When a partially eaten, 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich said to bear the image of the Virgin Mary sold for $28,000, you knew it had to be a sign of something, although not necessarily divine.
Already eBay is teeming with other icons rendered on toasted sandwiches. A grilled SpongeBob is going for 99 cents, and for a little more you can also have Al Roker, Hello Kitty and Ron Artest etched on toast.
"This grilled cheese sandwich bears a striking resemblance to one of history's greatest works of art," says Matt Milkowski, a 20-year-old art student at Boston University, who's hawking a cheesy version of the "Mona Lisa." Opening bid: 99 cents.
Another eBay seller is offering an empty plate with an image of the Virgin Mary and suspicious crumbs, claiming, "The Virgin Mary ate my grilled cheese!"
"This sort of thing really brings out the entrepreneurial spirit," says Marc Hartzman, author of "Found on eBay" (Universe).
"A couple of years ago someone auctioned off a ghost in a jar. Suddenly, people were selling all sorts of imitations, toast in a jar … a vacation home for your ghost in a jar."
The online auction house actually pulled the Virgin Mary sandwich from its site on Nov. 14, saying it didn't allow joke listings. But the item was restore when the company was convinced that the owner, Diana Duyser of Hollywood, Fla., would deliver on the bid. The posting became an Internet sensation, eventually getting more than 1.6 million hits.
The new owner of the famed sandwich, online casino GoldenPalace.com, is putting it on display at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, also in Hollywood, Fla. It promises to take the partially eaten religious icon on tour.
Duyser, who has been recently sporting a T-shirt with the slogan "Passion of the Toast," says she took a bite of the sandwich 10 years ago, saw the image of Mary, and immediately decided that this blessed snack was not to be eaten.
"It scared me, really," she told reporters.
Don't expect the Vatican to weigh in on this matter. The Roman Catholic Church has specific guidelines for recognizing miracles and sacred apparitions.
Over the past 2000 years, the church has only sanctioned three apparitions of the Virgin Mary: the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico (1531), and the visions at Lourdes in France (1858) and Fatima in Portugal (1917).
Nevertheless, the sandwich's new owners see value in their $28,000 purchase. "It represented something that we believed to be a piece of Americana pop culture," says Steve Baker, chief executive officer of Cyber World Group, GoldenPalace's Canada-based parent.
Nearly every week there are news reports of religious icons showing up in the most unlikely of places, in the rust of pipes in Tampa, Fla., on Pizza Hut billboards, among other places. The Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich is not alone. Let's look at some celebrated would-be holy food:
1. The Miracle Tortilla of New Mexico
On Oct. 5, 1977, Maria Rubio of Lake Arthur, N.M., was filling a tortilla with eggs, chiles and beans when she looked in her skillet and saw something that would change her life.
''It looks like our Lord Jesus Christ,'' she reportedly told her daughters.
Shaken, the family drove to a church in the nearby town of Dexter, where a priest tried to convince her that it was all a coincidence. Rubio nevertheless persuaded the priest, however reluctantly, to bless what was her day-old breakfast.