You have GOT to be joking: Making the sacred as ugly as sin!

From a reader.

I’ve visited Dresden in Germany yesterday and my first steps led to the Catholic cathedral. To my greatest horror and shock, I’ve discovered this monstrous “thing” in the side chapel. I have asked the lady working in the cathedral shop what it is and she said: “It’s Mary with Jesus”. I asked one more time (I couldn’t believe that): “.THIS is the Virgin Mary with Jesus?”. She replied with mischievous grin: “Of course”. I left quite sad, not spiritually strengthened, but rather doubtful about the Catholic Church.

The chapel was orignally dedicated to St. Ioannes Nepomucen, a Czech saint – a perfect example for the post-war reconciliation. Instead, the orignal altar was taken away and the horrible blasphemy erected. The author of this mockery of the most holy Mother of God and her Divine Son is Friedrich Press. Wikipedia entry in German language does not reveal too much about him. I wonder if you have readers who could perhaps provide more info about his life. The man must have been mad or evil.

Unfortunately, it’s not the first time when I see doubtful “art” in Catholic Churches. I wonder, is it perhaps intentional? Do they try to push away people from churches? If you decide to share this story with other readers, then don’t publish my name please.

P.S. Apologies for the quality of the image, picture taken by a mobile phone in a dark environment.

Now for the really bad news:


Just so you can have a closer look. Click for a larger shot:

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Supertradmum says:

    God is Beauty. God is not ugliness. Sin brought ugliness into the world. If art is ugly, it is either political art (propaganda) , “statement art”, perverted because of the subjective mind of the artist, and, simply, a separation of the soul from the mind of the artist.

    This particular piece reveals a hatred of women and a hatred of motherhood, as if Christ was an intruder in the womb, bursting out and causing pain.

    What does this resemble but radical, anti-life feminist type of art? Let us not kid ourselves about such ugliness in churches. Aberrations are a symptom of the huge disconnect of the body and the spirit.

    The priest or bishop who allowed this to supplant the altar of a great saint, one who suffered for the Faith, is simply, blasphemy.

    May I add that the ugliest art came out of the Nazi, Stalinist and Maoist regimes? There has to be a connection here.

  2. Supertradmum says:

    oops should have written “a blasphemer”, sorry….I write too fast on other people’s or McDonald’s wifis….

  3. wcampbell78 says:

    My first impression (from the distance shot) was an upside down cross. Second impression was that of a totem pole. Slightly demonic at its very best.

  4. “When therefore you shall see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place: he that readeth let him understand.” (Mt 24:15)

    I sometimes think that maybe people are just duped into believing that this is “art” and the artists are laughing all the way to the church of Mammon. Other times I think the artists and those who commisioned them are both laughing. Still other times, I just think everyone involved is just stupid.

    Supertradmom, I “think” “Mary” is holding “Baby Jesus” in her hand and offering Him to us, and He’s all prickly like that because He’s radiant…. (“…radiant beams from Thy holy face…”) yet, even if it works on that level of symbolism, its overall ugliness is also symbolic, and I agree with you.

  5. wcampbell78, thanks for saying that – those were exactly my first impressions, too!

  6. wcampbell78 says:

    Here’s what I found with an image search on google:

    One chapel, the Memorial Chapel, had very modern artwork. It is dedicated to those who died in the WWII bombing and to all victims of violence. The pieta altarpiece was made in 1973 of Meissen porcelain. The tall vertical stone represents Mary – note the two eyes at the very top. Half way down Mary offers a crown of thorns made from Dresden rubble. Jesus in her lap is represented by the horizontal slab. The freestanding altar in front shows five flaming heads which symbolize how the citizens of Dresden suffered. On either side of the main altar 30-1-33 and 13-2-45 which mark the period between Hitler’s rise to power and the night that Dresden was destroyed.

    Again, I don’t see it. My original impressions are still too strong.

  7. Hans says:

    Ah, I see it now! And I thought it was Jesus suffering gout in his feet on the cross. What was I thinking.

  8. Marc M says:

    I feel the same way about the sculpture “The Ressurection,” which is in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican where both B16 and Francis regularly gave/give audiences.

    Decent picture:

  9. ClavesCoelorum says:

    God save Germany. This sort of thing is (I feel) on the rise here. LOOK at what used to be the Altar and what beauty one could have placed there instead, truly worthy of God.

  10. dans0622 says:

    It’s a Call to Action puppet made of stone. Or maybe it’s paper mache.

  11. mburduck says:

    Oh my! it looks like something that might be in “the dark place,” something designed to torture souls for eternity.


  12. MuchLikeMartha says:

    Lord have mercy; seriously. It looks like a urinal.

  13. mamajen says:

    Somebody has been playing too much Minecraft.

  14. majuscule says:

    The tall vertical stone represents Mary – note the two eyes at the very top.

    Why is Mary frowning?

    ———> : ( <———

    Okay, that's a rhetorical question…

  15. gertrude says:

    Horrible image of Our Mother! I see such sadness. I see blasphemy in the horns in the middle, the infant child laid out with (appears to me) his head cut off. Lastly, the front table when looking straight on at this sculpture lines up with this inverted cross, resembles sperm ?? Mocking the Holy Virgin. Just sickening…

  16. terryprest says:

    According to the Cathedral website it is a Pieta


    One of his works is in the Vatican Museum

    It would appear that he did quite a number of commissions in German churches especially in the old GDR when it was the GDR

  17. James C says:

    If you think that’s bad, look at this sculpture of Blessed Maria Restituta recently set up in Stephansdom, the Cathedral of Vienna. The Archdiocese hired an atheist “artist” to create this ugly, offensive image of a saintly nun:

    Lord have mercy!

