WORSHIPPERS are flocking to a statue of Jesus Christ in a Merseyside gallery claiming it possesses miraculous powers.

Visitors have descended on the Liverpool Academy of Art to kneel before the steel and bronze artwork after reports that "sparks" were shooting from its eyes.

The sculpture, 'Cleansing of the Temple', portrays an angry Jesus brandishing a whip ready to drive out the moneylenders from the temple.

Sculptor Brian Burgess said he is amazed at the reaction to his work, which took three years to complete.

He said: "This is the first time it has ever been displayed publicly and I'm pleased people like my work but I never expected it to have this effect.

"It began when a woman who saw the statue fell to her knees and began praying. She was transfixed for more than 30 minutes and when she came out of the trance she said she had witnessed sparks coming from the eyes of the Christ figure.

"Now the word has spread and we have hordes of people coming to pray and venerate the statue and many have said they have witnessed these sparks too."

Mr Burgess derives much of his work from bible stories, even though he is a self- confessed atheist.

He added: "I've been working on the piece for about a year and it dominated my life during that period but I never saw any sparks while working on it apart from those from the welding torch.

"There have been a number of portraits of the 'Cleansing of the Temple' but few sculptures. For people to be so touched by it is fantastic."

Manager of the Academy, June Lornie, says the sculp- ture is one of the most cont- roversial works displayed. "Not since Arthur Dooley's work 20 years ago has there been such a furore in Liverpool over an artwork. Some people say it is evil and they can see sparks in Jesus's eyes. Others kneel down and speak as though in a trance, convinced they are connecting with God."

It is not the first time Mr Burgess's work has caused a stir. In 2002, his 18ft sculpture depicting the wrath of Jesus as he enters the temple in Jerusalem to find people gambling, evoked fury.

The artist made it to stand in front of Our Lady of Pity Church in Greasby, in Wirral but many wanted it to be hidden away at the back. Made of steel, wire, copper and bronze, It featured an angry Christ with whip in hand attacking men with playing cards and gambling chips.

Another sculpture of Christ on a donkey is at the Liverpool Parish Church of St Nicholas.

Other pieces by Mr Burgess, who now lives on the Wirral, have adorned the White House and 50s singer Frankie Laine was one of his biggest fans.