The Brazilian Princess and Christ the Redeemer: The Story of the Most Famous Statue of the Redeemer
April 2022 marks one hundred years since the statue of Christ the Redeemer began construction in Rio de Janeiro. Exactly a century ago on this day, the first stone was laid at the base of the monument, but the history of the famous statue dates back to the 19th century.
A woman against slavery
Princess Isabel Braganza was born in Rio de Janeiro on July 29, 1846. The eldest daughter of Emperor Pedro II, she outlived both her brothers and became the sole heiress to the Brazilian throne. The girl grew up educated and well-rounded, although this, as historians have noted, was not sufficient for her future political career. Her father was at first convinced that women could not take part in public affairs. However, it was the ruler’s daughter who played a key role in one of the important phases of Brazilian history.
During her lifetime, Isabel served as Brazil’s regent three times. During this time her father Pedro traveled extensively through Europe, the Middle East and North America. The princess was appointed regent with full powers to run the country in the absence of the sovereign, though with state councillors responsible for her actions. After her father’s arrival she relieved herself of all duties as ruler and returned to family affairs.
On June 30, 1887, Emperor Pedro left for medical treatment in Europe, leaving Isabel to fulfill her third – and last – regency. At that time abolitionism, a political movement whose main idea was the abolition of slavery, from which Brazil, unlike many states already, had not yet been freed, was gaining momentum in the country. Riots often broke out in the cities, and slaves fled the plantations, taking a heavy toll on the farmers. Within ten years, the number of slaves had halved, and slavery was no longer economically profitable due to the influx of cheap immigrant labor. Isabel herself, despite attempts by some members of the government to fight abolitionist ideas, supported the abolition of slavery in Brazil in every possible way. The Catholic Church was also on the princess’s side.
A project to abolish slavery in the country had been under preparation since 1884. But it was under Isabel’s regency that slavery in Brazil was finally abolished. On May 13, 1888, the princess signed the so-called Golden Law for the abolition of slavery in the country. Four days later, on May 17, an open-air mass was celebrated to commemorate the grand event, which was attended by the imperial family and Isabel.
She did not want a monument to herself.
Attitudes toward the new law varied. However, most of the population, especially the abolitionists, praised Isabel. They proposed building a monument on top of Corcovado Mountain in honor of their heroine, who was even called the redeemer. The princess refused. She recalled the words of the Gospel: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). Only Christ, according to the princess, was the true Redeemer of mankind.
On August 2, 1888, Isabel wrote a letter. On behalf of the emperor, she thanked the Organizing Committee for the idea of erecting a monument in her honor. However, instead of a sculpture depicting the princess, she proposed a statue of “the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ, the true Redeemer of men, who will ascend to the top of Mount Corcovado.
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Not a mountain, but a pedestal
The princess got the idea for the statue of Christ on the top of Corcovado from a French missionary priest known to Brazilians as Father Pedro Bos. He had been serving in Brazil since 1858 and lived on Botafogo Beach. If, while standing there, you turn your back to the sea, you can see the majestic Mount Corcovado. Looking at this mountain from his window, the priest once imagined a huge pedestal with Jesus Christ on it, blessing the Brazilian lands. His ideas were later expounded in his 1903 book, The Imitation of Christ. The priest wrote:
Corcovado! There towers a stone giant, rocky, towering and sad, as if asking the immense horizon – When will he come? I have waited so many centuries! Yes, here is the only pedestal in the world. For some reason not all, but some will read the Book; But in all languages and dialects the image will thereby say to great and small, to wise and illiterate, to all: I am the way, the truth and the life. Come to Me, all of you.
Father Pedro Bos repeatedly proposed his idea to Princess Isabel, and it seemed that the idea was now to be realized. In accordance with Isabel’s decree, the Viscounts of Maya and Santa Vitoria went to Paris to commission the design and construction of a 15-meter-high bronze statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
However, this project was not destined to come to fruition.