  18. StephenGolay says:

    Reminds me of a many breasted female goddess of Mesopotamia. GOOGLE the images.

  19. Darren says:

    I agree 100% with Supertradmum.

    Looks like a Totem Pole of the American Indians of the northwest.

    And I though the statue of our Blessed Mother at Our Lady of the Warehouse Cathedral in Los Angeles was bad:

  20. swilson18 says:

    Actually, this could be beautiful done in crayon on paper by a child in kindergarten. Instead, I believe it does a disservice to what it is trying to commemorate. It brings memories of the attempt at art near Termini.

  21. Astonishing. Words fail.

    When folks in one of my parishes asked me why so much damage was done to churches some years back–they wanted me to explain the rationale–all I could say was that it was kind of insanity.


  22. Menagerie says:

    I am speechless. If this art inspires any type of religious experience, it can only lead to repentance and confession. The pictures above, and the links in the comments are visions of hell. And someone signed a check paying the demon masquerading as an artist a lot of money to boot.

  23. sw85 says:

    Many modern artists are quite frank about their use of deliberate, cultivated ugliness as a means of jangling people’s nerves, shocking them out of their bourgeois sensibilities, and softening them up for revolution.

    Meanwhile, dare to express revulsion by such “artwork” on, say, Facebook (as was done recently there at Catholic Memes) and you are like to be accused of “blasphemy” by a legion of suck-ups.

  24. Legisperitus says:

    First the firebombing and now this. The way to give respect to victims of a tragedy would be to build something beautiful, not something that constantly renews the horror in a different form.

  25. Caesar says:

    But beauty is subjective! It’s the feeling in the piece that matters. This Pietà (so I assume that’s what it is) is every bit as good as Michelangelo’s- probably better, because it is original in striving to remove the banal realism and triumphalist dignity of the human form and replace it with the raw emotion the artist has captured in his own conception of the moment. Right?

    Right. [LOL!]

  26. smittyjr63 says:

    Looks like they stole that thing from Easter Island!
    Looks like a sacrificial pagan altar prop from an old Hammer horror film.
    Looks like leftover styrofoam from unpacking a piece of Ikea furniture.
    From an artistic standpoint it lacks talent, period. Looks like something a 5 year-old would sculpt.
    Does it look holy? Does if look reverent? Absolutely not.

  27. wmeyer says:

    To call it grotesque would be kind. I agree with Supertradmum in every particular.

  28. wmeyer says:

    Caesar, did Screwtape give you that rationale?

  29. Unwilling says:

    I like it!
    Below the white parts.
    The shelf thingy part that it sits on.
    And the two or three steps that go up to it.

    I think it is a generalized pieta and those are seven swords in Mary’s heart. Seven sorrows — hence her unhappy expression. That scooped out part on (our) left has me stumped, at first I guessed it was Jesus’ mouth gaping/lolling open in death, but I see the block on the left is Jesus’ head upside-down and sporting a brush-cut. Listen, this is deep stuff. Profound! De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine!

  30. OrthodoxChick says:


    Actually, my 5 year old can and has produced a better version of the pieta than this. Oh, and add my vote to the mounting tally of folks who think this “art” is some sort of warped version of a totem pole. What a waste of porcelain. Now THERE”S an example of church art that should be sold off and the money given to the poor.

  31. Jeff says:

    Purification by fire!!!

  32. Priam1184 says:

    To the reader: yes it is intentional. This practice is way too widespread to be an accident. Whether the individuals involved in making the decisions in each individual parish and church building are fully conscious of the fact that what they are doing can have no other object than to drive people away from the Church, or they are just so caught up in their own ego that they don’t care is an open question. But, somebody somewhere (and we all know who that somebody is) who wants to drive people away from the Church has been very successful in putting these bizarre ideas in the brains of people who have influence in these matters. On the positive side though this won’t last forever.

  33. Cathy says:

    From Michelangelo whose sculptures “spoke” to an abomination that “shuts up”. I find it horrifying that a sculpture begs you to ask what it is, then once hearing what it is, makes you respond, it is not.

  34. TNCath says:

    I’m with Much Like Martha: a urinal. And that sad single flower in a vase in the middle of the “altar.” I’m surprised the flower isn’t to the side as it often is with candles on the other side to “balance” the look. Pitiful, just pitiful. No wonder Pope Emeritus Benedict decided not to return to Germany!

  35. Suburbanbanshee says:

    It’s a nice sculpture for a three year old.

  36. Jim R says:

    I’m frequently amazed how so many “artists” seem to have no ability to see the jarring juxtaposition of dissimilar art forms: e.g., a Baroque mensa and a modernist abstract sculpture. I do no believe they really see any added “art” in the comparison. It is simply bad – bad for both styles. As much as I hate the new Los Angeles cathedral, it does have the claim to be consistent in its forms.

    Perhaps a rigid utilization of all the same form is not always required, but such a glaring mis-match is impossible to understand other than as an attack on the art of those who built the mensa (and presumably the Church) and the sensibilities of those with the unfortunate luck to actually see the monstronsity – whether they like modern art or not. Whatever message in this modern art piece is present (and I see little) sure seems to me to be intentionally subsumed in the quest to denigrate the Baroque and anyone who likes that style.

  37. Robbie says:

    Again, we wonder why the pews are empty, the seminaries are empty, and the convents are empty?

  38. Jerry says:

    Caesar: Wrong!

  39. PA mom says:

    I spy a reason to create lio!

