Lawrence Voaides-Cajabn posing with a model of Pietà December 2015. The final marble statue arrived at St. Michael's Cathedral's crypt Nov. 19. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Two years in the making, Pietà statue arrives at St. Michael's crypt

  • November 24, 2016

Images of his prized Pietà cracking and crumbling robbed Lawrence Voaides-Cajabn of sleep the night before the statue's final journey to St. Michael's Cathedral.

“Last night I didn't sleep,” he said, nervously as he watched a construction crew manoeuvre the 9,000-pound carving into position in the church's crypt on Nov. 19. “When I closed my eyes, you know, I was seeing all kind of things happening.”

The Pietà, depicting the Virgin Mary holding the body of Christ, has become more than a work of art for Voaides-Cajban. It has also become a piece of family history.

“I worked on this Pietà with my two boys,” he said, his eyes moist with tears of pride. “The youngest one was helping to prepare the full-size model that is still in our shop and with my oldest son, David, carving (the marble). It is our piece.”

Inside their shop in Mississauga, Traditional Cut Stone, it took two years for the Pietà to move from concept to one-quarter and full-size model, to the final piece made from a 10-ton solid white marble block imported from Italy. Voaides-Cajban, a master stone carver with more than 45 years experience, said it could have taken less time to complete, but there was other work to do as well.

“Sometimes the schedule forced me to leave the Pietà and work on other carvings or sculptures … for the cathedral,” said Voaides-Cajban, who also put his skills to work on the exterior restoration of the church, the interior flooring and some mouldings for bronze work.

Once on the crypt's unfinished floor, there were a few anxious moments as a crew of five men muscled the piece over to the tomb that is the resting place for four Loretto Sisters, the city's first female religious order. From there, the Pietà was lifted into place using four five-ton chain jacks.

“The statue is in her place now,” said Voaides-Cajban with relief. “I needed to see her up there.”

Pieta-crypt-webLawrence Voaides-Cajabn and the moving crew lowering the Pietà onto it’s platform inside St. Michael’s Cathedral’s crypt Nov. 19. (Photo by Evan Boudreau)

Also on hand for the delicate moving operation was the anonymous donor who financed the project. It's estimated the cost was well into six figures.

“We were put on this earth … to fulfill God's mission, to be put to work and to manufacture his main praying ground,” said the donor, a 30-year parishioner of St. Michael's.

The Pietà, the donor added, “is the meat and potatoes of our Christian faith,” and religious statues are “symbolic of what exists in heaven.”

The donor is convinced not only of the value in restoring the cathedral, but also in keeping all donations anonymous.

“This is not to become famous or become known by people – it should be anonymous,” said the donor. “If you start getting public attention and publicity it will take away the real intention, the real purpose, of donating. As Jesus even said, you should give with the left hand without knowing what the right hand is doing.”

The donor also noted that the size of the gift is not important.

“We are judged on our gifts according to our possessions,” said the donor. “Jesus will judge a poor person giving a dollar as equal to a rich person giving a thousand dollars – they'll get the same judgment. Big or small it doesn't matter, it is about what you can give.”

That's the kind of attitude Carol Bragagnolo, project manager of the cathedral's $128-million restoration, is hoping more people will adopt this holiday season.

“I originally had money to finish the crypt,” she said to about 80 members of the Catholics Woman's League from Brampton who were visiting the cathedral the same day the Pietà arrived. “The sad story is that on this project we hit a lot of unforeseen conditions and challenges where we had to move money around in the budget ... which doesn't leave me anything to finish down here. So I'm pitching to people really hard that if the can help, this is where I need the help right now.”

While the majority of the infrastructure and structural work is already completed and the pews which will add 270 seats to the church's capacity are purchased, construction on the crypt chapel is in danger of stalling. There is still a floor, some brick work and a fair amount of cosmetic work needed.

Bragagnolo estimates it will cost an additional $5 million to finish turning the former crawl space into a fully-functioning chapel.

Voaides-Cajban also hopes to see the crypt chapel completed because until then only the construction crew and a select few will see the front of the Pieta.

“I hope a lot of people walk down here to see the statue ... and that they will get the message that Fr. Michael (Busch) passed onto me and I brought it to the marble,” he said. “That's the message to love and hope in sorrow.”

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