Visitations from angels and the Virgin Mary are nothing new in the history of the world, although most probably believe that such miracles ended long ago. This would not be the case... especially in Illinois, where the Virgin Mary makes regular appearances, and where shrines, paintings, and relics bleed, ooze and mystify the faithful!

Visitors from the heavens have reportedly been around since the beginning of recorded time, from the "burning bush" of Moses to Ezekiel's wheel and the numerous stories of angels in earthly form that graced the biblical writings. In fact, some of the lustier angels even mated with the "daughters of men" and created a race of giants and demi-gods that led to God wiping out the earth in a flood.
Perhaps the most famous of the heavenly visitors (at least in more modern times) is Mary, the mother of Jesus. After the death of her son, she became the core of the early Christian church and since the third century, Mary has made countless visitations, especially to those of the Catholic faith, who hold Mary in higher esteem than other churches.

Several of these visitations have been more famous than others. The first was in December 1531, when Mary was said to have appeared to a Mexican peasant named Juan Diego and left an impression of herself on his cloak. This visitation, and the cloth, can be seen today at the Shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico. I visited this location a few years ago and while I found the "image" to be questionable at best, there is no doubt that it holds a special meaning for the literally thousands of people who were visiting the location that day.
Another famous visitation came at Lourdes, France in February 1858. A young girl named Bernadette Soubrious was gathering firewood near a stream when she heard a terrific noise from a nearby cave. A shimmering cloud appeared and from it, came a beautiful woman who claimed to be Mary. She asked Bernadette to have a chapel built on the spot and this grotto has come to be known as one of the most famous religious shrines in the world. Thousands and thousands of people have come here for the healing powers of the water and many have reported further apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
In May 1917 came the mysterious visitations in Fatima, Portugal, which began as a powerful wind and a blinding light for three children, Lucia dos Santos, Francisco Marto and Jacinto Marto. Mary's appearances at Fatima were witnessed by thousands of people and at one point, a massive crowd claimed to witness impossible movements of the sun in the sky. Divine Intervention or mass hallucination? No one knows for sure, but the faithful will tell you that Mary did appear at Fatima and that she did pass along cryptic messages to the children. Her final message was said to be so earth-shattering that it has been kept secret by the Vatican ever since.
In 1983, Mary began an annual appearance at the farm of Nancy Fowler near Conyers, Georgia. The crowds were so massive that they peaked at more than 80,000 people and a resulting traffic jam prevented emergency workers from reaching a woman with heart problems. However, in 1998, attendance had dropped off so much that Mary announced this would be her last visit. Fowler was the only person able to see or hear Mary, but witnesses did report that the sun changed color during communions and that the scent of roses was often (inexplicably) in the air. Even though Mary no longer appears at the farm, there is a well there that, along with having alleged curative powers, was personally blessed by Jesus Christ (who apparently traveled to Georgia with his mother). Visitors to the site will find that the well is marked with a sign that warns drinkers of potential health risks.... in 1991, it tested positive for unsafe levels of bacteria.

In recent times, Mary has also reportedly appeared to six children in war-torn Bosnia, an event that has attracted more than 11 million people from around the globe. One such man was Joseph Reinholtz, a retired railroad worker from Hillside, Illinois. He had been suffering from blurred vision and periods of blindness and journeyed to Bosnia to pray and meet with one of the children who has seen Mary, Vicka. She prayed over Reinholtz in 1987 and upon his return to Illinois, his sight slowly returned.

Reinholtz returned to Bosnia in 1989 and Vicks then instructed him that he was to look for a large crucifix, next to a three-branched tree. Here, he was to pray. He later discovered this location at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside and began to make frequent trips to the spot to pray. On August 15, 1990, Reinholtz had his first visitation from Mary and it was repeated on November 1, when she returned with St. Michael and three other angels. Soon, word of the visitations leaked out and thousands of people began flocking to the cross. It wasn't long before complaints about the number of spectators caused the cemetery officials to move the cross to another location in 1992. It is very accessible now, having a paved parking lot next to it.