  40. O. Possum says:

    Fr. Z, your blog depresses me lately. :(

  41. Polycarpio says:

    It’s a German thing, we wouldn’t understand. Friedrich Press (1904-1990) could have been mad, but I don’t think he was evil. He worked almost exclusively on the decoration of sacred buildings. The Nazis suppressed his art as “degenerate.” Dresden, as you may know, was severely damaged during WWII. Press was a POW and came back after the work to rebuild destroy churches. He is responsible for more than 40 churches in both the East and West Germany. As previous posters have noticed, this piece is supposed to be a Pietà. The chapel in which it is housed is dedicated to the victims of the bombing that destroyed the city and its walls honor the names of 52 priests of the diocese who were killed by the Nazis, including the Blessed Alois Andritzky, who was killed at Dachau in 1943 and was beatified by Pope Benedict in June 2011.

    In other words, it’s supposed to be a somber place.

  42. ClavesCoelorum says:

    I am of the opinion that anyone who produces Sacred Art for the Church must be a Christian, preferably a Catholic. Why would one allow an atheist to do such a thing?

    About Caesar’s comment: Is there a Catholic teaching or school of thought on true beauty? I’ve been looking for such a thing. Currently, I only know what I like, but I couldn’t exactly define “true beauty”.

  43. Mariana2 says:

    Maybe inspired by this horror which is over the altar at a Lutheran Church in Finland

    I didn’t think Catholics allowed such rubbish!

  44. djc says:

    This is so beyond sad. I think the West has lost its mind and is intent on suicide.

    I recently was at The Cleveland Museum of Art and spent most of it in the Medieval, Early Christian and Byzantine sections and you know what—it was by far the busiest part of the museum.


  45. dominic1955 says:

    Why do the Germans have such a penchant for butt fugly liturgical “art” these days? That “thing” is just gawwwdawwful! They used to make such pretty churches…

  46. gaudete says:

    And I had thought you were talking about Leipzig before seeing the pictures, as in same good old Eastern Germany you can also find this: – that’s the “Holy Woman” (Virgin Mary) and Jesus with S. Anne, just in case you didn’t get it yourself at once…

  47. Kerry says:

    If the pile of rocks is a Pieta, why do they need to tell us, “It’s Mary & Jesus”? A sign, “Imagine a sculpture of Mary & Jesus here”, would have been cheaper. After all, if modern art is in the mind, a sign should do the job.

  48. J_Cathelineau says:

    It seems that I am not only a promethean neo-pelagian, but that I am falling to iconoclasty too…maybe I am a compendium of all heresies in a New Syllabus.

  49. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    It’s interesting that this piece was . . . as it were, designed, by someone who had lived through the bombings and destruction of World War II. Because as soon as I saw the photo, but before I read any of the text, I thought, “Oh my goodness! Chunks of ceiling and pilasters and ornamentation have fallen from the upper storeys of the church down onto the altar during an earthquake, or something!” That’s not the case, but the visual impression really is that of post-disaster rubble, in a way.

  50. disco says:

    It’s the pieta with gumby and pokey!

  51. Rachel K says:

    Hi folks, sorry to break up the party, but although I agree that this piece doesn’t fit at all in this cathedral ( it is not at all in keeping with the style of the building and clashes with everything around it)…I like it as a piece of Christian art.
    What I saw first was the body of Jesus draped over Mary’s lap, with her upturned hands holding the crown of thorns (the spiky thing). Her eyes are lowered in intense sorrow and she is contemplating the broken body of her son; the drooping of His head shows how lifeless He is, I don’t think it is supposed to be cut off from the body. The pose is like that of many other Pietas.
    I understand those of you who find it brutal; it does have a very coarse strength to it which is disturbing. And we need to understand the brutality that occurred in this part of Europe-artists respond to their own experiences and things that move them. Here the sculptor has expressed the horror of the War and the Dresden fire bombing, one of the most appalling acts in the history of war.
    He is expressing the complete horror and brutality of sin in general and this sin in particular in relation to our faith.
    As for it being a piece of anti-woman propaganda, I really can’t see it myself, as the sculptor has treated the two forms, male and female, the same.
    It would be more appropriate in a more modern church or even in an outside venue. I certainly feel that I could look at and contemplate this piece and our faith.

  52. Menagerie says:

    I don’t find it brutal, I find it ridiculously hideous. Brutal can be art, maybe even holy art.

  53. Joan M says:

    And someone paid for that! What a total waste.

  54. Moro says:

    Is it possible to earn credits in purgatory towards future sins? Because looking at that is penance.

  55. Andreas says:

    For another example of altered altars, might I direct your attention to what was at one time was a lovely 18th century church in the village of Thal, located in the Austrian Steiermark region: [] and []. Ideas for the “renovation” of the interior and exterior of the church were first solicited back in the 1970s (when else?) but the church in its current form was not constructed until the 1990s. The ‘artistic’ oversight for the project was provided by the founder of the so-called “Vienna School of Fantasy Realism”. As you peruse the photos, remember that someone of authority had to approve this.

  56. Fr. Erik Richtsteig says:

    Ugly. Doesn’t fit with the architecture. Somber and ugly are not the same thing.

  57. nola catholic says:

    There’s no dispute about the awfulness of that sculpture. However, I visited the church in question just a few months ago in August when I went to Dresden. I recall seeing this terrible piece of “art” in addition to a horribly modern bluish-glass low altar and lectern (which I have a picture of, though I refused to take a picture of the sculpture the post is about).

    However, it should be noted that the rest of this church is a beautiful Catholic cathedral. I wish I could insert pictures into my comment, but there were plenty of beautiful works of art throughout the cathedral. The high altar had beautiful ornate silver candlesticks and still had its marble communion rail with a gold gate. The pulpit was stunning with innumerable marble figures of angels and saints carved into the bottom and top. The other side chapels I went into were all tastefully decorated with traditional paintings and statues.

    No doubt the sculpture is terrible, but the church as a whole is beautiful and still retains traditional Catholic art.

  58. lsclerkin says:

    Easter Island,, indeed.
    Is that kryptonite sticking out?
    Or dilithium crystals?

