Nov. 30, 2004 — -- 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.
In back of the mobile home where they lived, the Rubio family built turned a 6-foot wood shed into a makeshift shrine, fitting it with glass doors. Soon it would be one of the state's more popular tourist attractions, drawing more than 35,000 people over the years, with some praying for diving assistance, according to one tourist guide. There's no word on whether the tortilla shrine helps in cases of heartburn.
The Miracle Tortilla is conveniently located just 30 miles from Roswell, a popular tourist destination for UFO believers. Coincidence? I think not.
In yet another Mexican food phenomenon, Oregon's 24-hour Church of Elvis in Portland displayed a "Miracle of the Tortilla of Turin" -- a corn chip imprinted with the face of rock 'n' roll's king of kings.
2. The Jesus Fish Stick
News of the Grilled Cheese Virgin Mary last week spurred Fred Whan of Ontario, Canada, to dig into his freezer for what some may believe to be a heavenly work of cod -- a burned fish stick resembling Jesus.
The 40-year-old man says he was cooking dinner for his kids and other children he was baby-sitting when the blessed event occurred. "No one wanted them because they were burned," he said. "So I thought I'd better give them to the dogs."
But before he threw the charred cake to the dogs' dish, he took another look.
"I said, 'That looks like a rock singer,' and then my son goes, 'It looks like Jesus,' and I said 'Well, it does, yeah.' "
So he kept this burnt offering as a conversation piece. Now, he's promising to put it on eBay, perhaps as the perfect keepsake for those who admire both St. Paul and Mrs. Paul. Holy tartar sauce sold separately.
3. The 'NunBun' of Nashville, Tenn.
A good cup of coffee is hard to find, and so is a breakfast roll with an uncanny likeness to Mother Teresa. On the morning of Oct. 15, 1996, the store manager at the Bongo Java coffee shop looked at a pastry and found the saintly nun staring him in the face
The legend of the "NunBun" was born. The confection was shellacked for all eternity as the media converged for a breakfast treat that was soon to be known as "The Immaculate Confection," "The Divine Dough" and "The Cin-a-Nun."
The bends of the roll just perfectly capture Mother Teresa's face, draped in a shawl, with cinnamon accentuating her deep-set, soulful eyes. Disbelievers still claimed the cinnamon roll more closely resembles Doc from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
Nevertheless, news spread worldwide, even to India, where Mother Teresa asked lawyers to make inquiries, concerned that a coffee shop was capitalizing on her name with souvenir T-shirts, postcards and bookmarks.
Eager not to earn the famous nun's ire, Bongo Java quickly agreed to remove her name from any items for sale, and strip certain offensive terms like "immaculate confection" from promotional literature. The coffee shop got to keep its trademarked term "NunBun" and sell images of the roll.
The death of Mother Teresa in September 1997 did not dampen believers' enthusiasm. The NunBun has joined Opryland as one of Nashville's most famous tourist attractions.
4. The Holy Eggplant
In March last year, a woman in Mendhasalis, India, sliced into an eggplant and found seeds spelling out "Allah" in Urdu script. Now, the vegetable is part of a shrine near her home, where some treat it as a religious icon.
Amazingly, this is not the first time an eggplant has been exalted. In 1990, Muslims in nothern England also reported finding "Allah" spelled out in the seeds of an eggplant, only this time it was written in Arabic.
"This clearly shows people that our god exists. It is a message to the nonbelievers," Abdullah Patel told Reuters, claiming that 4,500 people had visited his home within just weeks of the incident being reported.
In one more case of this food-of-the-gods phenomena, in 2002, the Jessani family of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, returned from the market with a potato shaped like the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha. They now welcome 60 to 70 pilgrims a day, eager to see this divine vegetable, according to local press.
What does this all say? Perhaps God is everywhere, and in some cases, he's fattening.
Buck Wolf is entertainment producerat ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files ispublished Tuesdays.