Image of a cross found in pine tree trunk at Modesto church

A drought-stricken pine tree has left this world but continues to give a spiritual lift through a message at its literal core.

A gracefully flowing cross shows plainly on the trunk of a tree cut down beside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Modesto. The cross-section discovered two weeks ago was shellacked and stationed temporarily in the church foyer last week.

“It's beautiful. We put it on display because it was just so cool!” said Allison Cox, church office manager.

The tree, which a ring count puts at 39 years old, soared beside the church on Oakdale Road until branches endangered the flat roof of the structure and it was determined several trees by the church were dying.

“When they cut it down, there was – kind of like the pancake thing,” she said, referring to the Jesus-like image that appeared in a pancake at the Cowgirl Cafe in Norco on Good Friday in 2014.

The image appeared in only one section of one of the several trees cut down. Workers who saw it called church stalwart Jim Brand, who saved the section and put a protective coating over it. Eventually it may sit outside for all to see near a large church bell on the grounds, but for now it sits simply in the church foyer.

Congregants got to view the piece Sunday, marveling over the clear image of the cross. But Brand’s grandson saw it differently, Cox said.

“His grandson said, ‘It’s not just a cross, grandpa. It’s Jesus on the cross,’ ” she said.

The shape is a simple one, without facial features.

In 2009, a Turlock woman saw Mother Teresa in a piece of cheese.

In 2005, Dave Varley of Turlock glimpsed a Madonna and child in a piece of driftwood at the local flea market. Varley told The Bee he took that piece home with him, hoping to change his luck and perhaps earn some eBay cash.

He was inspired by a Miami woman who saw an image of the Virgin Mary in her grilled cheese sandwich in 1994. She stored it in a plastic case with cotton balls, and sold it in 2004 through an online casino for $28,000.

A cinnamon roll said to resemble the late Mother Teresa’s face gained fame at Nashville’s Bongo Java coffeehouse in 1996. The roll, dubbed the Nun Bun, sold a lot of T-shirts but was stolen on Christmas Day 2007.

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin

See the cross

Anyone wishing to see the trunk at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church should first call the church office at 209-522-3267 as the volunteer staff will have irregular hours over the holidays.