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The Icon: Rio’s “Cristo”

Functioning as Rio de Janeiro‘s dashboard Jesus, the towering “Cristo Redentor” (Christ the Redeemer) gazes out upon a city celebrated more for the pleasures of its flesh than for the saintliness of its sculptures.

Commissioned in 1922, designed by Brazilian Heitor da Silva Costa, and sculpted by Frenchman Paul Landowski, the mammoth statue sits atop Brazil’s 2,300-foot Corcovado Mountain.

Redeemer became an instant icon in 1931 when a switch was flipped from Rome to bathe the sculpture in inaugural floodlights. Eighty-one years later, fending off vandals and lightning bolts, the soaring Cristo still welcomes all with open arms.

Here are a few fun facts about the instantly recognizable statue:  

  • Redeemer rises from the tropical foliage of Tijuca National Park. Its wilderness is man-made, however. Clear-cut once, the area was replanted by hand in the 1860s. Today the park is the planet’s largest urban forest.
  • Planners considered having Jesus hold a globe but chose an image of Christ extending his hands as a symbol of peace.
  • The sculpture cost $250,000, donated by individuals from around Brazil.
  • Crafted during the height of the art deco movement, Redeemer is the largest sculpture of this style in the world.
  • Even at 130 feet, Redeemer isn’t the largest statue of Christ in the world. There are at least five taller, including “Cristo de la Concordia” in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and “Christ the King” in Swiebodzin, Poland.
  • In 2007 Redeemer was nominated to be one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World.” With the help of millions of Brazilians voting by cell phone, it made the list, beating New York’s Statue of Liberty.
  • Redeemer has enjoyed cameos in several movies, including Bette Davis’s Now Voyager, Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, and the vampire-themed Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part 1). However, Brazilians were offended by 2012, a sci-fi extravaganza in which the sculpture was destroyed.
  • In 2006 the Catholic Church declared Redeemer a sanctuary, permitting couples to wed in the chapel at the base.
  • Gone are the days when you needed to walk up 220 steps from the summit of Corcovado to reach Redeemer’s base. In 2002, escalators and elevators were installed.

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