Standing atop a mountain, as if to embrace the city of Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer is Brazil’s most iconic monument. Over the years, the statue has become the very symbol of our country (remember those covers by The Economist?); it’s considered one of the world’s most memorable tourist attractions, and is equally a symbol of Christianity. On October 12, the Brazilian Christ turns 85.
Made from soapstone and with a concrete core, this Art Deco statue was first conceived in 1859 by the French priest Pierre-Marie Boss. The religious man saw in the Corcovado mountain “the world’s most unique pedestal” to celebrate Christ. Such a colossal project, however, would not be considered as a viable project until 1921. The idea was to inaugurate a statue in the following year, just in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Brazil’s independence day. Of course the engineers spoiled everything, stating what should have been obvious: the statue could not be built in under a year.
In 1924, due to pressure from Catholic groups, the project was finally carried out. A contest was organized to select an architect for the bid, and the project proposed by Heitor da Silva Costa ultimately won. Two other men would be responsible for erecting the monument: the French sculptor Paul Landowski and Brazilian engineer Heitor Levy. The construction began in 1926 and lasted for five years, with the metal structure imported from France and the concrete from Sweden.
On October 12, 1931, the city of Rio de Janeiro stopped its activities to celebrate the new statue. Cardinal Don Sebastião Leme blessed the monument, and even the creator of the wireless telegraph was expected to take part in the event. Guglielmo Marconi (1984-1937) would activate, from Italy, the lighting system. Adverse weather conditions, however, prevented him from doing so.
In 2011, family members of those responsible for the construction of the Christ the Redeemer statue became mired in a legal battle over the right to control the commercial use of its image. Members of the Landowski family tried to sue a jewelry brand for using an image of the Christ image in a necklace. The Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, however, retains all rights over the statue’s image; he accused the Landowskis of trying to make a profit from the Christ.
Judicial battles aside, the Christ the Redeemer monument remains – as the late Pope John Paul II once said – “a symbol of love and a call for reconciliation.”
8 Christ the Redeemer Facts
- It is the largest Art Deco style statue in the world, reaching 30 meters in height (98ft), not including its 8-metre pedestal (26ft). The arms stretch 28 meters wide (92ft).
- For comparison, it’s approximately two-thirds the height of the Statue of Liberty, if you measure from base to torch.
- The statue weighs 635 metric tons
- It was considered one of the world’s 7 Wonders of the Contemporary World
- Back in 2008, a lightning strike damaged Christ’s head, eyebrows, and fingers
- In 1991, two teens spray-painted the pedestal. They were sentenced to six months of community service
- Among the celebrities and prominent figures who have visited the statue figure U.S. President Barack Obama, Princess Diana, the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, and Beyoncé
- During the 1960s, the statue’s excessive lighting caused an environmental problem; it attracted millions of mosquitoes and moths to the point where the balance of the Tijuca forest (where the statue is located) was thrown off.