Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 64: Jul-Aug 1989

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











The Zeitoun Apparitions

The luminous phenomena observed at Zeitoun, Egypt, have attracted the attentions of a wide spectrum of believers and nonbelievers. Each group seems to interpret the phenomena according to its own particular mind-set!

To set the stage for the study reviewed here, we quote first the two lead paragraphs of the paper.

"Between April 1968 and May 1971 hundreds of thousands of people reported seeing apparitions of the Virgin Mary over a Coptic Orthodox Church in Zeitoun, near Cairo, Egypt. When photographed, these phenomena appeared as irregular blobs of light. Primarily there were two types of events: small shortlived, highly kinetic lights ('doves') and more persistent coronal type displays that were situated primarily over the apical structures of the church. More detailed descriptions of the phenomena, such as visions often occurred as 'flashes'; their details usually reflected the religious background of the experient.

"The characteristics of these luminous phenomena strongly suggested the existence of tectonic strain within the area. According to the hypothesis of tectonic strain, anomalous luminous phenomena are generated by brief, local changes in strain that precede earthquakes within the region. Psychological factors determine more elaborate details of the experiences because there are both direct stimulations of the observer's brain as well as indirect contributions from reinforcement history."

The authors of the study at hand, J.S. Derr and M.A. Persinger, are well known for their theory associating anomalous, terrain-related, luminous phenomena with tectonic strains. In the Zeitoun case, they have discovered that a year before the phenomena commenced there was an unprecedented increase (by a factor of ten) in seismic activity some 400 kilometers to the southeast. Also, there was a moderate (0.56) correlation between the luminous phenomena and increases in seismicity during the same or preceeding months. Derr and Persinger claim these observations support their hypothesis.

(Derr, John S., and Persinger, Michael A.; "Geophysical Variables and Behavior: LIV. Zeitoun (Egypt) Apparitions of the Virgin Mary as Tectonic StrainInduced Luminosities," Perceptual and Motor Skills, 68:123, 1989.)

Comment. It does seem, however, that seismic activity 400 kilometers away would have little effect at Zeitoun. How is luminosity produced from an earthquake that far away?

From Science Frontiers #64, JUL-AUG 1989. 1989-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987