  59. jmgarciajr says:

    That rather looks like something one drinks from at Trader Vic’s. Appalling.

  60. Elizabeth D says:

    I think that it is not good art, and definitely not good art for a church (outside in a sculpture garden… okay whatever). But these intentionally formless sculptures do perhaps say the most about the profoundly altered, disturbed and “broken” cultural context they spring from. The view on Jesus and Mary and Christianity in this disturbed context is also deformed in such a way as to lose most of its intelligibility and attractiveness. These kinds of works make that visible and concrete. It does arise from the experience of that generation, but it does make it really visible and concrete why it has been so difficult to hand on the Faith.

  61. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    To Elizaeth D’s observation, “it does make it really visible and concrete why it has been so difficult to hand on the Faith”, I would say, “Indeed!” “Aut quis est ex vobis homo, quem si petierit filius suus panem, numquid lapidem porriget ei?” “Or what man is there among you, of whom if his son shall ask bread, will he reach him a stone?” Well, Herr Press, for one, and each of those responsible for permitting – for asking – for paying him large sums of money and lavishing praise upon him – to do so, and for doing so. The impudence, the abysmal disrespect, not least for the dead, for those who mourn, and honor them, are breath-taking. He seems happy to have done more ‘Soviet realistic’ work for the Soviet ‘Friedhof’, but the civilian victims of Nazi totalitarian terror followed by Communist totalitarian terror (while still, in 1973, suffering the latter daily) – especially the Faithful among them – get freely stamped on in the eye and heart by this. ‘Pieta’? Surely rather, ‘Senza Pieta’.

  62. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Supertradmum,

    May I add that the ugliest art came out of the Nazi, Stalinist and Maoist regimes?

    I don’t like to say it, but as far as the Nazis are concerned this is only true by antinomian reaction.

    The kind of art favored by the Nazis was not the most aesthetic, nor the most elaborate, and it certainly was often propagandistic. Often, it evokes in itself and (you never know, but I guess) even without knowing about its signification, a certain feeling that it promotes a statolatrist ideology. It is certainly not the most beautiful. (Though, movies, especially of the humourous, entertaining sort aiming at distracting the people, have to be excepted, The Fire-Tongs Punchbowl being a classical example celebrated by German students to this day.)

    In addition, almost all they we know as having been called “degenerate” and condemned by them was, actually, beautiful and refined art, which they either did not understand, or feared to be subversive.

    Nevertheless, that very position necessitated that their art, such as the works of the likes of Arno Breker, the poems of the likes of Ina Seidel, etc., simply artistically considered without any respect to their political content, were either aimed at at least inferior degrees of beauty, or at least could not go beyond certain degrees of ugliness.

    Some works of modern art (though it is not generally typical even of modern art) do go so far.

    And hence, to put it in a nutshell, I might have liked to say that Nazi artwork was only topped by Stalinist and Maoist artwork in ugliness… but it happens that this is not the case.

    Except, as I said, by antinomian reaction. Afterwards, you would evoke a “do you really want to speak of degenerate art” outcry if you mentioned that art is meant to aim for beauty.

  63. MikeD says:

    There must have been some mistake here. How is a priest going to be able to celebrate ad orientem? Surely an oversight that will be shortly corrected.

  64. Aside from everything else, the vase with the single flower on the “altar” is…poignant.

  65. Unwilling says:

    Lucifer is an angel of light. And that light has cast a leer of meaning onto many absurdities of “Modern (Dada and post) Art”. Nevertheless, the goodness of creation has not been glared into nothing. It is possible to say powerful things in the idioms they invented. And after learning more about this piece through links posted, I have come to see it through a more positive vision.

    The main problem with the work is that it is in a church; it does not and cannot lead to adoration. But if it were not in a church, if it were in a war memorial square, and if it (without that need) had portrayed the suffering of ordinary Dresdeners (o! how that city suffered under the Nazis), then its forms and symbols could, without offence, lead to insights, meditations, contemplations, and even to repentant worship.

    I think it can better be understood when compared to two other works.
    First, a harder version of Munk’s “Skrik”
    Second, Mandela’s Robben Island prison rockpile

    If only it were not in a church…

  66. MacBride says:


  67. New Sister says:

    That’s barbaric

  68. BLB Oregon says:


    Trader Vic’s!! That captures it. How awful!

  69. jmgarciajr says:

    Fr Martin Fox says:
    “Aside from everything else, the vase with the single flower on the ‘altar’ is…poignant.”

    Possibly because it’s the only beautiful thing in the frame.

  70. CGPearson says:

    I just don’t understand how this sort of thing happens. Did the rector of that cathedral just not have the heart to tell the artist that what he had produced was an irrefutable, utter piece of crap?!?! Ugh!! This really worked me up. I need to settle down…it’s Advent, after all.

  71. ChesterFrank says:

    Friedrich Press Is a German artist who learned his craft as a sculptor and artist in 1920’s Germany. He was a freelance artist in the 1930’s and established his first studio in 1935 Germany. He is primarily known for sacred art with his “head of Christ” bringing him early recognition as an artist. The pieta is his largest work in Meissen porcelain. Friedrich Press was labeled as one of the “degenerate artists” by Adolph Hitler. His Pieta in that church in Dresden can also be viewed as the triumph of good (art) over evil (dictator). After looking at that sculpture and reading about Friedrich Press it is hard to miss the beauty in that sculpture. Abstract art frequently requires that the viewer look at the object, study it, and even read about it. Here is a link on “degenerate art.” I am glad to see Mr. Press’s work in that cathedral, it is a triumphant statement:

  72. Hank Igitur says:

    This thing is crap. Put it in a Masonic Temple.

