The sculpture was removed twice from Belgium after its initial arrival. The first was in 1794, after French Revolutionaries had conquered the Austrian Netherlands during the French Revolutionary Wars; the citizens of Bruges were ordered to ship it and several other valuable works of art to Paris. It was returned after Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. The second removal was in 1944, during World War II, with the retreat of German soldiers, who smuggled the sculpture to Germany enveloped in mattresses in a Red Cross truck. It was found two years later in Altaussee/Austria and again returned. It now sits in the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium.
After the attack on Michelangelo's Pietà in 1972, the sculpture was placed behind bulletproof glass, and the public can only view it from 15 feet away.