The power of a mother’s sorrowWorshiping the Virgin Mary was quite popular in the medieval period. People believed that praying to the Virgin Mary was the easiest way to reach Jesus Christ. Mary was the iconic being for whom Jesus died. She had also experienced the most profound form of tragedy in losing her son, so people believed she would be able to console the sorrow of others.
The excruciating pain of a woman who has lost her son is not directly described in the Bible, but one can imagine Mary’s sorrow from John 19:26-27. “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother: ‘Dear woman, here is your son.’ And he said to this disciple: ‘Here is your mother.’ And from then on this disciple took her into his home.”
Countless works of art were born from these few lines. “Stabat Mater,” which is considered the pinnacle of religious music, was inspired by the sorrow of Mary, and it literally means “the mother stood.”
The most famous masterpiece stemming from the lines is likely the “Pieta” by Michelangelo. Its viewers can feel the torment of the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus from the poignant sculpture in St. Peter’s Basilica. The left hand of Mary is stretched out to empty space, portraying her sense of loss.
“Roettgen Pieta,” a 14th-century wooden sculpture in Germany, is a contrasting interpretation of the same moment. Unlike Mary’s beautiful and dignified face in Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” the mother’s intensely contorted face in the German piece leaves no doubt as to the intense pain she experienced from her loss.
In Korea, many will recall Jeon Tae-il, the labor activist who burned himself to death in 1970 to protest poor working conditions. His mother, Lee So-seon, must have experienced grief similar to that felt by the Virgin Mary and all other mothers who have lost children. Lee passed away a few days ago and was buried next to him, so it would be appropriate to remember her now. Throughout her life, Lee channelled her grief into positive energy. She sublimated the agony into a fighting spirit for democratization and improved labor conditions.
American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson’s first son died from scarlet fever. He said that some people are crushed under sorrow but others stand up on the sorrow. Lee stood up on the sorrow. Now, she rests in peace in the place with no more sorrow.
The writer is a culture and sports reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Ki Sun-min