Christ the Redeemer – History, Meaning, Height, Construction & Other Notable Facts
Towering over the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro with its outstretched arms of 92 feet across is Christ the Redeemer state. The magnificent structure, which sits atop the peak of the 2,300-foot Mount Corcovado, has become one of Brazil’s most popular monuments and cultural symbols.
The Art Deco statue was designed Heitor da Silva Costa and Carlos Oswald – Brazilian engineer and artist, respectively.
In 2007, Christ the Redeemer was voted on and recognized as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The magnificent edifice is regarded as the fourth biggest statue of Jesus Christ worldwide, as of 2022.
Below, World History Edu explores the major characteristics, location and significance of the Christ the Redeemer statue.
The story behind Christ the Redeemer
By the 15th century, the Portuguese were in charge of the Brazilian territory. During that period, the Portuguese named a mountain close to the Atlantic Ocean the “pinnacle of temptation.” It wasn’t until a century later that it was renamed Corcovado. In those times, the mountain had been surrounded by dense thickets and was so steep that it was impossible to climb it. However, that changed in 1824, when a path was created to facilitate easy movement to reach its peak.
It took many years before the idea to have a religious monument placed at the summit of Mount Corcovado came into being. A Vincentian priest, Father Pedro Maria Boss visited the site in 1859 and was fascinated with the landscape. Father Pedro then appealed to Princess Isabella of the Empire of Brazil to financially support the construction of a monument. However, by 1889, Brazil had become a republic, which meant the separation of state and church affairs. As a result, the idea for a religious monument was abandoned.
Nonetheless, the Corcovado still attracted many people to its site, especially since it was now possible to climb. In 1884, a railway line was built from the Cosme Velho station to the summit of the mountain. The line was inaugurated by Emperor Peter II of Brazil. The development of the railway line helped boost Brazil’s tourism sector, especially at a time when the country relied heavily on industrialization and agriculture to support its economy.
Why was Christ the Redeemer statue constructed?
In 1922, Brazil was preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary. During the period, it was common for countries to celebrate their independence anniversaries with monuments or statues. For example, the Eiffel Tower was constructed in celebration of France’s centenary. So, it wasn’t out of place for Brazil to want a monument that celebrated its 100 years of independence.
Two years prior, the Catholic Circle of Rio had proposed for the construction of a statue, which would be placed on the peak of Mount Corcovado. The group believed that the statue would help address the issue of godlessness and immorality in Brazilian society. They organized “Monument Week” to seek funding and support for the construction of the statue, with most of the financial support coming from Brazilian Catholics.
After receiving permission from the state, the group laid the foundation on Brazil’s Independence Day in 1922 despite not having the final design ready. Later in the year, the Brazilian engineer, da Silva Costa was selected to build the statue.
Construction of the Christ the Redeemer statue
The initial design was depiction of Jesus Christ holding a cross in his right hand and the world in the other. Construction started in 1926 and during that period, materials and workers were transported to the top of Corcovado via the railway. However, construction briefly halted in 1928 when people criticized the shape of the statue and nicknamed the ongoing project “Christ with the balloon”.
As a result, da Silva Costa had to revisit his designs with the help of Brazilian artist Carlos Oswald. Oswald recommended the idea of the Christ’s statue standing with outstretched arms as a symbol of humanity’s redemption. However, their new concept was met with a few challenges. Because he wanted to figure to be visible from as far back as Rio’s city center, da Silva Costa needed strong materials that would support the monument’s arms.
Together with Oswald, the da Silva Costa traveled to Europe to purchase those materials. While there, he tasked a French sculptor named Paul Lewandowski to oversee the overall construction of the monument and also hired a Romanian sculptor, Gheorghe Leonida to work on the figure’s face.
But despite forming a solid team of construction specialists, da Silva Costa needed the monument to be as magnificent as possible. So, he hired French engineer, Albert Caquot to handle the statue’s architecture. Lewandowski revised the drawings, and the construction of the religious monument was back on track.
By 1931, the Christ the Redeemer statue was up and looked over the lands. All in all, it cost, at the time, about a quarter of a million USD to complete the statue. In today’s US Dollar equivalent, that figure is around $ 4 million. Christ the Redeemer was inaugurated on 12th October 1931.
Renovations and Restoration
The first renovation exercise on Christ the Redeemer took place one year after its inauguration when its lighting system needed to be changed. In 1980, the statue underwent renovations again after the Catholic pope, John Paul II visited.
Another restoration project took place in 1990 when the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, along with other companies and organizations like Shell, the National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage, IBAMA, and the Brazilian government signed an agreement.
In 2003, engineers fitted escalators, elevators, and walkways to make the monument more easily accessible. Seven years later, in 2010, another renovation project focused on the statue’s appearance by removing fungi growth and sealing cracks. Engineers also replaced the lightning rods on the statue’s head and arms with new fixtures. This particular exercise was perhaps the most tedious so far, as it involved replacing over 55,000 tiles.
The Christ the Redeemer statue’s new look was unveiled during the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament and was illuminated in Brazil’s national green and yellow colors in support of the country’s national football team. It cost $3.5 million for that project.
Other Interesting Facts about Christ the Redeemer
There are tons of interesting facts about this iconic monument. Some of the most notable ones are:
- The monument was built with reinforced concrete, with an outer layer covered in over 5.5 million tiles. During its construction, it is widely believed that many of the workers wrote notes behind those tiles, so there might be several hidden messages and stories on the landmark.
- The landmark is especially vulnerable to lightning strikes and is believed to get hit between three to six times every year. Before Brazil hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament, a lightning strike broke one of the monument’s thumbs.
- It is the tallest Art Deco statue in the world. Christ the Redeemer stands at 98 feet and its outstretched arms span across 92 feet (30 meters). The pedestal measures about 26 feet (8 meters).
- The site for the construction of the statue was between Corcovado and Santo Antonio. Mount Corcovado, which reaches about 710 meters (2,329 ft.), was selected over Santo Antonio because it was higher.
- Because of this monument, property prices, especially those with clearer views of the statue, are more expensive than those without views.
- Christ the Redeemer grows darker as time passes. That’s because the stone used to build the monument in 1931 was of a lighter shade. Now that it is in short supply, engineers use a darker-shade stone during its regular restoration projects.
- Nearly 2 million people visit this impressive monument every year!
While the call for a religious statue to be placed on Mount Corcovado’s summit didn’t really draw much negative attention from the people of Rio de Janeiro, it did receive backlash from other religious groups. Protestant religious groups kicked against the installation since it had been financed by the Catholic Church of Brazil. Nevertheless, the criticisms came to an end after the statue was inaugurated and became a universal symbol for various Christians in Brazil and the world.