  73. LadyMarchmain says:

    Rachel K, I kindof agree with you, but then I looked at it again and realized that what I appreciated was not the urinal itself, but the sober description of its symbolism. It is moving to think of a crown of thorns and the bombing of Dresden, and I liked the idea of the 7 swords, only those eruptions from the middle of the Mary column number more than 7.

    I also feel that what is in a church is not “art” in the same sense as art we would see in a museum. This would not bother me at all in a museum, though I can’t imagine spending too much time with it. In my view, it has absolutely NO place whatsoever in a sanctuary.

    I’m sorry to report that the sanctuary at my son’s undergraduate university was full of stuff like this; thankfully, there was a beautiful church nearby with a TLM.

    I have to say that worse, in some ways, than this nightmare, is the banal “decor” of sanctuaries that look like someone’s living room, or an auditorium. At least you can’t accuse this thing of being quotidian. We know something out of the usual is going on here.

  74. friarpark says:

    Terrible. Worse than what they did to the Cathedral in my Archdiocese:

    I think this next one is the one where in the base of this one our then Archbishop put himself into what I took as a representation of the Nativity of our Lord:

    When I go there I am reminded of why we are in such a disarray in the Diocese.

  75. Tamquam says:

    It reminds me of nothing so much as a crude knock off of an Aztec idol to sold to gullible tourists.

  76. majuscule says:


    The first link you provided… So much wrong with it. I don’t care if it’s supposed to be art! Even with the description I have a hard time fitting those words around the objects depicted.

    The “corona” of caltrops (a satanic invention if there ever was one)!

    “His inner glory shines forth, especially at that hour when he is lifted up on the Cross” which looks to be constructed of giant horseshoe nails–goes well with the caltrops image…

    Dove? What dove…oh, wait a minute…if they say so. I guess.

    And doesn’t Our Lord’s head customarily tilt the other way when he is hanging on the cross?

    It’s satanic. It’s blasphemous. Okay, that’s my opinion .

    I will have bad dreams tonight.

  77. voiceinthewilderness says:

    So very wrong. Even when there is a crazy cleric in charge–how does this type of thing get past the faithful? Faithful catholics–get your sledgehammers and get that thing out of there!

  78. amenamen says:

    Structures of sin?

  79. Abstract art has no place in spiritual practice. It is merely the product of modern elitism making inroads in our spiritual formation. Our stations of the cross were replaced with ugly art that could only be recognized by an adult who already knows what the station for that number is. My children, on the other hand, see this abstract art and make absolutely ZERO connection to it. The same is true for tasteless modern art in museums. Sacred art is only beautiful when it is appealing to the soul of man – not to man’s “expert” elite opinion. Where is Pope Francis on this? He of all people, sticking up for the poor, the humble, anybody other than elitists, should be chiming in to make our sacred art beautiful once more and appealing to the universality of the souls of all men, women, and children.

  80. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    The supposed female figure with its single swollen paw suddenly made me think of A Canticle for Leibowitz, somehow (though she does not really look like Mrs. Grales).

    Unwilling says, “The main problem with the work is that it is in a church; it does not and cannot lead to adoration.” Hmm, yes, let us imagine someone deciding to use Guernica as an altarpiece… That would not work much better. “But if it were not in a church, if it were in a war memorial square, and if it (without that need) had portrayed the suffering of ordinary Dresdeners (o! how that city suffered under the Nazis), then its forms and symbols could, without offence, lead to insights, meditations, contemplations, and even to repentant worship.” Would it so conduce? Easily? Would it not be comparably impudently disrespectful, to its current ‘deployment’? Adding triumphalist insult to recollection of injury? (The successfully undenazified DDR fat-cats and their Molotov-Ribbentrop old-new comrades grinding the jackboot in the face of the victims for another four decades, and then another decade-and-a-half?) The mental juxtaposition with Guernica inclines me to question that as well – how self-indulgent and pretentious is it, in fact? Have I ‘accepted’ it in a general way much too uncritcally in the past?

    ChesterFrank says, “can also be viewed as the triumph of good (art) over evil (dictator).” Except that it is the triumph of ‘evil art’ under the new dictatorship, which is a kind of resumption and continuation of the old Hitler-Stalin cooperative model, and that in a Church, as if the resistence and suffering were futile. (I am reminded of Tolkien’s unfinished sequel to The Lord of the Rings, The New Shadow, which he abandoned as too “sinister and depressing” with “a centre of secret Satanist religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going round doing damage.”) But Herr Press was successful in the West as well: precisely!

  81. The Sicilian Woman says:

    Anyone remember the Brady Bunch episode in Hawaii where one of the kids found a tiki that brought them bad luck? I sense the tiki was an inspiration for this thing that is pictured.

  82. MacBride says:

    @ Sicilian woman…I was thinking that belonged in a tiki bar..but did not want to say it:-O

  83. eyeclinic says:

    Obviously a Muslim foot washing station. You push the marble slab up to the altar and place your feet in the basin on the left. Undoubtably meant to be welcoming to the influx of Muslim immigrants, who also hold the Virgin in high esteem.

  84. johnnys says:

    Is that a still frame from Night at the Museum?

  85. billt says:

    8-bit Madonna
    2-bit artist

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  87. Athelstan says:

    To protect innocent bystanders, they really should put a sign up outside the cathedral: “Deconstruction Crew At Work.”

  88. Athelstan says:

    Hello Chesterfrank,

    His Pieta in that church in Dresden can also be viewed as the triumph of good (art) over evil (dictator).

    Which begs the question of whether this is, in fact, art, let alone “good.”

    Just because Hitler despised a thing does not, ipso facto, make it good. Hitler . . . despised cigarette smoking as well.

