Florentine artist Michelangelo’s famous Pietà sculpture has for centuries drawn countless visitors, art lovers and Christian pilgrims to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, where the monolith sits in a chapel near from the entrance to the church.
Delicately rendered in Carrara marble and standing nearly 6 feet tall, the figure of the Virgin Mary holding the corpse of Jesus is a sight to behold for anyone with the time and resources to see it.
Now, thanks to the collaboration of Catholic church leaders, parishioners and a company with a mission to share inspiring works of religious art with the world, those who cannot book travel plans in Italy will find a viable option in the town of Costa Mesa.
St. John the Baptist Catholic Churcha parish run by Norbertine priests from St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, recently became the proud recipient of an exact replica of the Pietà, created by artists at a foundry in Mexico operated by Divine Art.
The 1,000-pound monolith arrived July 25 at the church in Costa Mesa, where it was installed to the right of the altar and blessed in a special ceremony two days later by Fr. Augustine Pulcher.
“The Pietà is a wonderful legacy for St. John the Baptist Parish, a gift that will edify and inspire each person who enters our church for generations to come,” Pulcher said in a statement announcing the new addition.
The arrival of the statue marks the 20 anniversary of the visit of the Norbertine fathers to the Baker Street church at the invitation of the Roman Catholic diocese of Orange, owner of the land.
Prof. Pascal Nguyen is currently presiding over masses at the Costa Mesa church. Among the first priests to come to St. John the Baptist in 2002, he left for St. Michael’s Abbey but recently returned to a leadership role after Pulcher was reassigned to a parish in Illinois.
“It is a beautiful reflection of Our Lady of Sorrows, who was at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified. There’s a dignity, a sadness – it’s beautiful,” Nguyen said of the Pietà. “How is it in the providence of God that we receive something so amazing and so beautiful here in Costa Mesa?”
The founder and president of Arte Divine, David Newren, provided some answers.
Since 2001, Arte Divine has been producing authorized casts derived from and faithful to Michelangelo’s original masterpieces. But it wasn’t until six years ago that the company embarked on a journey to create 100 life-size replicas of the Pietà and place them strategically in cathedrals, churches, hospitals and institutions. teaching around the world.
The purpose of the Pietà Legacy Donation Mission is to install a statue in every state in the United States and 50 more in countries around the world. The effort was born in 2015, after a Catholic Cardinal in Honduras received a replica and suggested offering more to the world for people who couldn’t travel to see the original.
“It is arguably the greatest image of Christianity, and its beauty and design are such that virtually everyone, regardless of religious belief, is touched when they see it,” said Newren, who was raised in the Mormon faith but is now a practicing Catholic.
“It’s a kind of physical invitation to contemplate the nature of the divine and your relationship to God, Jesus and Mary.”
Since the mission’s birth, 65 of the 100 replicas have been produced, each taking approximately 1,000 hours to create. Crushed marble is mixed with an epoxy resin which makes the finished product more durable than marble alone. It is then meticulously sanded and polished to perfection.
The donation of a replica to Saint-Jean-Baptiste was initiated at the request of a parishioner who contacted Arte Divine and helped find an anonymous benefactor willing to fund the venture.
Jean Wisniewsky, a Costa Mesa resident and church member since 1971 whose children and grandchildren attended school there, said she was grateful for the new artwork.
“You look at it and you see the perfect love, the love of a mother,” the 84-year-old said. “You don’t even have to think about it, you feel it.”
Parishioner Lynda Pagel, a 63-year-old mother of three and grandmother of nine, agreed.
“I see the love of Christ laying down his life for us, but I also see the mother and her perfect faith,” she said. “I never left the United States, but now I have this. If I can’t go to Rome, I have this.
Nguyen had several opportunities to see the original Pietà in person when he was studying in Rome in the late 1980s. It used to be more open to the public, but after a vandal hit the statue with a hammer in 1972, protective measures have been put in place.
“After they fixed it, they moved it around the chapel a bit and put it behind bulletproof glass, so you can’t get as close to it as before,” recalls Nguyen.
By comparison, the replica of St. John the Baptist is much more accessible to parishioners and the passing public, who can kneel in prayer before it or light a votive candle and communicate a personal prayer, reflection or intention.
A sign near the statue, however, deters people from getting too close.
“Please don’t touch her,” it read. “She’s going to touch you.”
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