Friday, February 22, 2008
This story is careening like the salted twists of a giant pretzel, like Johannes Kepler’s understanding of the universe. Earlier this week, Michael Fleming, of Eugene, Oregon, let a radio DJ post a 3-year-old pretzel found in a bag of Rold Gold on eBay, saying that he thought it resembled the Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus. According to this article from The Oregonian, Fleming has this to say about his pretzel: “People seemed generally moved by these images . . . And they really seem to believe that the Virgin Mary is before them.” The pretzel got a big publicity boost from Tanner Hanney, host of KVAL radio’s “Donkey Show.” Hanney is eschewing the spiritual side of these phenomena: “We're kind of capitalizing on the stupidity of eBay and that people will buy anything.”
Calling eBay stupid seems stupid to me, but Hanney’s point about people’s willingness to buy pretty much anything is spot-on. The bidding on Fleming’s pretzel has reached $10,950. In terms of this story, however, the bigger point is people’s willingness to try selling pretty much anything on eBay, like this spate of Virgin Mary pretzels, all put on auction within the last couple of days.
The seller of this one makes no secret about needing some quick cash.
And then there’s this one (above), found four months ago, but just now offered up in light of all this hoopla.
I like this one: Mary kneeling in prayer.
And for good measure, especially if $1.75 is more in your price range.
This is not the first such pretzel auctioned on eBay. Back in 2005, the online casino Goldenpalace.com (the folks who bought Diana Duyser’s grilled cheese for $28,000) bought a Virgin Mary pretzel for $10,600 (below).
Some of these pretzels are being sold by people who claim that these shapes, by virtue of being noticed before they were chomped, are holy signs of a higher power. Others clearly went looking for some misshaped rolled dough and, voila! Either way, there are some interesting religious connections to pretzels. The origin of the pretzel is debated, but German bakery signage from the early 12th century is the earliest verifiable appearance of these tasty snacks. (As an aside, when I was in Frankfurt last October, I had an amazing ham and cheese sandwich, with great tangy mustard, on pretzel bread, something I had never had before. Loved it.)
One unsubstantiated reference credits an Italian monk who in 610 C.E. made pretzels to reward children for learning their prayers. The theory goes on to claim that the shape was intended to evoke the devotional pose of arms crossed against one’s chest.
There is also a connection between pretzels and Lent in that the snacks were eaten to make up for abstaining from other foods. In his book Astronomia nova, published in 1609, Johannes Kepler, assuming Earth as the center of the universe, equated the movement of orbiting planets “with the appearance of Lenten bread.” That’s a pretzel to you and me.
We’ll see how many of these pretzels sell, and for how much. Does anyone else think that these Virgin Mary pretzels look like something Pablo Picasso might have done had he been a baker? Makes me thirsty for a beer!