    This object can certainly provoke, it can startle. But it is is hard to see how it can convey the faith – the Catholic faith – to anyone. We go to sacred places to be transformed in Christ, not to be transgressed.

  89. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Absit invidia,

    it is true that ugliness, unless perchance conveying hidden beauty, has no place in the sanctuary… and some might say, not either in an art museum.

    About abstract, possibly elitist, art in general, I doubt this can be said.

    The tradition of the Church seems to be clear on the fact that not only the baroque, but also the gothic style has a place in the sanctuary.

  90. Basher says:

    Rachel K tried to explain.

    Amid the din of the mob shouting ‘witch’ ‘demon’ and ‘burn it’ a rational voice tries to speak, and is shouted down.

    We have such an awful history of that, as Catholics.

    I do not live in Dresden, and I do not live with the aftermath of the fire bombing. If I did, I might find it necessary, for the faith of the community and my own faith, to connect the suffering of Christ intimately to the suffering of my friends and relatives. This might be the only path to peace and forgiveness, to the see the rubble in which so many died as the broken body of Christ. To offer up the broken stones and broken lives in contemplation as Mary offers up and gazes upon the crown.

    If I were that person, I might be very glad that an artist undertook to create a representation of this struggle. I would not ask him to create some photo-realistic image of Christ being bombed, or of Mary in the ruins of Dresden, that is impossible and ugly and gauche. I would not want a anatomically correct Christ broken like the victims of Dresden, that would be truly horrific.

    Modern art is an interpretive tool. It can say things other forms cannot. Vonnegut in Breakfast of Champions tells a poignant story about a modern artist and a cocktail waitress. The waitress lampoons a modern painting, saying ‘I’ve seen better paintings done by a 5 year old.” The artist rounds on her by explaining the piece to her and then saying ‘I wish it would be reproduced and immeasurably improved upon by all the five year olds in this town. That would mean they comprehended what it took me many angry years to discover. ”

    Vonnegut was very good at capturing the essence of ignorance and judgmentalism. I think Vonnegut would have understood this crowd equally well. Traditionalism is considered by many to be small-minded people mistaking preference for objective truth, and conspirational paranoiacs seeing the demonic under every bed.

    Let’s endeavor NOT to confirm their suspicions so often, eh?

  91. Mike says:

    I’m not exaggerating in any way by this statement. That is the stuff of nightmares. Deign, O Jesus my God, to grant me sleep tonight!

    And besides the fact that the Blessed Mother looks like a pagan deity statue and Our Blessed Lord looks entirely nondescript, what kind of ALTAR is that?

  92. Legisperitus says:

    “Friedrich Press was labeled as one of the ‘degenerate artists’ by Adolph Hitler.”

    Even a stopped clock…

  93. Sonshine135 says:

    Modernism personified. When are we going to tear down the Baals and high places like this? It is pure mockery.

  94. Caesar says:

    For those who didn’t get it, my comment was meant as extreme sarcasm.

    Of course this thing cannot be equated with Michelangelo, except in some alternate reality… but the proponents of this kind of “art” will make that claim. We have lost a true concept of beauty, so now beauty is subjective- in the right lens this can be beautiful; a defaced urinal can be beautiful, a pile of bricks, a can of excrement, a jar of air, ect. But whereas the beauty of the past was intended to draw the mind towards contemplation of the divine, modern “beauty” is about making a statement; the intent is to magnify the artist, not God.

  95. iPadre says:

    Anyone who would commit such a destruction of beauty should have to watch reruns of the Brady Bunch in Latin for their purgatory.

  96. Siculum says:

    Too bad this isn’t April Fools Day.

  97. frRobertM says:

    I really dislike these “artistic endeavours” that turn into a Rorschach test… so, what do you perceive in this work? So, tell me about your mother. Is that cigar/pillar/bed/block really just a cigar/pillar/bed/block? If the ‘common man’ can’t tell what the heck that thing is supposed to be, it has failed in it’s “one job” and should be ‘decommissioned’!

  98. jbas says:

    I like it.

  99. sawdustmick says:

    Which way up is it ? Can someone help me please ?

  100. sprachmeister says:

    Someone in the Church architecture and design world needs to call out that the Emperor has no clothes on.

    Integritas, consonantia, claritas – does it have any of these?

  101. ChesterFrank says:

    IPADRE: the destruction of beauty is thousands upon thousands being sentenced to death because they did not meet some jackass’s definition of “beauty.” The triumph of that ugly piece of porcelain is its ability to tell that one particular and very specific jackass to “GO TO HELL!!” It is fantastic! The more people tell me how ugly it is, the more I love it. If I were to live in Dresden that statue would give me unbelievable strength, much more that any pretty piece of pottery simply because it spits on evil.

    I am a fan of your podcasts and have been a listener for years, keep up the good work

  102. mamajen says:

    Five-year-old son says “That does NOT look like Mary!”

  103. pgs says:

    In the same cathedral, one of the confessionals has (had – perhaps it has been removed) a quote engraved on it which translated as “I weep because you do not.” (It was attributed to the Curé d’Ars but I could never locate it.) I thought the quote and this statue formed the pinnacle of irony.

    The best Catholic art in Dresden is Raphael’s Sistine Madonna in the Zwinger Museum, a few hundred feet from the cathedral.

  104. samgr says:

    It strikes me that those whose hometown was turned into a killing kiln by us good guys and whose friends, relatives, and neighbors were fired like porcelain might have more insight into Our Lady’s feelings on the judicial murder of her Son, and how to express them, than did the Roman legionnaires just doing their job, or do we.

  105. LadyMarchmain says:

    Basher, your point is well taken, and I would even applaud you, if we were discussing a work of art in a museum, a memorial in Dresden, which is what this thing is. I’m sure everyone posting here would respond differently if this statue were placed in a public square in Dresden.

