10-year-old sandwich depicting the Virgin Mary draws $22,000 bid

For true believers, religious symbolism can be found almost anywhere, but perhaps never in such an unlikely — or humble — venue: a plain, grilled cheese sandwich.

White bread from Publix and Land ‘O Lakes American cheese, slapped together and fried up for a Dania Beach woman’s breakfast 10 years ago, produced what she believes is an image of the Virgin Mary.

“I think she protects me,” Diana Duyser said Tuesday. “I guess I’m lucky because of her — I’ve had a lot of wins at the casino.”

Duyser, 52, isn’t the only one who trusts in the crust. Since she offered the aging, triangular sandwich for sale last week on the Internet auction site eBay, she’s had bids of up to $22,000.

“People have e-mailed me: Can we eat her?” said the jewelry designer.

Duyser said she fixed the sandwich in the fall of 1994. No oil or butter, just fried up plain on the skillet. “I went to take a bite out of it, and then I saw this lady looking back at me,” she recalled. “I hollered for him,” she said, gesturing to her husband Greg. “It scared me at first.”

Indeed, the diagonally-cut, thin sandwich bears the image of a full-faced woman whose cascading locks are formed by the charred bread. But the face seems more barroom portrait than religious icon.

Duyser, a non-practicing Baptist, said she’s “not religious, but I believe there’s something there.”

“It’s just eerie,” she added. “Why would she come to me?”

Duyser encased the sandwich in a plastic box, nestled it among cotton balls and kept it on a shelf. Over the years, she said, the sandwich has miraculously never decayed. “It doesn’t fall apart or crumble or anything,” she said.

This is not Duyser’s first venture into the realm of spirituality. In 1990, she sued the Broward County School Board, alleging a music teacher was a member of a satanic cult and was performing rituals on students. The case was dismissed.

“I don’t really want to talk about that,” she said Tuesday. “That was a long time ago.”

Recently, Duyser decided to sell her treasure via eBay, where she has previously done brisk business peddling T-shirts and other items. “I want to share her with the world,” she said. “I think she was meant to be seen. It’s time to pass her along.”

Three people, making six bids each, hiked up the sandwich’s value from $15,000 to $22,000. Sunday, however, eBay officials pulled the item from the site, thinking it was a joke.

Tuesday, they relented, eBay spokesman Hani Durzy said from the company’s San Jose, Calif., headquarters. The Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich was once again on the block.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s probably one of the more unusual things up on the site right now,” Durzy said.

It spawned a number of spoofs:

Virgin Mary in Spam.

Burnt George W. Bush on Grilled Cheese.

Make Your Own Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese (“solution to a life needing a miracle”).

Virgin Mary’s Used Gum in Grilled Cheese.

Virgin Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen in Grilled Cheese.

Duyser said she has no plans for any profit she may realize from the sandwich. And anyway, there’s always the possibility of another visitation. “Maybe she’ll come to me in something else,” Duyser said.

Staff Researcher Tracy Ahringer contributed to this report.

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