ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno
The head of Christ the Redeemer arrived in Brazil in 50 separate pieces and his hands in eight. This iconic monument, the height of a 13-storey building, is a symbol of the Catholic Church and one of Brazil's top tourist destinations. We look at the construction of one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, which has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Symbol of the Catholic Church
In 1849, a Christian priest named Pedro Maria Boss visited Rio de Janeiro and proposed the construction of a religious monument on the summit of Mount Corcovado, but the idea was not pursued. But more than 60 years later, in 1912, a cardinal called Dom Joaquim Arcoverde once again advocated its construction, with one goal in mind: to show that the Catholic Church was part of Brazilian life.
The first stone of Christ the Redeemer was laid ten years later, on 4 April 1922. The construction, funded entirely by donations from the Brazilian people, took several years to get going and began in earnest in 1926. Local engineer Heitor da Silva Costa was put in charge of designing and supervising the construction of the statue's structure, while the French sculptor Paul Landowski was responsible for sculpting the figure of Jesus Christ. The face of the sculpture was created by the Romanian sculptor Gheorghe Leonida, a colleague of Landowski`s in Paris. Although Christ the Redeemer was not a gift from the French government to Brazil —contrary to what many sources indicate— the head and hands were sculpted from clay to full size in Paris and subsequently transported to Brazil in dozens of catalogued pieces.
Christ the Redeemer is 30 metres tall, the equivalent of a 13-storey building. Credit: Sanctuary of Christ the Redeemer
The monument is made of reinforced concrete. This material was chosen partly because of its low cost and partly out of fear that a metal frame could be dismantled in the event of war. Standing atop Corcovado, Christ the Redeemer was designed to withstand winds of up to 250 kilometres per hour (four times the average recorded at the time of its construction). "He even withstands the winds of a Category 5 hurricane, like Hurricane Katrina, which hit the USA in 2005," the shrine's website says.
Heitor da Silva Costa "knew that something was missing to give the monument the true essence of a work of art. He came across soapstone, a malleable and erosion-resistant material that was abundant in Brazil. The pieces of soapstone were cut into six million triangular tiles, glued by hand onto a mesh and then applied to the statue by workers. According to the shrine's website, some ladies of the time wrote the names of their loved ones on the back of the tiles before attaching them.
Christ the Redeemer is the largest Art Deco structure in the world. Credit: The New York Times
The construction lasted until 1931 and the monument was inaugurated on 12 October, the day of Brazil's patron saint (Our Lady of Aparecida). Christ the Redeemer stands 710 metres above sea level. The statue is 30 metres high —plus the 8 metres of the pedestal— and 28 metres wide. It is one of the largest Christ sculptures in the world. Each arm has a surface area of 88 square metres, the head weighs 30 tonnes and each foot measures 1.35 metres. "If it were to wear sandals, they would have to be size 530," states the monument's website.
"Christ conquers! Christ reigns! Christ rules! Christ protects your Brazil from all evil!" said Brazilian Cardinal Sebastiao Leme da Silveira at the unveiling ceremony. Since then, the monument has been repaired and renovated several times. For example, it was thoroughly cleaned in 1980 for Pope John Paul II's visit to Brazil that year. In the 21st century, escalators and panoramic lifts have been added. To reach the statue, tourists used to have to climb more than 200 steps.
Former US President Barack Obama and his family on a visit to Christ the Redeemer. Credit: The White House
Other influential people have also visited this iconic monument at the summit of Corcovado, including Diana, Princess of Wales, the Dalai Lama, and the former president of the United States, Barack Obama. The monument has become one of Brazil's most internationally known attractions. As the sculpture's official website states: "Whoever looks at Corcovado Hill today cannot even imagine it without the image of Christ the Redeemer fixed on its top."
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