The visitations have reportedly continued and occur every day but Tuesday, which is coincidentally the day that the Archdiocese of Chicago placed a "restriction of obedience" on Reinholtz and asked that he not visit the cemetery. But the late Hillside man is not the only person to report miracles at the site of the Queen of Heaven cross. There have been dozens of photographs taken here which purport to show angels and various types of light phenomena. Others claim to have seen blood coming from the cross and have reported the scent of roses in the air.

I visited the site a couple of years ago and found it surrounded by the faithful, praying and passing out religious literature. I was also shown a number of the "miraculous" photos taken here and confess that it looked like bad photography and a lot of sun glare to me... but cannot argue about the importance of the photos in the lives of the believers.

Sadly, Joseph Reinholtz suffered a stroke in February 1995 and was hospitalized, where Mary continued to visit him. He passed away in December 1996, but his legacy remains in Queen of Heaven Cemetery, where a crucifix stands and where those who believe still experience miraculous visitations.

The Lady of the Snows Shrine in Belleville is also the setting for visits from the Virgin Mary. She was first encountered by Ray Doiron in  1993 and has been appearing ever since. According to Jay Rath's book, THE I-FILES, Doiron had been through three near-death experiences and was deaf in his right ear before being visited by Mary. He had been sleeping one afternoon when he heard a soft voice that instructed him to go to the nearby Lady of Snows Shrine, which is a duplicate of the shrine at Lourdes.  He was told to first go on February 11 and then on the 13th each successive month.

At first the visitations were kept secret, but were always the same. There would be a strong wind, that would suddenly stop, and then a statue at the shrine would turn blue, just before a bright light would appear. From the light would appear the form of Mary. She would speak and impart lessons on Doiron, which he would write down to keep from making mistakes. Later, he was allowed to bring a small number of friends to the shrine and then was told to make the visitations public. Since then, hundreds have visited the site, although Mary stated that her final appearance would be May 13, 1999.

Illinois plays host to a few "miraculously" weeping statues and relics as well, although most seem to be confined to the Chicago area. One such relic was a painting of the Virgin Mary that was hanging in the St. Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church in 1986. One day, the painting suddenly began to weep, a phenomenon that continued for the next seven months, during which time water also dripped from her fingers. Hundreds of people came to witness the event but the icon abruptly ceased crying in July 1987. A year later, the weeping started up again, but didn't last long. At that time, the tears that she produced were used to anoint 19 other icons in Pennsylvania and they all began weeping too.

A barely remembered strange event took place at St. Adrian's Church on Chicago's south side in May 1970. According to witnesses, the 1700-year old remains of St. Maximina, a first-class relic, began oozing watery blood.

Several icons at Apanacio and St. John on the south side of the city reportedly began weeping in the early 1990's. The icons were stolen by an unknown thief, but later were later returned. Once they came back, the tears no longer appeared on them. The church has since been disbanded.

A icon panel of the Virgin Mary began weeping oil at the beginning of Holy Week in Cicero during April 1994. The icon was located at St. George's Antiochan Orthodox Church. Eight orthodox bishops examined the tears and declared them to be genuine. Mary has continued to cry and the relic has since been renamed Our Lady of Cicero.

The Virgin of Guadalupe visited Hanover Park in 1997, appearing on the wall of an apartment complex located at 2420 Glendale Terrace. The image appeared from shadows created by a security light that was angled at the building. When the light was turned off, the image vanished, but the faithful remained, convinced that a holy miracle had taken place. Today, at the southwest end of the parking, a tent is standing next to the building where it happened. Inside are hundreds of votive candles and a statue of the Virgin Mary. 

What do you, the reader, make of these strange (and perhaps wonderful) sightings and experiences? If you are not a believer, or are a skeptic, you are apt to dismiss them as the fevered imaginings of a religious mind. Perhaps... or perhaps not.... regardless, we leave that up to you to decide.

Sources & Bibliography:
Bielski, Ursula - Chicago Haunts (1998)
Chicago Tribune Newspaper
Chicago Sun-Times Newspaper
Kaczmarek, Dale - Windy City Ghosts (2000)
Rath, Jay - The I-Files
Personal Interviews and Correspondence