Sculpture of Virgin Mary in Labor Beheaded in Austrian Cathedral


A sculpture depicting the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus was beheaded at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Linz, Austria, days after it went on display as part of an exhibition exploring women’s roles in faith and tradition. Created by Austrian artist Esther Strauß, “Crowning” drew intense ire from some conservative Christians who viewed the work as “blasphemous” and “scandalous” before an unknown party took matters into their own hands and sawed off Mary’s head on Monday, July 1.

A representative for the Linz Diocese confirmed to Hyperallergic that the head was taken from the premises as well. The vandal remains unidentified.

Nude from the belly down with nothing left unseen, Strauß’s “Crowning” was included in the group exhibition DonnaStage at the Linz cathedral, featuring the work of 30 women artists examining gender roles and equality in acknowledgment of the Cathedral’s celebratory consecration centennial. The artist stated that she had developed the sculpture to “address the gap in the birth of Christ from a feminist perspective,” pointing to the sanitized depictions of infant Jesus in the manger. “Most images of the Virgin Mary were made by men and have therefore often served patriarchal interests,” she noted.

Foto 03 c Ulrich Kehrer
A detail view of of Esther Strauß’s “Crowning”

Upon its June 27 debut, the sculpture was met with criticism and a petition for its removal arguing that it ignores that “the birth of Christ is one of the central mysteries of the Christian faith” and that artists have intentionally avoided depicting Mary in labor for the last 2,000 years.

The cathedral removed the remainder of the sculpture from view and reported the crime to the police, and Johann Hintermaier, Episcopal Vicar for education, art, and culture, publicly expressed his dismay regarding the incident, saying that he “condemn[s] in the strongest possible terms this act of violence and destruction, the refusal of dialogue and the attack on artistic freedom.”

Strauß did not immediately respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, but addressed the act of vandalism in a statement published by the cathedral, saying that whoever removed the head “acted very brutally.”

“For me, this violence is an expression of the fact that there are still people who question women’s right to their own bodies,” Strauß added. “We must oppose this very decisively.”



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