by Marco Corvaglia
§ 1. Miracles of the Sun or Natural Effects?
In 1952 the German Jesuit GJ Strangfeld made known an interesting study in which he reported the conclusions of Dr. Karl Johann Stokl, who was professor of physics and astronomy at the Philosophical-Theological Institute Hochschule, in Regensburg, and was consultant of the bishop of Bamberg in the analysis of alleged "miracles of the sun" occurred in that diocese.
The professor declared:
When the sun is not so high, namely, when veils of clouds, or humidity and dust dominate more and more in the atmosphere and dampen the sunlight, one can for several minutes look at sun, without damaging the eye. [...]
One thinks to see a dark blue disk in front of the sun (this is already a sign of the highly excited state of the retina). [...] This dark blue disk is somewhat smaller than the solar disk, so that the edge of that disk stands out as a ring beyond that dark blue disk. The one has right away the impression that the solar disk rotates with great speed in one or the other direction. This I have experienced often enough. All this is a subjective appearance that has nothing to do with the external world. [...]
According to the reports sent to me concerning the phenomenon of June 13, 1944, the good people saw all sorts of things in the sun, reflecting even their political orientations: a working woman, a military sword, clocks that ran very fast, spinning-wheels, and many even saw the image of him (Hitler!). All things imaginable.
[in (Father) Stanley L. Jaki, God and the Sun at Fatima, Real View Books, Royal Oak, 1999, pp. 303-304. The full study, entitled Marienerscheinungen seit Fatima, was published in four parts, in as many numbers of "Der Grosse Entschluss": December 1951, pp. 82-85, January 1952, pp.121-125, February 1952, pp. 148-152, March 1952, pp. 180-181]
August Meessen, professor in the Department of Physics at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, has researched this phenomenon and personally conducted some experiments in Belgium. In his report "Apparitions and Miracles of the Sun", presented at the International Forum on "Science, Religion and Conscience" (Porto, Portugal, October 23-25, 2003), he explains the following:
In November 2002, I looked directly into the sun, at about 4 p.m. The sun was relatively low above the horizon and its light intensity was attenuated, although the sky was clear. I was able to look right into the sun and was amazed to see that the sun was immediately converted into a grey disc, surrounded by a brilliant ring.
The grey disc was practically uniform, while the surrounding ring was somewhat irregular and flamboyant, but did not extend beyond the solar disk. It coincided with its rim [....]
The sun became grey, since my eyes immediately responded to its great luminosity by an automatic reduction of their sensitivity. This adaptation is not simply due to the bleaching of pigments in the colour-sensitive cones of the fovea, where the image of the sun is projected, but to secondary processes [....] The trans-membrane potential [of the photoreceptors] is modified and this change constitutes the neurological response to the incident light. This system provides an automatic and highly efficient gain control, allowing us to cope as well with very low as with extremely high luminosities. This adaptation process is completely unconscious. That’s why the unexpected appearance of a grey disc instead of an extremely bright solar disc can give the impression - in a context of apparitions - that this was not a natural process.
The glowing ring is instead visible exactly because the sun’s border is less bright and, therefore, the receptors’ inhibitory response is weaker. Meessen continues, in fact:
The brilliant ring can also be explained. [....]
The brain will associate with every point a combination of excitatory and inhibitory responses [...] Near the edge of the solar disc, the inhibitory part of receptor fields are partially covering a region where the light intensity is smaller. The inhibition is decreased and the average response is increased. Visually, there appears a bright rim.
The testimony of father René Laurentin is also useful and above suspicion: he has been, for at least fifteen years, the most famous defender of Medjugorje in the world.
He reports that an official, a friend of his, explained to him that being able to gaze at the sun at certain times and seeing it as opalescent, is entirely physiological.
And he once demonstrated it to him in Bretagne. Here is the account by Laurentin:
- It 's a natural phenomenon, he said, and I will show it to you.
One evening he came to Malestroit in Bretagne, at the hour when the sun is still shining just before sunset (the most propitious time), and said:
- Look at the sun!
- I cannot, it hurts my eyes .... But my interlocutor insisted, and he was sure of himself. I therefore fixed my eyes on the still dazzling sun. The splendor ceased instantly. The disc became gray-white, surrounded by a ring of intense radiating light. An ocular reaction.
[René Laurentin, La Vergine appare a Medjugorje?, Queriniana, Brescia, 1991, p. 158]
What about the change of color?
The colors that the testimonies speak about (red, yellow, green, blue) correspond to very specific alterations of the chromatic perception, in the phenomenon of “chromatopsia”: more specifically, “erythropsia” (vision of red), “xanthopsia” (vision of yellow), “chloropsia” (vision of green), “cyanopsia” (vision of blue).
