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"Nuns", meteors and the art of the millennial press release

Funny, the things that will pique your curiosity.

Last night, while getting ready to burn some DVDs, Peter and I were watching a somewhat comical documentary called “The 50 Worst Predictions”. One entry on the list described a bizarre media-borne prediction which I’d forgotten about, if indeed if I’d ever noticed it to begin with.

In 1994, full-page ads were taken out in at least one UK newspaper (and there may have been more: I’m trying to find out how many) by a woman who identified herself as “Sister Marie Gabriel”. (She also goes by the name “Sofia Richmond”; one source gives her real name as Sofia Paprocski, and this would seem to be confirmed in the advertisement below.) Her prediction was that Halley’s Comet would strike Jupiter (it should be mentioned that Shoemaker and Levy had made a similar prediction about their own comet a couple of months earlier, with somewhat more reason). This would produce some kind of gigantic sign in the heavens, one meant to warn the world to “stop all crime”. (You can see the “press-release” version of the announcement in this Google Groups post. It also turned up in sci.skeptic, alt.astrology, alt.christnet.second-coming.real-soon-now, and alt.usenet.kooks: but, surprisingly, not much of anywhere else. — Also, all honor to Somefoolwitha.com, where I found the large-format version of the original ad: click on the image below to see a slightly crisped-up version.)

The text of the basic press-release announcement is interesting. It features a favorite theme of this kind of prophecy (“You should all play nice now, or else!” — not that this is necessarily a bad message, mind you: and some folks reading this may remember the same opinion being covertly expressed in a story called “Apparitions” I did for a Superman anthology some while ago). But even the PR version of the announcement, which theoretically ought to be concentrating on far more urgent information like the imminent “destruction of nations”, spends a surprising amount of page space discussing how many famous people will come to “believe in Sister Marie Gabriel”, and what bad things will happen to those who slander her: namely, they’ll “suffer direct and instant retribution from God himself” on the day of the collision.

The author of the press release and ad later appeared on at least one UK interview show, a clip of which was shown on the “50 Worst Predictions” show which Peter and I were watching. “Sister Marie Gabriel” was a small woman wearing a plain skirt and sweater, a headscarf, big sunglasses (apparently to protect herself from the blinding flash when Jupiter exploded), very blonde hair that looked either dyed or artificial (maybe even a wig?…), a lot of makeup, and an affect (in the psych sense of the word) which I can only describe as generally very peculiar. She spoke in a very soft whispery voice that must have driven the studio’s sound engineers to distraction.

Having seen the clip, I was ready to say, “Okay, so maybe she’s just an eccentric.” Possibly one with a grudge of some kind, and certainly one with a seriously weak grasp of both current events and astronomy. Certainly a lady with access to a little money: those full-page ads aren’t cheap. One commentator on the clip — I think it may even have been Uri Geller — wondered whether she was being bankrolled by someone, and if so, by whom, and why? “Well,” I remember thinking after I heard that remark, “yeah, why?” I had trouble coming up with reasons that made any sense. Was she indeed just an eccentric who’d had a scary vision, and didn’t mind spending her life savings to tell people about it? Or was something else going on?

At any rate, we finished watching the documentary and went on to other things. But I was left wondering whether, subsequent to the failure of her prediction, anyone had ever found out exactly what had been going on with “Sister Marie Gabriel”, or whether anything more about her story had been uncovered. So I went Googling. Various useful pages about Millennial and other predictions shed a little light here and there. (And, looking at the timelines, I started to get a sense that any year in which the world is not predicted by somebody as being about to end is a weird year. And oh gosh, the names of some of the organizations predicting one or another catastrophe! “The Sacerdotal Knights of National Security”?? — Though that group, at least, may not have been entirely serious.)

Anyway, web-based references to either Sister Marie Gabriel or Sofia Richmond are surprisingly few, considering all the fuss. “Sofia Richmond” does turn up in an episode of NOVA, “The Doomsday Asteroid”, where the narrator describes her as a “mystic”. At first I thought maybe this was the documentary writer being neutral, or kind. But then, as I dug about, I went back to that full-page ad and read it a little more closely. (You may want to do so too, but I warn you, you’ll have a squint by the time you’re done.) “Sofia Richmond” does indeed describe herself as a mystic “like St. Theresa of Avila”; and also an astronomer (“Sofia is a Polish astronomer like Copernicus”).

The section that really caught my attention — already piqued by some material further up in the advertisement — occurs about three-quarters of the way down the page. (The actual print version is in small, tight-packed, shouting all-caps, reminiscent of parts of a Dr. Bronner’s label, but without the (relatively) organized graphics. Punctuation is the author’s.)

In 1983 she delivered a document to all the major embassies warning them of the cosmic explosion and resulting fireball. For 10 years her warnings were not heeded. So she wrote a book of cosmic forecasts and published the first edition by hand on 11 February 1993 nearly a year ago. In this book she explains the reasons for the cosmic explosion between the comet and Jupiter and she illustrates the blast and constant explosion with pictures (title of book: “Supernatural Visions” by Sophia Marie Gabriel Richmond). She wrote her prophetic book over a period of 10 years. The Sunday Telegraph reviewed her book on 14 February 1993. Adam Nicholson said it could be bound for the bestseller lists. Then she gave her book to a printer on the 11th of March 1993. …Copies of her book are in Cambridge University Library and Oxford University library. The printer however turned out to be dishonest. He sold all her books to shops all over the UK and abroard [sic] and kept all the money from her copyright work. Sister Marie has not received one penny from her own book while printer and book shops have made over quarter of a million pounds approximately. Her court hearing about her prophetic book is on the 11 February 1994 at 10 a.m. at St. Martins Lane County Court, WC2. (Reporters welcome.) …There will be a criminal prosecution against the printer in the future for stealing all the money from her book.

