Parishioners Tackle Vandal After Mass

Imagine yourself attending the 8:30 pm mass on Sunday at the grand, neo-Baroque Basilica of Saint Lawrence, also known as the Basilica of Our Lord Jesus of Great Power of Seville [N.B. now there’s a title for you.] It’s very hot outside, as it usually is in Andalucia this time of year, and mass is now over, so you will have to leave the pleasant coolness of the lofty church. You are probably thinking about somewhere to go sit in the shade and enjoy a cool drink and some tapas. You leave your pew, genuflect, and start to head toward the exit. Perhaps you see your neighbor Marilu on the way out, and stop to chat for a few minutes.

All of a sudden, you hear some commotion coming from the chapel housing the 17th century polychrome wooden statue of Christ, carved by Juan de Mesa in 1620: the “Jesus of Great Power” for whom the Basilica is named. This representation of Jesus carrying the cross is arguably the most popular image of Christ in this extremely Catholic city, and easily one of the most venerated images among the faithful during Seville’s Holy Week processions. The local popularity of the sculpture is such that it is sometimes referred to as “The Lord of Seville.”

You head over to see what is going on, and to your horror, a short, bearded and heavy-set man has climbed up to the pedestal supporting the statue of Jesus, and is banging against it, trying to knock the statue over. Your fellow parishioners are in shock, standing about and looking horrified. The vandal, realizing that the statue is either too heavy or too solidly attached to its pedestal for him to topple, rips at the velvet tunic with which the statue is clothed, and in doing so manages to pull off one of its arms.

According to eyewitness accounts in the Spanish press, at this point several of the parishioners recovered their senses and became incensed, and tackled the man to prevent him from doing further damage. By sheer chance, at least one of them was reportedly an off-duty policeman who was in the Basilica having attended mass, and helped to detain the vandal until the authorities arrived. Some witnesses claim that, after mass, the man began ranting that he was the Messiah, and that they would in that light understand what he was about to do, but no one had paid him any attention until he climbed up to the statue.

The man, identified by police as 37-year old Luis Carbajo Ordóñez, has been charged with engaging in a criminal act against Spanish historic-artistic patrimony. Under the Spanish Penal Code, this could land him between six months and three years in prison; at present, he is working with a public defender, has been sent for a psychiatric evaluation, and has been released on bail. During a hearing this morning, he informed the presiding judge that he is in fact the living spirit of Jesus, “and Jesus does not need any representation in dead wood.”

Despite his apparent ravings before and after the attack, some sources are indicating that there may be some sanity behind his action. Reports are that this individual is a prisons worker in Huelva, about 60 miles west of Seville, and that this act could have been undertaken “to simulate a dementia and obtain a disability pension.” A thumb drive was found on the man when he was arrested, and the files contained on it are being investigated for evidence of his intent.

Fortunately for the faithful, and for art history lovers alike, apparently the damage to the arm and also to the head of the statue can be repaired. The statue is currently in the care of a prominent local artist/art restorer and a team of volunteers, and plans are to have the image put back in place by next Friday. While no doubt the people of Seville (and indeed those who love art history), are relieved that there is no permanent damage, one can imagine that the locals will be following the results of this individual’s court process very, very closely.

Detail of the Cristo del Gran Poder by Juan de Mesa (1620)
prior to Sunday’s vandalism.
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