On December 17, 1996, just a few days before Christmas, a very unusual stain bearing a striking resemblance to the image of the Virgin Mary was discovered on the exterior glass surface of Seminole Finance Company in Clearwater, Florida.
The image occupied about a dozen glass panels on the building, and was approximately 60 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Intrigued by the news, an influx of visitors, devotees, and skeptics flocked to the city to witness the “Christmas miracle”, with an estimated 80,000 visitors per day during December. Within two months numbers coming to view the spectacle reached almost a half-million people.
Corrosion of the metallic coating on glass is commonly thought to be the cause of the strange image. However, glass experts, skeptics and others couldn’t offer any convincing explanation about why the stain appeared to closely resemble the image of Mary. Meanwhile, religious believers hold the strong conviction that the image was an intervention of God’s will.
The owner of the building and Seminole Finance Company at the time, Michael Krizmanich, a devout Catholic also claimed that the stain was created by God. Krizmanich eventually sold his business to Ugly Duckling Car Sales Inc. which later leased the building to the Shepherds of Christ Ministries due to negative impacts of large numbers of pilgrims were having on its sales. The building was renamed “Our Lady of Clearwater” and converted into a shrine. Members of the Shepherds of Christ erected an eighteen-foot wooden crucifix next to the site on December 17, 1998 and opened a rosary shop on the second floor of the building.
A large wooden crucifix was placed in front of the building (Facebook)
However, through time, the public interest in the image gradually declined. The white plastic chairs in front of the images for worshipers were often empty, and the rosary shop was closed due to lack of funding and staff. Despite that, it is still the venue for the annual festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which brings together thousands of members of the Central and South American community.
On March 1, 2004, a local teenager shattered the three topmost window panes, containing the head image of the Bless Mother. The boy who confessed to shooting the glass with a slingshot was sentenced to 10 days in prison and two years on probation for his crime. Despite the damage to the image, the Shepherds of Christ Ministries retained the Building. In 2005, bulletproof glass was installed to protect what was left.
The building is still an annual gathering place for majority of Christian worshipers.
Today, Our Lady of Clearwater exists as an unobtrusive building on the side of a busy highway. Although the face of the Virgin Mother was damaged during the vandal attack, the building remains a revered place for pious worshipers of Christ.