LDS friends loan replica of famed statue to Diocese for one year
The following story appeared in the April 29 Idaho Catholic Register.
By Emily Woodham
An authorized replica of Michaelangelo’s sculpture, La Pietà, is on display at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist through April of 2023. The famous sculpture of the Blessed Mother holding her Son after he was taken down from the Cross was loaned to the Cathedral by Jason Kotter, president of the Meridian North Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Kotter brought the replica to Boise for an Easter art display at the LDS stake center in Meridian. Kotter obtained the replica after seeing the original Pietà with his wife, Julie, in St. Peter’s Basilica in Italy last fall.
Although the couple had seen numerous churches in Italy, they were taken aback by St. Peter’s Basilica. “Nothing prepared us for going to the Basilica,” he said. “When we walked through the doors and saw the Pietà, we didn’t move. We stood there for over two hours.” The couple was so enthralled by the sculpture, they returned to the Basilica two more times during their vacation. On their third visit, they discussed how to bring the experience of the Pietà to Idaho.
Kotter began researching replicas of the Pietà. Although he could easily find copies of the sculpture rendered by different artists, he was determined to find a licensed copy of the original. Eventually he found Steven Bishop, founder of Vescovo Buonarroti Art.
According to their website, Bishop’s company creates replicas of the Pietà from a mold of the original. The castings from the mold are made with a bonded marble blend and finish, under the direction of artisans. They are produced under license with the Vatican Observatory Foundation. Although replicas can be purchased, the company also loans a replica to be displayed in churches.
Kotter explained to Bishop the reason for wanting the replica for the stake chapel’s art show. At the time, the replica for loan was in West Virginia, just outside of Washington, D. C. “He asked me, ‘Do you think that the event your church puts on brings people closer to Jesus Christ?’” When Kotter replied that he believed it would, Bishop said he would cover the cost of the freight and transportation and loan the replica to Kotter for one year.
Kotter arranged with a monument moving company in Meridian to bring the sculpture to the LDS stake center. The movers flew to the East Coast and rented a truck to make the 45-hour trip back to Idaho. The sculpture arrived in Meridian in time for “The Living Christ” art show at the stake center, which ran from April 6 to April 15
More than 16,000 people, including both members and non-members of the LDS Church, came to see the art show, Kotter said. “That sacred sculpture touched a lot of people in our church, too. They were overwhelmed with how sacred it is,” he said.
Soon after the sculpture arrived, Kotter began to talk to his wife about letting Catholics have the Pietà for the remainder of the loan. “I thought, wouldn’t it be awesome if our church could give this as a gift for a year to our Catholic friends?” he said. “My wife and I love your Church,” Kotter said.
Although he was uncertain how to contact leadership in the Diocese of Boise, eventually a meeting was arranged for him and two elders, Kenneth Firmage and Zach Evans, with Christian Welp, director of Diocesan projects; Father Caleb Vogel, vicar general for the Diocese; and Doug Alles, executive director of Catholic Charities of Idaho.
Kotter offered to take the statue to any church in the Treasure Valley, free of charge. His offer was accepted. On the morning of Holy Saturday, volunteers from the stake moved the Pietà to the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
People started to cry as the statue was being placed in the Cathedral, Kotter said. “This is Catholic art; this is your art. For Julie and me, to be a small part of this means the world to us. I don’t know of a more beautiful sculpture in the world than that one,” he said.
“It’s a piece of art to draw people closer to the Savior and to connect them with the Savior’s Mother,” he said.
The Kotters attended the Easter Vigil Mass with the Welp family at St. Mark’s Parish in Boise and then shared Resurrection dinner together. “It was such a wonderful experience. I love so many of the symbols of your Church,” he said. He admires the reverence most of all, he said. “I love the way you treat sacred things and sacred symbols. In the larger Christian world, reverence is relatively lost. I have had a lot of admiration for your Church for years,” he said.
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