Oh, indeed. To quote a Vulcan of my acquaintance, “Fascinating…” Yet there’s also a strangely pathetic — in the sense of pathos-inducing — quality about this: and if you’re a writer and you’ve once been cheated out of a fee for work when you held up your end of the bargain, a certain sympathy arises in your heart when you hear a story of this kind, however occasionally self-contradictory and sandwiched- between- big- helpings- of- looniness the account.

Confirming some of this info is impossible while sitting at the desk nursing a cup of tea: the Telegraph’s online archives only go back as far as 1996. As for the court case: where would one go to find online data on something of this kind? If anyone wants to send me a URL…

The advertisement goes on to mention various TV appearances, including “German television”, Sky News, BBC’s Horizon (this would have been the source of the “Nova” material) and “Australian Channel 7 News”. (This is sounding more and more like somebody’s CV every minute: just a very ineptly framed one.) And finally this:

The world has only a few months left to prepare for the most dangerous cost the convention history. A publisher is urgently needed to reprint her prophetic book by Easter 1994.

The article concludes (as it began) with a command that the Pope fly in to meet with her immediately, as in that day, by 3 PM (“Subito!”), continuing the generally confused, loosely-associated and inconsistent tone of the whole piece. It’s the kind of thing a coffee room full of psych professionals could blow a whole lunch-break diagnosing.

…And here at the desk, while the tea gets colder, I remain fascinated. So was this whole business actually an attempt to get some PR for a self-published book? Or was the book ever actually published at all, and did someone genuinely rip this lady off? Googling on the title of the book along with any of the author’s various names produces no result. (sigh) I’m left with more mysteries than I started with, and no time to investigate them: I’ve got a bunch of wizards running around on Mars and digging the place up at the moment.

Yet one more thing. While Googling around, I came across this newer story in the Edgware Times, dated 2001. The first paragraph:

A Christian visionary and author from Childs Hill has taken an advertisement out in a national newspaper offering 31 of her books to publishers.

Doing business again as Sister Marie Gabriel, but sporting the new pen name “Sofia Marie Angel”, she is touting various of her books (the number cited in the article is seventy-seven) as possible Hollywood-blockbuster material…but is also also apparently stating in the new advertisement that there’s yet another a meteoric disaster coming. The Times mentions — perhaps with tongue in cheek? — that she has published other ads in newspapers before, and that she correctly “predicted” that a comet would hit Jupiter in 1994. (Without mentioning how spectacularly the rest of the prediction tanked.)

Is she getting better at her PR? Or just better at being crazy? (For I’ve seen that kind of thing too.)

Ah well. Back to Mars…

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  • http://www.blogistan.co.uk/blog/ Indigo Jo

    Hi there,

    I followed the Marie Gabriel story in the early 1990s and saw several of the adverts she placed in the British press. We read the Guardian, and I saw at least five in that paper.

    The first was very general, announcing her new book and that there were important predictions in it. The second announced that the “Third Secret of Fatima” had been divulged to her by the Virgin Mary, and that it concerned a schism in the Vatican which would lead to there being two rival popes, with Catholics in Latin countries following the rebel and John Paul remaining the true pope. The third predicted a Royal coup and revolution in the UK.

    The fourth appeared in 1993 after the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet appeared and its trajectory towards Jupiter had been announced. She published a whole load of ultimata about what mankind must do if an asteroid was not to erupt from Jupiter and head for the Earth. The fifth appeared in early 1994 and was the one you linked above. There wasn’t a sixth, although there were a number earlier than the first I mentioned.

    I got Supernatural Visions from the Croydon public library and besides the general violent predictions and her tragic life story (about how she was mistreated by nuns as a child and how her father, a genius photographer who invented and patented an auto-focus mechanism for cameras which was supposedly stolen by the major camera manufacturers, was killed off by the NHS) there was nothing in that vast tome about the Jupiter collision, which suggests that she made up the prophecy after the comet’s impending collision became known – possibly she read of it in Astronomy Now.

  • Bodkin

    The adverts were paid for by billionaire J. Paul Getty.

  • ellio

    Back in 2003 (maybe 2004), on leaving my apartement building in London NW2, I noticed a plastic shopping basket outside by the main entrance to the building. It contained five or six copies of Siter Marie’s book Supernatural Visions Of The Madonna (1981-1991) London. On top of the books was a note which read ‘Please help yourself’.

    The books were all in pretty much perfect condition, and I remember finding a mint one. The book is large, with nearly eight hundred pages, full of texts (such as the one in from the newspaper above) and photographs of the Virgin Mary, Sister Marie and shrines, churches and much more.

    I came across the book today having not looked at it for a few years. My curiosity sparked again and I googled around finding Diane’s blog.

    The extraordinary thing is that it wasn’t just my building that books were left at. Outside other buildings down the road I noticed other baskets. I can’t remember how many, I didn’t really take it in at the time. Perhaps this was a last ditch effort to distribute the book.

    I have to confess to being a little spooked by the book (perhaps being brought up a Catholic – now lapsed – had something to do with it).

    It is an extraordinary story.

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