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Pizza Pan Mary.

Pizza Pan Mary: Miracle

For the past few years we're been tracking increasingly frequent reports of "Panifestations" -- the sudden appearance of either Jesus or the Virgin Mary in pans used to cook food. In 1994 a frying pan in Hollywood, Florida, yielded a grilled cheese sandwich that bore the likeness of Mary. In January 2005 a Jesus-on-a-skillet was discovered in Prairie Lea, Texas. In December 2005 Jesus appeared on a nacho warming pan in a restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida. In August 2006 Mary manifested herself in the drip pan of a George Forman Grill in Glendale, Missouri.

Miraculous image on cooking pan.

What makes cookware so inviting for miraculous appearances and signs from above? And when did the kitchen staff leap onto the Lord's front burner?

Panifestations -- writ in scorch and stain -- are obviously more durable than holy likenesses in food or water, and yet they are difficult to visit. The Prairie Lea and Glendale pans warped into obscurity along with their private owners. The more public Hollywood and Jacksonville pans fell victim to Satan's spawn, eBay, and have vanished into someone's garage or rumpus room.

That's why it's important that you go to see a panifestation when you can. And, fortunately, another one has popped up, and it's still open to public scrutiny.

It appeared on Ash Wednesday, February 21, 2007 -- a grease stain on a pizza pan in Pugh Elementary School in Houston, Texas. Photos of the stain looked, to some, like a pacifier, a phallis, or a shmoo, but to the cafeteria workers it resembled an image of the Virgin Mary. Word quickly got around the predominantly Catholic neighborhood, and before long Pugh Elementary was crowded with the devout and the curious, eager to take a peek.

Principal Lydia Guerrero realized that this was no way to run a school, and gave the pan to a local PTA parent who set it up in a shrine in her home a couple of blocks away.

This, however, presented a new set of problems, according to Terry Abbott, press secretary for the Houston Independent School District. "The pan is school property," he said. "It's the taxpayers' money. Under law, we can't just give it away." Under the rules, in fact, the only way that the school could get rid of the pan was to declare it "surplus" and auction it to the highest bidder -- a circus that the school was not willing to undergo.

Miracle pizza pan on display in school cafteria.

So, five days after the pan made the headlines, it was back in the school cafeteria. There was no clear way to get rid of it, and crowds were still arriving daily to see it.

But a solution may be in the works. According to Abbott, the school district is now "trying to make an arrangement to loan the pan to either a local church or a local non-profit organization for public display." This clever legal maneuver would ensure that the pan would remain school property, while getting it off of school grounds, probably for good. Meanwhile, Principal Guerrero has played Solomon and negotiated a deal in which the pan is kept under lock and key during classroom hours, then put on display in the cafeteria on weekday afternoons from 4:30 to 6:30.

It was, however, supposed to be just the pan and its stain: no candles, flowers, or offerings allowed. "We can't do that," says Abbott.

But on a recent visit, it appeared that floral offerings brought to the cafeteria by visitors just can't be turned away. The rose-festooned pan, on a long table covered with a white cloth and flower arrangements, is propped against a wall. A small reproduction of an iconic painting of Mary and child is positioned for quick reference.

Pugh Elementary School. East side of downtown. I-10 exit 772, then south one-half mile on Kress St. to the school. [REPORTED moved from school - May 2007]

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