    The problem is that it has been imposed on a sanctuary which should be a place for sacred art with metaphysical, not historical reference. Aesthetically, there is a horrifying disruption between this modern piece and the Cathedral, which most art and architecture students would consider a violation of the integrity of the interior. The statue communicates horror and distress and implicates Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in the suffering of Dresden, which is theologically confusing.

    It’s interesting that you mention Vonnegut, as the sequence in “Slaughterhouse Five” where the prisoners of war are marched into Dresden with the Brandeburg Concerto playing in the soundtrack is one of my favorite film moments in that it captures the exquisite beauty of Christian European architecture and music. This statue would have been as hideous in that sequence as the actual bombing itself.
    In our churches, we have long been experiencing a devastation just as damaging, in fact, worse, because it is destructive of faith and impacts the salvation of souls.

  106. Gail F says:

    I’m sure I’ve seen a tabernacle by this same artist in one of those “ugliest tabernacle” lists. It looks like a 3-inch carving made to sell tourists for a quarter. And Mary looks like Cookie Monster…

  107. Gail F says:

    Also, it looks more Danish to me than German.

  108. Xmenno says:

    I recently returned from my second trip to Rome, having visited all the major churches, and discovering some out of the way churches which moved me greatly. In a number of churches, there were 20th century additions, like ambos, which is fine. After all, many Roman churches have been restored and refurbished and “updated” numerous times. One thing I did notice though, was that you could tell what things had been added in “modern” times – they were the things that NO ONE was taking pictures of.

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  110. Mike says:

    That any attempt to justify the piece must be made in 20th-century art-babble is tantamount to an indictment. That anything in it resembling goodness, beauty, or truth seems only to be accessible to the cognoscenti is as good as a condemnation.

    The masses beg for bread, and are given hideous stones.

  111. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Basher says, ” I would not ask him to create some photo-realistic image of Christ being bombed, or of Mary in the ruins of Dresden, that is impossible and ugly and gauche. I would not want a anatomically correct Christ broken like the victims of Dresden, that would be truly horrific.

    “Modern art is an interpretive tool. It can say things other forms cannot.”

    Are you, perhaps, thinking of something like the (previous) modern art of the same Friedrich Press, such as “Tod mit Bombe” (‘Death with a Bomb’) for the grave memorial of Paul Pleissner in the Loschwitzer Friedhof in Dresden, and/or the Obelisk in the Sowjetischer Friedhof in the Dresden Albertstadt?

    And was anyone in fact asking for the things you state? For something “truly horrific” in the sense of being “impossible and ugly and gauche”?

    And how is it that what seem any number of perfectly “rational voice[s] tr[ying] to speak” of what they identify as “ugly and gauche” (to put it lightly) get classified as “the din of the mob”, and effectively demonized and witch-hunted and “shouted down” by your good self?

    For good pieces of modern literary and cinematic art about interesting (fictional) modern paintings with sacred subjects, allow me to recommend Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth and Ronald Neame’s film of the same name starring Alec Guinness.

    Could the Diocese be encouraged to have a ‘Francis effect’ and, treating it as a sort of ‘treasure of the church’, sell this work of Press to someone who likes it and give the money to the poor?

  112. Rachel K says:

    I am baffled by the lack of variation in responses here. Out of 112 comments, only two of us thought the piece has any merit at all. I have agreed that I do no think this work is in the right venue, but it is not without merit. It concerns me that regarding such a subjective thing as a piece of art, 110 people seems to hold only one opinion about it. Now, I realise that this is by definition a self-selecting group, but by reason, out of such a number one would expect a variety of opinions and reactions to this work. The sheer uniformity of responses rings alarm bells for me. Remember, this is a subjective thing, not doctrinal.
    If I may voice my concern in a different way, we need to be careful not to become rigid in our thinking about things which are a matter of opinion. For example, I do not personally like Baroque architecture or design, so the altar on which this art is standing seems to me to be very ugly. I also do not find certain 19 century religious images attractive, I find they are too sentimental and gushing.
    BUT, I would never suggest that those things are objectively ugly, nor that other people cannot find them attractive and extremely helpful in their devotion.
    There have been many very strong statements here, some of which are a bit over the top in my opinion. For example, Supertradmum says;
    “The priest or bishop who allowed this to supplant the altar of a great saint, one who suffered for the Faith, is simply, a blasphemer.”
    Now, that is quite a serious accusation…
    And we do not know if there were ever any relics beneath the altar pictured here?…
    Mike says;
    “That any attempt to justify the piece must be made in 20th-century art-babble is tantamount to an indictment. That anything in it resembling goodness, beauty, or truth seems only to be accessible to the cognoscenti is as good as a condemnation.”
    Well, I sort of think this may be directed towards me and/or Basher??
    Mike, I am just an ex music teacher with small children at home. I like looking in art galleries and have been privileged to see some of the best art in Europe, but not with the eye of a “cognoscenti”, just because I enjoy it and I think for myself about the pieces I see and decide what draws me and what doesn’t which of course will be different for each of us.
    We have to look at art with our minds and hearts as well as our eyes. Sometimes that which strikes us at first as repellant seems different to us when we reflect on it.
    I suppose that that is what is bothering me about the responses here, lack of reflection and contemplation, condemnation as a body and in a reactive way which is disappointing. I think this is what Basher means when he mentions “small-minded people mistaking preference for objective truth” and says, let’s not be like that.

    Finally, dear Lady Marchmain, you suggest;
    “The statue communicates horror and distress and implicates Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in the suffering of Dresden, which is theologically confusing.”
    Not confusing but correct in the sense that Christ suffered with the people of Dresden as he shares in all our suffering, and their suffering is caught up in His and is redemptive through His cross. This is the teaching of the Church. Yes, the cross horrifying and distressing! We can’t sanitise it. Some of the best crucifixes are those which capture this horror and they are often very ancient ones, not modern so we can’t blame modern art for that.

