21 May 1972 Laszlo Toth, an unemployed geologist, walked into Saint Peter's Basilica, strode up to the front altar and climbed onto Michelangelo's Pietà. While standing to the side of the work, Toth produced a hammer from underneath his coat. With the hammer Toth struck the Pietà while shouting, "I am Jesus Christ!" He hit the work 15 times before being pulled away from it by an Italian fireman and several plainclothes guards.
From “A Partial Guide to the Tools of Art Vandalism” by Steven Goss
Without knife or hammer, pistol or blow torch,
I join the early arrivals at St. Peter’s,
heading straight for the Pieta, encased
behind bullet-proof glass just inside
the door exactly thirty-five years
from the day Laszlo Toth took
a sledge hammer to Mother Mary.
She and Jesus glisten like new
behind the protective shield
near the sealed jubilee door
that opens every twenty-five years.
Morning light enters the basilica
like a heavenly revelation.
The cavernous space swallows
my footsteps. It’s large enough
to hold 95,000, old enough
to erase the memory of Laszlo Toth,
who was confined in a mental hospital
for two years before being deported
to Australia and disappearing from view.
Later I climb the 400 steps
to the top of the dome, a winding
travail as cramped as the path
to heaven itself. Then, stepping
out onto the narrow encircling balcony,
I look down on the giant keyhole
of Bernini’s piazza swarming with people.
Beyond the encircling colonnade,
the Via della Conciliazione stretches
toward the Tiber. I am as high as anyone
in Rome. I wind back down
to the souvenir shop, buy Vatican stamps
and espresso. On the crowded street
I scan the Roman faces for Laszlo.
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