready to declare that miracles are taking place.
|The laboratory found that the oil contained 80 percent corn or soybean oil and 20 percent chicken fat.|
On the scientific front, samples of the blood and the oil have been sent to laboratories for analysis. Of the blood, lab tests concluded that it was human blood, but not from any member of the Santo family. Conclusions about the oil seem to vary. According to a documentary called Audrey's Life: Voice of a Silent Soul, a Boston chemist found it to be a mysterious substance, not any known commercial oil. But when The Washington Post took a sample to Microbac Laboratories in Pittsburgh, they found that the oil contained 80 percent corn or soybean oil and 20 percent chicken fat -- "a simple mixture reproducible in any American kitchen." This finding doesn't necessarily point to fraud; that's just what the oil is made up of.
It's not clear how careful or how scientific the investigations thusfar have been, but by the throngs of people lining up to see Audrey (there's an 11-month waiting list), it is clear that the faithful are willing to accept that the claims of miracles are legitimate. The Santo family doesn't seem to be profiting from the situation, although they do receive free 24-hour nurse care for their daughter, according to The Washington Post. And there is a good deal of notoriety. In addition to the film documentary mentioned above, there have been numerous magazine articles about Audrey, as well as a book, .
It's interesting to note that without the religious overtones, the events claimed to take place in the Santo home are similar to those claimed in many poltergeist cases -- and even cases of supposed demonic possession: oozing blood and other substances, things moving about by themselves, unaccounted for odors, and bodily harm. Is it possible that similar forces are at work in all these cases -- forces of the mind and energy we do not yet understand -- and are flavored by the mindset of the people involved?
- The Strange Case of Audrey Santo, from The Boston Phoenix
- Church Finds No Trickery in Claims of Girl's Miracles