London, Jul 10 (ANI): Claims by workmen of the appearance of an image of the Virgin Mary in the remains of a felled churchyard tree have caused a religious fever in the Irish village of Rathkeale, Co Limerick.
The image is said to have attracted hundreds to pray and light candles in the grounds of Holy Mary Parish church, with some believing that the willow should be preserved and covered in glass.oel White, the Rathkeale Community Council Graveyard Committee chairman, said that workmen sprucing up the church land saw the image when they cut the tree.
"One of the lads said look, our Blessed Lady in the tree," the Telegraph quoted White as saying.
"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," he said.
Candles and rosary beads have been draped over the stump by prayerful locals, with up to 700 holding a candlelight vigil last night and into the early hours of the morning.
White said that people have been travelling from neighbouring Co Kerry as word of the phenomenon spread, while it is believed a local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club from a nearby parish also brought two busloads of people.
But not all villagers have seen the supposedly divine image with some treating the discovery with scepticism.
Local priest Fr Willie Russell refused to get caught up in the hype, but said the outpouring of interest did not surprise him.
"This is just going to go on and on," he said.
"My impression of it at the moment is that I have no impression of it. It doesn't interest me that much at the moment.
"I have seen the tree ... it's only a tree," he said.
Fr Russell also insisted not everyone in the area believed the image of Our Lady appeared on the tree.
"The local views are kind of mixed," the priest said.
Scepticism over the reported appearance is shared by the Catholic Church's hierarchy in Ireland, according to Fr Paul Finnerty, official spokesman for the Limerick diocese.
"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," he added. (ANI)