Tag Archives: Pieta

Pietà – Mother and Child

Mary, at the foot of the Cross, received Jesus in her arms – weeping as many mothers have throughout the ages. Here are a few images


By Frederick Franck in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine


Kathe Kollwitz, Berlin – Memorial of the victims of war; Neue Wache


Michelangelo – Florence


Michelangelo – Saint Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican

Even when all despaired
at the hour when Christ was dying on the cross,
Mary, serene,
awaited the hour of the resurrection.
Mary is the symbol
of the people who suffer oppression and injustice.
Theirs is the calm suffering
that awaits the resurrection.
It is Christian suffering,
the suffering of the church,
which does not accept the present injustices
but awaits without rancor the moment
when the Risen One will return
to give us the redemption we await.
– – – Saint Óscar Arnulfo Romero, December 11, 1977


One of the scenes of Good Friday that most touches me is Jesus being taken down from the Cross and laid in the arms of his mother.

There are two images that I would like to meditate on this year.

The first is Michelangelo’s Pietà in Florence. When I first saw it in 1973, in the Duomo of Florence, it deeply moved me, especially the emotion in the face of the man in the sculpture. Two years ago I encountered the sculpture again in the Duomo Museum in Florence. Though it is no longer in a place of prayer, it evokes prayer, more than the famous Pietà in the Vatican.


The second image is not exactly a Pietà. It is the image of a mother and her dead son in a memorial in the Neue Wache in Berlin. It is the work of Käthe Kollwitz, an artist and sculptor who identified with the cause of the poor and oppressed and opposed all war. The tragedy of the death of a son is evident in her hand holding her son’s.


As I meditate on these images I think of the mothers who have lost their children this year – to war, to illness, to preventable diseases.

Looking on them, may our hearts be opened to be filled with the mercy of God.


Though it is not, as far as I know, a depiction of Jesus in the arms of Mary, this image of a woman with her dead child, by Kathe Kollwitz, evokes the sorrow of mothers for their children.

Kathe Kollwitz

It would be good this Holy Saturday to sit with this image – in grief and in hope.


Were you there?

“Were you there, when they crucified my Lord?” is a haunting spiritual which is often sung on Good Friday. It is a challenge to us: Do we accompany our Lord in His passion, death, and resurrection?

DSC00590Often donors were depicted in scenes from the life of Christ, as a way to recall their patronage. But there is an image of the Pietà, Jesus taken down from the Cross and placed in his mother’s arms, that expresses not patronage, but devotion, and the desire to be with Christ crucified.

The most famous is Michelangelo’s in St. Peter’s Basilica. But I was moved more by Michelangel’s late work, the unfinished Pietà in the Cathedral Museum of Florence. The upper image, Nicodemus, is a self-portrait. Michelangelo felt a need to put himself into the sculpture as he was, in his later life, trying to life more fully his faith.

But there is another question for Good Friday, which reverses the spiritual. We hear it in the words of Jesus on the Cross, citing Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Are you here, God, in the midst of the suffering?

There are two paintings that try to answer this question.

chagall3The first comes from an unlikely source, Marc Chagall, the Lithuanian Jewish artist, who surprisingly painted not a few images of Jesus Crucified. One of his most famous, The White Crucifixion, is in the Art Institute of Chicago. The Crucified Jesus, his loins clothed in a prayer shawl, is surrounded by scenes of the persecution of the Jewish people:  burning homes, fleeing people. He, a Jew, sees in the crucified Jesus the suffering of the Jewish people.

For me, as a Christian, it reminds me that when anyone suffers, especially the sufferings of persecuted peoples, like the Jews, God also suffers.

The second is one that I have not seen: Matias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece. (Paul Hindemith wrote an opera and the symphonic work Mathis der Mahler to recall the agony of Grünewald painting in the midst of the Reformation.)

grunewaldcrucif1The altarpiece was painted in the early sixteenth century for the chapel of the Antonine monks who cared for the sick, in a hospital for people suffering from ergotism. If you look closely the body of Christ is covered with sores; these are like the sores the patients bore on their bodies.

Those suffering patients could see Christ suffering with them. Christ Jesus is not far from us in our sufferings. He accompanies us in our suffering.

These two paintings express what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 22: 25, whose first words Jesus prayed on the Cross:

[The Lord] has never despised
nor scorned the poverty of the poor.
From them he has not hidden his face,
but he heard the poor when they cried.

God is here, among the suffering. Are we there?