Page last updated at 16:48 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 17:48 UK

Virgin Mary 'appears in tree stump'


Irish people gather to pay their respects to the tree stump

A tree stump which some believe shows an image of the Virgin Mary has attracted thousands of people to a rural churchyard in County Limerick.

Workmen came across the stump at the Holy Mary Parish Church in Rathkeale while cutting down trees on Monday.

"One of the lads said look, our Blessed Lady in the tree," said Noel White, chairman of the Rathkeale Community Council Graveyard Committee.

"One of the other lads looked over and actually knelt down and blessed himself, he got such a shock.

"It was the perfect shape of the figure of Our Lady holding the baby."

As news of the tree stump has spread, people from across Ireland have travelled to the churchyard.

While we do not wish in any way to detract from devotion to Our Lady, we would also wish to avoid anything which might lead to superstition
Fr Paul Finnerty

A petition seeking to make the stump a permanent fixture at the church has got thousands of signatures.

However, local parish priest Father Willie Russell remains unimpressed.

"I have seen the tree ... it's only a tree," he said.

Fr Russell said views were mixed on whether the image looks like that of the Virgin Mary.

The Catholic Church's hierarchy in Ireland also feels dubious about the tree stump, according to Limerick diocese spokesman Fr Paul Finnerty.

"The Church's response to phenomena of this type is one of great scepticism," he said.

"While we do not wish in any way to detract from devotion to Our Lady, we would also wish to avoid anything which might lead to superstition."

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