The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Mary’s Burden: La Pietà

Last fall, I had the incredible blessing of spending the better part of a week in Rome with Caroline in (belated) celebration of our tenth anniversary. We got to see a lot of wonderful sights (see pictures here), and I had many favorites, but without doubt the most moving thing I saw was Michelangelo’s La Pietà. 

The French Cardinal Jean de Bilheres commissioned Michelangelo to create the sculpture for his funeral monument, and it was completed in 1499. Later, in the 18th century, it was moved to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, where it remains today. The marble statue depicts the body of Jesus on His mother’s lap following the crucifixion.

It is a marvelous statue, revealing the tremendous talents of the master sculptor of the Renaissance: the all-too-human body of Jesus hangs lifeless, the folds of Mary’s dress reveal the great weight she carries, literally and physically, the outstretched palm reflects the great sacrifice that she, too, has made.

I feel confident in saying that Roman Catholicism places too much emphasis on the role of Mary, and there are undoubtedly doctrines that have been assembled and developed over the years that are not found in Scripture. 

At the same time, I wonder if those of us from a Protestant background have at times been guilty of emphasizing her too little. She must have been a special young lady to be chosen to be the vessel in which the Word would become Flesh, and I think close attention to the text and the way young Mary responds to the news of her unexpected pregnancy reveals just that.

And oh, what a weight that she carried! To watch her innocent Son die, bearing the sins of the world…and hers too. As the Roman spear pierced the side of Jesus, so a sword pierced Mary’s own soul as she watched it happen (just as was prophesied by Simeon in Luke 7.35).

And for me, seeing La Pietà helped drive that reality home more powerfully than I had ever felt before.

2 Comments

  1. Great post, Luke.

    I like to contrast Michelangelo’s sculpted image of Jesus here, with his painted image of Jesus in his Judgment of Christ, the fresco on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, probably not more than a hundred yards away from the Pietà.

    Mary is present in both artworks, and looks quite similar in both. But the different portrayals of Christ could hardly be more dramatic. In the Pietà, Jesus is small, broken, lifeless. In the Last Judgment, he is huge, frighteningly muscular, living—his once-fatal wounds now insignificant little scars.

    It brings powerfully to mind the words of Revelation 1.17-18: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.’” 
(NASB)

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