On this day in 1972, Laszlo Toth attacked Michelangelo’s Pietà. And because he was trained as a geologist, he did a lot of damage. But let’s back up a bit on this.
Toth was born in Hungary in 1938. He got a degree in geology in 1965 and moved to Australia. But he had difficulty finding work. This was partly due to the fact that his degree was not recognized there. It was also party due to the fact that he didn’t really speak English. But it was mostly due to the fact that he was crazy.
In 1971, he moved to Italy, even though he knew no Italian. But he seemed to want to get close to Pope Paul VI (also know as “the pope who looked like Jonathan Pryce”). By this time, Toth believed he was Jesus Christ. But the pope apparently never answered his letters. So on 21 May 1972, Toth entered St Peter’s Basilica and attacked the Pietà, yelling, “I am Jesus Christ — risen from the dead!”
He was wielding a geologist’s hammer. And, “With fifteen blows he removed Mary’s arm at the elbow, knocked off a chunk of her nose, and chipped one of her eyelids.” American sculptor Bob Cassilly, who was visiting, was the first to grab him, followed quickly by a number of others who managed to subdue him as seen in the photo above.
Laszlo Toth was never charged with a crime. He spent two years in a mental hospital, after which, he was shipped back to Australia where he was cared for until he died on 11 September 2012. The Pietà was completely repaired after the incident and is now displayed behind bulletproof (and geologist’s hammer proof, I would assume) glass.
Happy anniversary for this unfortunate, but somehow amusing, attack.