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Darkness at Noon and the Light of Christ
In 1972, a man brandishing a hammer and screaming, “I’m Jesus Christ! I have risen from the dead!” attacked Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, doing considerable damage to the marble statue’s eye, veil, nose, and left arm.
The strange incident stunned the world, including art lovers and spiritual pilgrims who gathered that day to view the Pieta, an exquisite masterpiece depicting a suffering Mary gazing down at the dead body of her Son, which she cradles in her lap.
Upon learning of the vandalism, the Pope added another dimension to the matter, calling it “most serious moral damage”.
These reactions, and others, demonstrate the Pieta’s ability to evoke strong emotions. Hungarian-born British novelist Arthur Koestler seemed to know this when he featured the Pieta in his famous novel, Darkness at Noon. The story, which takes place in Eastern Europe during the Soviet purge of the late 1930s, centers on an old-guard Bolshevik whose reversal of fortune is sudden and extreme: he is not only thrown in prison on trumped-up charges but, while there, is haunted by his past.