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Christ The Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro: History, Photos, And Why It's There

Artifacts | October 12, 2020

Statue of Christ the Redeemer in clouds, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Paulo Fridman/Corbis via Getty Images)

There is much to love about the Christ the Redeemer statue found high above the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The colossal statue, which towers over the South American city with outstretched arms, has become a symbol of Rio de Janeiro and an icon of Christianity.

A view of the Corcovado before the construction, 19th century. (Coleção Gilberto Ferrez/Instituto Moreira Salles/Wikimedia Commons)

Christ The Redeemer's Origin Story

The summit of Mount Corcovado, 2,310 above Rio de Janeiro, almost begs for a monument. In the 1850s, a priest named Pedro Maria Boss was the first to suggest a Christian monument to honor Isabel, the princess regent of Brazil, but things didn't start moving until 1921. At that time, the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro was concerned that the people of Brazil were suffering from a lack of faith, so they suggested an inspiring statue of Jesus Christ rather than Princess Isabel.

Brazilian president Epitacio Pessao signed off on the construction project, and several designers submitted their ideas. One engineer, Heitor de Silva Costa, originally proposed a statue of Jesus with a globe in one hand and a cross in the other, but he ultimately went with an Art Deco Jesus Christ with outstretched arms to welcome the people of Rio de Janeiro. At 98 feet tall atop a 28-foot pedestal, the Christ the Redeemer statue is the world's largest Art Deco sculpture. 

Aerial view of the statue. (Gustavo Facci/Wikimedia Commons)

Christ Is Risen

Silva Costa's design, though artistically groundbreaking, lacked the plans that could bring the idea to life, so Paul Landowski, a French-Polish artist, was brought in to break down the design into workable clay pieces. Most of it, anyway. The face and hands were crafted by Roman artist Gheorghe Leonida.

All of those pieces were made off-site and had to be hauled up to the top of Mount Corcovado, a difficult task in the 1920s. A rudimentary cog-wheel railway system carried the materials and workers to the summit of the mountain, where the pieces were fit together over a frame of metal girders. Finally, after nine years of construction, Christ the Redeemer opened to the public on October 12, 1931.

(Isac Nóbrega/PR/Wikimedia Commons)

A New Seven Wonder

Of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only one, the Pyramid of Giza, still exists. That's why, in 2007, millions of people worldwide voted for the sites they wanted to see on a list of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The Christ the Redeemer statue made the list as the newest of the New Seven Wonders, joining the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, the Roman Colosseum, the Taj Mahal, and Petra.

The Christ the Redeemer statue is one of the hot spots for travel Instagrammers, and a selfie taken while leaning out of the Lord's head is particularly coveted. The area is only accessible (in theory) to maintenance workers, but to the social media personalities and journalists who have finagled their way in, the snap is an illegal trophy of the highest photographic order. A safer yet equally impressive (if rather more common) photo can be taken from the public tours of the statue. 

Tags: christianity | historical artifacts | south america

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.