A decorator in England claims to have uncovered the face of Jesus.
Sam Dalby, a 37-year-old, self-employed painter and decorator, was in the midst of working on a barn conversion in North Yorkshire when he said he found the surprising image on the wall.
Dalby was plastering and sanding the room all morning, and it wasn't until later, after sitting down for a lunch break, that he was startled by the likeness.
He revealed to U.K. newspaper The Telegraph: "I hadn't seen the face earlier when I was working close up to it. It was only when I sat down that it turned up – I was sitting face-to-face with Jesus. I was more than a bit surprised. It's not every day that you find your Lord and savior watching you eat your lunch. It's pretty amusing. I reckon it must be a good omen for the job we have done at the house."
But the sighting didn't keep him from finishing the job. He said the image has now been coated with off-white emulsion paint.
"I left it as long as I could, but the carpet fitters were coming, so I had to paint over it. The paint is a similar color to a shroud so it felt appropriate," he said.
Jesus image sightings have become a worldwide cultural phenomenon, with people claiming to have seen him on walls, landscapes and even stains.
Last year, a 26-year-old sales assistant found an image of Jesus in a picture of a section of Hungarian farmland on Google Earth. Zach Evans accidentally made his discovery as he was looking for a holiday destination with the mapping program.
But it's not just Jesus that has been sighted in unlikely places, other religious images have appeared in recent years. As discoverers have found, they can be sold for a high price.
A Florida woman found the image of the Virgin Mary in her grilled cheese and managed to sell it on eBay for $28,000, even with a bite missing. GoldenPalace.com, an online casino, bought the sandwich to use for a promotional opportunity.
But why are images of the divine becoming so common in everyday objects?
Scientist claim to have an answer. In an article from Cerebral Cortex, an online Oxford science journal, researchers say that "clouds and inkblots often compellingly resemble something else – faces, animals, or other identifiable objects."
And when people perceive different shapes as identifiable objects, this human phenomenon of perception is called pareidolia – the capacity for people to recognize familiar patterns in seemingly random images.
Pareidolia happens because "we're wired to pay attention when we see objects that remind us of something we already know," said Joel Voss, an assistant professor at Northwestern University on MSNBC's science blog "The Body Odd."
Our brains automatically identify similar objects and then organize them according to type, Voss explained.
He and his colleagues looked at this phenomenon more closely by rounding up 10 volunteers and having them lie in a brain scanner while looking at squiggles. The volunteers then had to rate the squiggles on a scale of 1-5 as being meaningful or not – meaningful meaning if the odd shapes reminded the volunteer of something or someone.
As the image flashed in front of each person, different parts of the visual cortex in their brain would light up, including, the blog states, "a region at the front known to be involved in analyzing the meaning and importance of data that the eyes are transmitting to the brain."
After doing a second part of the experiment that included looking at larger squiggles, along with some of the ones they had already viewed, the volunteers had to try and pick out the ones they had seen previously.
The researchers found that "various regions of the visual cortex lit up as the volunteers watched the squiggles flash by. But, intriguingly, the frontal region stayed quiet when 'meaningful' squiggles flashed by again."
For Voss and his team, this signifies that the purpose for all this brain circuitry was most likely to promote our survival in earlier ages because our brains automatically identify similar objects and then organize them according to type.
That's why we can look at a baseball cap and a fedora and know right away that both are hats, Voss explains. In the modern world we are still looking for important patterns, or glimpses of a higher power.