Monument to Pope John Paul II by Zurab Tsereteli Was Unveiled in Paris

On October 25, 2014 in Paris there was an unveiling ceremony for a monument to   Venerable Pope John Paul II who was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. “John XXIII and John Paul II are thus being proclaimed as saints and  blessed and canonized to be worshipped in every church as Saints. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – said Pope Francis at the canonization ceremony on April 27, 2014. The monument has been designed by the People’s Artist of the USSR and Russia, President of the Russian Academy of Arts, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Zurab Tsereteli.

The Polish Catholic Mission in France headed by Mr. Stanislav Ezh appealed  to Zurab Tsereteli with the request to create a sculpture of Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla). The monument was completed and presented to the public at the National Russian Exhibition at Grand Palais in 2010 and was transferred as a gift to the Polish Catholic Mission.

Various locations for the monument including the square near the Mission were discussed during several years of the coordination process. Later the City Hall of Paris suggested some sites in close vicinity to the Notre Dame de Paris. The sculptor submitted appropriate architectural drawings and one of them was approved, that accelerated negotiations and in July of 2014 the City Hall of Paris gave an official agreement to install the monument to the new Saint John Paul II.

It is indicative, that the sculpture of Pope Saint John Paul II was placed in the square named after Pope Saint John XXIII (Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli) and situated at the Notre Dame de Paris. The Cathedral is not only a symbolic center for the city of Paris, but also for the whole country as in the Cathedral parvis there is a point of the so called “kilometer zero” from which distances are measured to all other French cities.    

The work on the sculpture of Pope John Paul II continues the reflections of the artist on the spiritual way. Zurab Tsereteli depicts him as an epochal personality, a man-symbol once again emphasizing the significance of his personality who personifies the Catholic Church worldwide. The composition is laconic and simple. The absence of unnecessary details and the pure plastic form correspond to the personality of the pontiff known for his modest and simple attitude to people. The features of the pontiff are precisely portrayed, his hands near to his face and are put in a typical gesture of the prayer. Similarity of appearance and accurate character of John Paul II have not prevented the artist from achieving such degree of generalization when an individual look becomes a symbol.

The 3.6 m tall bronze monument is a gift of the Russian people and sculptor Zurab Tsereteli to the Polish community of the city of Paris. The official unveiling ceremony was preceded by a service (also in Russian) at the Notre Dame de Paris  conducted by the Archbishop of Paris His Eminence Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois who also took part in the unveiling ceremony attended by the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, Archbishop of Lodz Marek Jedraszewski, UNESCO Director-General Mrs. Irina Bokova, Henri d’ Orleans, count of Paris; Minister-Counsellor of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in France Leonid Kadyshev, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to UNESCO Eleonora Mitrophanova, Permanent Secretary of the French Academy of Fine Arts Helene Carrere d’Encausse,  diplomats, politicians, honored guests from Russia and France.

After the ceremony the author of the monument Zurab Tsereteli presented small replicas of the sculpture to Pope Saint John Paul II to the Archbishop of Paris and the Mayor of Paris.  

The religious theme as a search for spirituality, spiritual and moral ideal is of special significance to Zurab Tsereteli who created not only monumental works on the Biblical topics, but also sculptures of saints – St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker, St. Nina Equal to the Apostle, St. Apostle Paul,  St. George, heroes of the Battle of Kulikovo Alexander Peresvet and Reverend Irinarkh the Anchorite.

Zurab Tsereteli is also an author of sculptural images of eminent spiritual leaders of the 20th century among them are monuments to Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II who the master knew in person.

The Russian Academy of Arts headed by its President Zurab Tsereteli has implemented a major project of the rebirth of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Zurab Tsereteli Art Gallery Museum and Exhibition Complex in Moscow contains the artist’s Biblical cycle “The Knowledge of Good and Evil” consisting of monumental bas-reliefs devoted to scenes of the Old and New Testaments.

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