ANCHORAGE - A statue of a crucified Christ in the Yukon River village of Marshall is causing a stir after villagers claimed it started bleeding.
The statue began leaking from classic stigmata points on Sunday or Monday and has continued to do so, according to witnesses at the Yupik village of 360 people.
The "miracle of Marshall" began during midnight Easter services at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, said resident Maureen Fitka-Larson. She belongs to the local Russian Orthodox church but has been visiting Immaculate Heart every day this week to pray and watch the statue.
"You wouldn't see it dripping or anything, but over a period of time," Fitka-Larson said. "You go up and check it the next day, you notice."
It is unclear if the statue had any painted blood as part of its original design and church officials could not be reached for comment Friday. But Fitka-Larson said the new blood has dripped noticeably on the statue's loincloth.
Word of the bleeding crucifix quickly spread up and down the river this week and, by Thursday, pilgrimages already had begun. A spokesman for Hageland Aviation Service in nearby St. Marys said the company flew several charter flights over to Marshall this week for people wanting to see the statue.
Religious statues and icons that allegedly bleed or weep pop up regularly all over the world. They are dismissed by nonbelievers as hoaxes, and the church usually keeps its distance from any claim of miracles.
The Fairbanks Diocese on Friday sent copies of a letter signed by Bishop Donald Kettler to parishes, saying a diocese representative visited the village "and this person reports (along with other members of the village) that they could not tell if anything did or did not happen."
"I will continue to gather information and will proceed slowly, carefully and prayerfully," Kettler wrote.
"Basically that's all we know," the bishop said later.
At the request of parishioners, Reverend Max Isaac of the village Russian Orthodox church, went to view the Catholic crucifix. He didn't get too close, he said, "but between Sunday and (Wednesday), I did notice that even more color was evident."
The village is "a melting pot of emotions" over the crucifix, Isaac said. "There are some people who are scared, some people are glad. I can only say we've had an increase of telephone calls from many different villages throughout Alaska and in this region."
Isaac and Fitka-Larson rejected the possibility that someone in the village might be doctoring the statue so it appears to bleed. "Nobody, out of respect, would go into the church and do this," Fitka-Larson said.
She has accepted the miracle and believes the blood is a message from Jesus.
"I think in his own way he is trying to tell us something - to go to church more, to pray more, to love more," she said.