  113. hicks says:

    What about a fairly traditional crucifix, only the corpus is made up of Dresden rubble that has been cemented together? The composite rubble would be of course carved into a traditional crucifix in the same way that you would carve a block of marble. The seams between rubble pieces, and the color variations between them, would be allowed to still be visible, though. This would be a meditation on Christ’s suffering on the cross, and upon his willingness to take upon Himself the rubble of our humanity, as it were. Our suffering is caught up into the suffering of Christ on the cross.

    Over the corpus’s head you could have a halo of pure gold, showing that Christs’s suffering on the cross (and our suffering as well) is not the final word, and pointing toward the glory of Easter. Or not. Are we not guilty of too often rushing into Easter? Should we instead stay with the suffering of Christ and the suffering of Dresden without moving ahead so quickly?

    I’m not an artist or a theologian, I put about two minutes thought into this. Already strikes me as being way better than this big ugly block with a frown carved into it that we got instead.

  114. Per Signum Crucis says:

    Rachel K,

    Three actually. And I think that Basher has made a very good point that this thread is very much like condemning someone else’s living room without first ascertaining why it is furnished or decorated in the way it is.

    An appropriate person or body will have approved this particular work. Such approval will not have been given lightly or without due seniority. At the very least, the artist or a person acting for him will have had to fully justify the concept, execution and location of the piece. It is rather insulting to assume or imagine anything otherwise.

  115. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    “De gustibus non disputandum” (with variants) is an old adage, but how weighty a one? C.S. Lewis’s very interesting Experiment in Criticism, experiments by starting with taking seriously the phenomenon of someone liking something. That seems a good starting point for (further) discussion, and ‘disputation’.

    But on what basis can one prescribe, a priori, that there can only be “mistaking preference for objective truth”, rather than allowing for the possibility of proper objective assessment? Or prescribe that response to art (works/objects) “is a subjective thing”? Or exclude the possibility that something can be “objectively ugly”?

    Rachel K said, “although I agree that this piece doesn’t fit at all in this cathedral ( it is not at all in keeping with the style of the building and clashes with everything around it)…I like it as a piece of Christian art.” That makes distinctions and ‘puts a case’, in a way that is not (so far as I can see) merely subjective.

    On a general level, it seems to me worthwhile to consider ‘modern art’ (a very broad term) in its relation to ‘the sacred’ in (1) liturgical, and (2) devotional contexts, and to something like ‘the ceremonious’ (in distinction from ‘the sacred’) with reference to (3) the ‘public’ and (4) ‘private’, as well as aesthetically and morally.

    To apply this, I find Press’s “Tod mit Bombe” immediately appealing in various ways in which I do not find either his Soviet Obelisk, or this Meissen monstrosity. But I am not sure it is artistically successful in its combination of the figure of Death, the framed ‘two-dimensional’ picture, and the bomb. Nor am I convinced it is an appropriate (private) grave memorial (in a public ‘space’).

    Perhaps comparing Press’s (so-called) ‘Pieta’ with those various other ‘modern’ works, Kurt Reuber’s ‘Stalingrad Madonna’ (and copies), and, at Coventry Cathedral, Jock Forbes’s wooden cross (and the 1964 replica), Provost Richard Howard’s cross of nails (and the many which have followed it), and Sir Jacob Epstein’s “St. Michael’s Victory over the Devil” , would be a worthwhile undertaking.

  116. UncleBlobb says:

    The emperor still has no clothes.

  117. BLB Oregon says:

    I showed the photo to a 14 year old altar server. His response was, “Wow. I can’t say that it is disrespectful, exactly, but that is really bad art. That doesn’t belong in a church.”

    That pretty much sums it up. That thing is awful.

  118. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Uncle Blobb,
    Well, quite! But in this case the altar and thereabouts are still heavily laden with that which is not rainment! That something like all the elaborate formalities which the second paragraph of Per Signum Crucis’s comment suggests have no doubt taken place, makes it all the more grievous. This is no accident, but quite deliberate. How to persuade them to ‘Francis’ all this away, even if, as in the parable of the unjust steward (St. Luke 16:1-8), for only a fragment of its cost, to give to the poor – if only it is assuredly sold to some aficionado who will not donate or lend it back, but take it to some isolated woody glade to make, perhaps, a feeder complex (if that could be done in such a way as not to frighten off the birds: perhaps Fr. Z could advise, here, if it be not beyond even his powers).

  119. Sarochka says:

    Dear Father,

    My 12 year old daughter and I were watching something on YouTube called ‘Former Satanist shows everyday occultism.’. At 1 hr 36 min into it, the speaker shows us a Satanist symbol called the ‘Satanic Cross of Justice’ which is an upside pitchfork shape. My daughter noticed immediately that it is almost exactly the same as the shape we see here above. Check it out yourself here:

    I can only surmise that this outrage was done on purpose and every Satanist is laughing at their triumph in this blasphemous image given pride of place.

    God help us. This one REALLY needs to be removed. If there are any readers who live near this monstrosity, please start up a petition to have it removed now that we know that this altar piece is a known Satanic symbol.

    Virgin most powerful, pray for us!

  120. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    Looking (as a convienent starting point) at the images at the Wikipedia articles “Pieta” and “Descent from the Cross”, three features about which I was unsure in terms of tradition, drooping head, drooping feet, and prone posture (on the ground?) are all to be found historically, though I did not immediately see any example combining all three: none of which is to say this is more ‘pieta’ than ‘impieta’, or that traditional features could not be combined in this stylized form with a mocking secret ‘play’ with a satanic symbol for those ‘in the know’.

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