La Nona Ora ("The Ninth Hour") is a 1999 installation by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. The work, which takes its title from the hour of Christ's death (Matthew 27:46), depicts Pope John Paul II after being hit by a meteorite. The lifelike wax figure of the Pope is dressed in his papal vestments and is carrying his crosier crumpled under the black meteorite, while shards of glass are scattered on the crimson carpet in front of him.

Some have interpreted this as a metaphor for the Pope's earthly burden placed on him by the heavens, while others see it as a take on spirituality after the loss of Christ. Aside from the usual whining about the meaninglessness of contemporary art and so forth, many critics took the work as anti-Catholic (shades of Rudolph Giuliani and the Brooklyn Art Museum). I think it's really, really funny.

Controversy erupted when the wax pope showed up in the Pope's home country of Poland in December 2000 for a show at Warsaw's Zacheta Gallery. Just in time for Christmas! In the true Spirit of Christmas, two members of the Polish Parliament, Halina Nowina-Konopka and Witold Tomczak, moved the rock to "free" the Pope and unsuccessfully attempted to stand the Pope on his feet. "I like the idea that someone is trying to save the Pope -- like an upside-down miracle, coming not from the heavens but from earth," Cattelan responded, and reminded people that "In the end it is only a piece of wax."

Polish anti-Semitism reared its ugly head as Tomaczk demanded the resignation of the Zacheta's director Anda Rottenberg, a Jew of Russian birth. In a letter he suggested she move to Israel and commission a sculpture of a rabbi being knocked down by Yasser Arafat. After a political controversy and a deluge of anti-Semetic hate mail, Rottenberg resigned in March 2001.

Recently the work sold at auction at Christie's to a collector for $886,000.

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