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Church custodian on trial in Italy for weeping statue hoax

.- A former church custodian accused of faking an incident where a Virgin Mary statue wept blood was put on trial in the northern Italian city of Forli’ on Friday, ANSA reports.

Police accuse Vincenzo Di Costanzo of dripping his own blood onto the face of the statue in Forli’s Santa Lucia Church in a March 2006 attempt to simulate a miracle.

Forensic experts who examined the blood found the DNA matched that of a saliva sample taken from Di Costanzo.

"This is a case of high sacrilege," said the public prosecutor Alessandro Mancini, according to ANSA.

The ex-custodian denies the charges.

Two years ago, a group of elderly women worshippers noticed that red tear-like drops had appeared on the face of a 1.2 meter-tall statue of the Madonna.  People flocked to the church to see the statue, whose face looks upward to heaven with its hands drawn together in prayer.

The local bishop, when informed of the alleged miracle, removed the statue to his offices and called police.  The statue did not weep again after being moved.

With the growing number in recent years of reported cases of Madonna statues moving or weeping, the Church has become very cautious about approving such cases.

In 1995, thousands flocked to a family garden in the town of Civitavecchia to see a Madonna statue that appeared to weep blood.  The local bishop said that he himself had seen it weep.  The blood on the statue was later found to be male.  The statue’s owner, Fabio Gregori, refused to take a DNA test.

After the Civitavecchia case, dozens of reputedly miraculous statues were reported.  Almost all were shown to be hoaxes, where blood, red paint, or water was splashed on the faces of the statues.

In the 1950s, a weeping Madonna in a Sicilian house was deemed a miracle.  Pope John Paul II dedicated a shrine devoted to the apparition in 1994.

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