A mausoleum on the grounds of a cemetery isn’t the first place one would go to view an impressive piece of art, but that is exactly what can be found inside the Chapel of Remembrance at Alexander Memorial Park.
On top of a niche bank inside the chapel sits an exact replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà housed at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. The sculpture is one of only about 20 exact full-size replicas in the country.
“I know it came from Italy,” says Jill Brinkley, the community outreach coordinator for Alexander Funeral Homes. “It was sculpted in Italy, and it came here in the early ’70s.”
The funeral home has no other records about the piece other than a rough time frame of when the sculpture came to the property. When Alexander Funeral Homes purchased the property in 1987, the statue already was on site with little information about the sculptor or its history.
“It still baffles me how whoever was in charge of this place at the time couldn’t make notes of where she came from, who the sculptor was, or what year she actually got here,” says Brinkley.
Before the new niche bank was installed in October 2016 to allow families an individual space to place a loved one’s urn after cremation, the Pietà was sitting on the ground, which allowed visitors to touch the statue and caused some discoloration along Mary’s left hand and around the bottom of her robes. A design team from Canada proposed the idea to elevate the marble sculpture and install brackets for it to sit on top of the niche bank. Now, Brinkley says she would love for community members to take advantage of the opportunity to see a rare piece of artwork not many know about. Though the chapel is not unlocked to the public, anyone wanting to view the Pietà can go to the office on the cemetery grounds to request admittance to the building.
Since the changes and renovations to the Chapel of Remembrance, the new niche bank beneath the Pietà has become the most popular niche selection for those choosing cremation.
“We couldn’t do a project like this had we not already had it,” says Alexander Funeral Home General Manager David Hatchett. “But we’ve gotten a lot of attention within our industry over this feature.