Professor Meessen, like his colleague Stokl had in the Fifties, wanted to personally verify these effects, in Belgium:
In a second experiment, realized at 3 p.m. in December 2002, I looked straight at the sun during a much longer time. After some minutes, I saw impressive colours, up to 2 or 3 times the diameter of the sun. They changed, but were mainly pink, deep blue, red and green.
Further away, the sky became progressively more luminous. I stopped there, since I understood that these colours resulted from the fact that the red, green and blue sensitive pigments are bleached and regenerated at different rates. Moreover, it is well known that receptor fields combine the responses of cones, to form blue-yellow, red-green and white-black opponent pairs.
Of course, it is likely that the response times may vary from subject to subject.
The pulsing effect originates from "opposing excitatory and inhibitory activities [in the visual cortex]", notes Meessen, who adds:
After about a quarter of an hour, the sun takes on again its “normal” appearance. It becomes too brilliant for continued gazing. This means actually that bleached pigments have been regenerated and that secondary biochemical processes are not effective any more for some time.
The full study is available here.
It’s obvious that in places regarded as "miraculous" there are always people trying to stare at the sun (in Medjugorje pilgrims have the habit of doing so,especially coinciding with the time of the apparitions), thus, sooner or later, the necessary conditions being present, the phenomenon is perceived and whoever perceives it sooner invites the others to do the same: of those, some will "see" and others will not "see" (probably based on their retinal sensitivity to the light).
When one is not in places of this kind, however, it is unlikely that one begins to gaze at the sun.
However, what we have said up to now should not make us forget that gazing at the sun is a potentially dangerous activity for the retina, as is also documented by several specific scientific studies on Medjugorje:
- Ralph R. Nix and David J. Apple, Solar Retinopathy From Sungazing In Medjugorje, published in the Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society, August 1987, volume 139, 8, pp 36-40;
- Randy V. Field, Jack Or. Sipperley, Gary Hall, J. Alan Rappazzo, Medjugorje Maculopathy,New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 318, 18, May 1988, p. 1207;
- M. Hope-Ross, S. Travers, D. Mooney, Solar Retinopathy Following Religious Rituals, British Journal of Ophthalmology, August 1988, 72, pp. 931-934.
Upon examining the medical literature, we can see that people who reported damage from sungazing perceived the very same "miraculous" phenomena we have been speaking about (dark or greyish spot in the center of the sun, bright edge, apparent pulsations, vision of colours or "chromatopsia).
Dr. Valerio Rossi Albertini, physicist of CNR (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche), during the program Storie italiane, broadcasted on January 2, 2018 by RAI 1, pointed out that the so-called "miracles of the sun" are not something objective:
I went [to Medjugorje], because RAI asked me to go there for a special episode of La Storia siamo noi. I went there with a (finally, for a change!) scientific equipment, a field equipment that I had set up in order to video the solar disk. When Mirjana knelt before the Blue Cross and began to say that Our Lady was speaking to her, all of them [the pilgrims] shouted in unison, in chorus: "The sun is pulsating!", "The sun is moving!", "The sun is dancing in the sky!", "I can see the crown of thorns!", "I can see the veil of the Madonna!". There wasn't anything. The instruments I had brought there to record any supernatural events, registered absolutely nothing.
What occurred on 14 May 2009 to a group that took part in the pilgrimage organized by the Italian former journalist (now full-time Medjugorje activist) Paolo Brosio is very exemplifying.
While the people at issue were on the bridge of Mostar (40 km from Medjugorje) what happened is documented by the images that follow, in the first part of the video.
In the second part, a pilgrim, in a hotel, shows some images of the sun that she obtained, in those same moments, with an iPhone:
Some considerations demonstrate, beyond any reasonable doubt, that nothing unusual was happening.
Regarding the first part of the movie, this must be emphasized:
As you can see, the camera did not record any change in the sun. Which is a further indication of the physiological nature of the phenomenon. To explain this, please refer to the various explanations suggested by science and experience, previously reported in this same page.
In particular, with regard to the red colour spoken of in the film, it can be added that “erythropsia” is, exactly, defined as " red vision following exposure to intense white light”in ”Photoprotection Of The Eye - UV Radiation And Sunglasses”, Dr. David H. Sliney, U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion & Preventive Medicine, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology, Volume 64, Number 2-3, November 15, 2001, pp. 166-175].
Moreover, that this was a simple ocular reaction resulting from the fact that the pilgrims have stared at the sun, it seems further substantiated by the finding that no media in the region appears to have given notice of any abnormal phenomenon encountered by the population on 14 May 2009.
This article continues on the page "Miracles of the Sun": Optical and Technical Effects [Part 2]