Maria in the Mourning

On the high altar, in what was previously the nuns’ chancel, stands an altar cabinet with a sculpture depicting Maria in the Mourning.  Jesus Christ has been taken down from the crucifix and been put in her lap.  Maria is gently holding his dead and wounded body, and is looking at him quietly with love and compassion.  The motif is called Pietà, after the Italian word for compassion.

Askeby’s Pietà is a workmanship from North Germany, and is sculptured in oak.  Maria’s golden dress and white mantle with the blue lining drapes in soft, sweeping folds.  The white veil is likewise draping softly over her long, let out hair.  This sincere portrayal of a mourning mother is depicted in a restrained emotional style, so called the “Beautiful style,” which is typical for the Late Gothic style during the first half of the 15th century.

The Pietà is placed in an altar cabinet made of pine, whose original socle, back piece (dorsale), and canopy (baldachin) are still preserved.  However, the corner posts are new.  The Pietà is probably acquired for the re-opening in 1444 to adorn an altar of Saint Mary in the nuns’ chancel.  The altar cabinet used to have two folding doors that could be closed before the Pietà.

In Östergötland, there are five free-standing medieval Pietà sculptures.  Apart from this one, the churches of Herrestad, Klockrike, Kristberg, and Åsbo also have Pietàs that are contemporary with the one in Askeby abbey.  The best preserved one of these five Pietàs is the one in Askebys pietà, although it has not always been as appreciated as it is today.  Nils Månsson Mandelgren, a culture historian, found when inspecting the church in 1846, the cabinet laying underneath the firewood inside the shed.  In November 1864, the church meeting in Askeby decided to donate the Pietà, which they called “a sculptural workmanship depicting the Saviour’s and St Mary’s images in a so called altar cabinet,” to the Academy of Antiques in Stockholm, the corresponding Swedish History Museum of that time period. Luckily, this decision was never realized.