Hungarian-born geologist Laszlo Toth attacked and seriously damaged Michelangelo’s Pietà statue with a hammer.

The Pietà is a marble sculpture that was created by Michelangelo between 1498 and 1499. It depicts the body of Jesus lying on his mother Mary’s lap shortly after he was taken down from the cross, and is celebrated as one of the greatest pieces of Renaissance sculpture due to its balance of classical beauty and naturalism. Notably the Pietà is also the only piece that Michelangelo ever signed.

Laszlo Toth graduated from a Hungarian university with a degree in geology, after which he spent a number of years in Australia. He moved to Italy in June 1971 where wrote a number of letters to Pope Paul VI in an attempt to meet him. A man who shared a room in a hostel with Toth later claimed that he had found his constant reading of the Bible unusual.

Toth unleashed his act of vandalism on the Pietà on Pentecost Sunday. He entered St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City as part of the crowd attending mass, where he jumped over an altar railing in the chapel that housed the statue. He then set about attacking the huge marble sculpture with a geologist’s hammer while shouting, ‘I am Jesus Christ; I have risen from the dead!’

Toth struck the statue fifteen times before he was wrestled to the ground by bystanders, but his attack severed Mary’s arm at the elbow, removed part of her nose, and damaged one of her eyelids. The attack caused over 100 marble fragments to be strewn over the floor, some of which were taken by the crowd and never returned.

The statue was later successfully repaired, while Toth was found to be insane and was committed to an Italian psychiatric hospital for two years. Following his release he was deported back to Australia.

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© Scott Allsop