Banished but not forgotten
The abolition of slavery set in motion revolutionary processes in the country. On November 9, 1889, there was a military-political coup that abolished the monarchy. The next day Isabel wrote, “If abolitionism is the cause, I do not regret it; I think it is worth losing the throne for the sake of it.” A year later she went into exile with her family, forever in the minds of Brazilians as the “redeemer,” the one who abolished slavery in Brazil. In 2013, it is to commemorate this merit that the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro will receive a formal proposal to begin the process of beatification of Isabel, that is, her glorification as a “blessed”.
The Open Embrace of Christ
The image of the Redeemer, who was to stand atop Corcovado Mountain, seems to have lingered in the people’s memory. In 1921, on the occasion of the approaching centennial of Brazil’s independence in the then capital, Rio de Janeiro, the idea of a statue of Christ the Redeemer was born. Cruzeiro magazine announced a subscription fundraiser to build the monument. The Catholic Church and the faithful Catholics of the city also took part in the fundraiser. After a competition, the design for the statue of Christ the Redeemer with open arms, a symbol of peace, created by the engineer Eitor da Silva Costa and the French-Polish sculptor Paul Landowski, was chosen. And soon, in April 1922, construction began on the monument that has become the symbol of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil as a whole.
Statue of Christ the Redeemer
The statue of Christ the Redeemer is the famous sculpture of Jesus with outstretched arms, which stands atop Mount Corcovado in the Brazilian capital Rio de Janeiro. It is considered a symbol of the city and the whole country, and is also included in the list of modern Seven Wonders of the World. The mountain rises 800 meters above Rio, so from the foot of the statue there is a stunning view of the capital and its individual landmarks, including Sugar Loaf Peak, the large Guanabara Bay and the long bridge over it, the famous Maracana Stadium, Ipanema and Copacabana Beaches.
The total height of the sculpture is 38 meters, taking into account the eight-meter pedestal, and the span of outstretched arms – 28 m. The statue of Christ the Redeemer weighs more than 1,000 tons, but despite this, from afar it looks elegant. Every year almost 2 million tourists visit the monument.
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Video: Statue of Christ the Redeemer (Views, reconstruction, inside)
The name Corcovado means “Humpback Mountain,” “Hunchback.” The hill got it for the shape of its summit, which is the highest point of the area. The idea of building a grandiose sculpture of Christ here dates back to 1859, but at the time its implementation was impossible, despite the entreaties of church figures – the country simply lacked funds. The decision was postponed until better times. In 1884 the construction of a small railroad that led to the top of Corcovado was completed.
Construction of the statue of Christ the Redeemer
In 1921, when the idea of the monument was again recalled, it was on these tracks that materials were brought up. A year before the celebration of the centennial of Brazil’s independence from Portugal, Rio’s Catholic organizations still initiated the construction of the statue. Such a sculpture was supposed to be a symbol of national liberation and Christianity in general.
However, no money was allocated from the state treasury, so during the so-called “Monument Week” charitable donations were collected from the citizens. The latter liked the idea of erecting the monument, and more than 2.5 million reals were collected in a short period. The church community also made large donations.
The stairs leading up to the statue
The artist Carlos Oswald was the author of the first sketch. It was he who came up with the idea of constructing a sculpture with outstretched arms, which from a distance would resemble a large cross. This gesture means “All is in God’s hands” and is also a symbol of blessing. Originally, according to the design, the figure of Christ stood on a spherical pedestal, stylized by the Earth. However, it was very difficult to make such a large, stable structure, so engineer Hector de Silva Costa changed the base to a rectangular one, which was erected.
It was planned to complete construction in a year, but because of the scale of the work dragged on for 9 years, and the statue of Christ the Redeemer was not unveiled until 1931. For technical reasons it was impossible to produce such a large sculpture in Brazil at that time, so the steel frame and other details were made in France. The main materials were reinforced concrete and soapstone (talcochlorite). Interestingly, the final modeling of the hands and head of Jesus was done by a French rather than a Brazilian specialist, Paul Landowski.
The finished parts were transported to Rio and taken by train to the top of the mountain where they were assembled. In 1931 the statue was solemnly presented to the citizens. The first consecration was held on the opening day, and the re-consecration in 1965 by Pope Paul VI. At the same time the illumination was installed.
Statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil
The statue of Christ the Redeemer is the tallest object in the whole area, so every year it repeatedly becomes a victim of lightning strikes. The local diocese even keeps a supply of facing talcochlorite in case urgent repairs are needed. However, since 2010, when the monument was equipped with new lightning rods, not a single serious lightning strike has been reported.
The hand of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio
Interestingly, during the installation of this grounding, the sculpture was attacked by vandals for the only time in its history. They climbed the scaffolding at night and painted the face and hands of Christ with black paint. The vandalism was swiftly removed by the construction crew.
The fact that lightning has not seriously damaged the statue in so many years is attributed by believers to the peculiar holiness of the place. However, scientists are more skeptical, because the soapstone is a good dielectric, capable of almost instantly quenching even a very strong discharge. Numerous photos show impressive moments of lightning striking the sculpture, which, however, did not cause its damage.
The train, which brings most tourists, does not go to the sculpture – you have to walk from the car to the observation deck. There leads a winding steep staircase of 220 steps. This structure was nicknamed “Karakol”, which means “Snail”. Since 2003, travelers have been able to use the escalator to visit the viewing terrace.
Silhouette of the statue at sunset Statue of Christ the Redeemer at night
In 2007, the monument was included in the list of Seven Wonders of the Modern World by national vote.
Beneath the statue of Christ the Redeemer is a small church where services, baptisms, and weddings are regularly held. The Catholic chapel can accommodate up to 100 people. There is a souvenir store nearby.
Wherever you go in Rio, this statue will be visible from anywhere in the city, so it’s easy to use the monument as a landmark. The modern illumination at night creates a stunning effect: it seems that the light comes from within the figure and Christ is hovering over the sleeping city, blessing it.
For many travelers and locals, the sculpture is not only a tourist attraction, but also a Christian shrine. There is a belief that by climbing the stairs a person is purified, and by the time he visits the top he is forgiven of his sins. Nevertheless, an escalator was still installed here for the elderly and those with special physical needs or poor health.
At the foot of the statue Airplanes in front of the statue The face of the Christ the Redeemer
Doppelgangers of the Redeemer
After this statue was erected, similar monuments began to appear around the world:
- Christ the King, Lisbon, Portugal;
- Jesus with outstretched arms, Vungtau (Vietnam);
- Sculpture of the Savior, Monado (Indonesia, Sulawesi Island);
- Monument in Dili (East Timor);
- There are similar statues in Honduras, Malta, Italy, and Dominica.
These figures differ from each other in detail, but the overall composition and pose remain the same. Some of the sculptures are even mounted underwater, which gives them a mysterious and mystical feel.
Christ the King, Lisbon Jesus with outstretched arms, Vungtau Christ sculpture in Dili
How to get there
To visit the statue of Christ the Redeemer, you must go to the foot of Mount Corcovado. From there, a small electric train will take you directly to the route. On the way it will make several stops where everyone can buy, for example, water, which is sold by enterprising locals.
You can also get here by road, using the services of a rental car or cab. Either way, you will pass through the picturesque Tijuca Park. This is the world’s largest wooded area within the city limits. Local exotic varieties of plants grow here and the fauna is richly represented.
Electric train going to Corcovado Mountain Tourists at the observation point
Cost and order of visit
The price of a train ticket is about 51 reais. Do not forget to take money for souvenirs, although they are quite expensive at the Corcovado lookouts. The cost of the shuttle down is already included in the price of the ticket. It will need to be presented twice, so it is highly recommended to keep the travel document intact until the end of the trip. From the train or car you will have to walk down the Ulitka or use the escalator.
The electric train runs every 20 minutes from 8:30 to 18:30. To see the site, it is desirable to choose a morning on a clear day. This way you can avoid the midday heat and meet a lot of other tourists while enjoying the panoramic view of Rio.
If you wish you can order a helicopter tour to the monument and admire it from a bird’s eye view. The cost of the helicopter tour is about 150 dollars.
The official address is Parque Nacional da Tijuca – Alto da Boa Vista, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The working time is from 8.00 to 19.00.
When going on a trip to Brazil, you should definitely visit this famous monument. The statue of Christ the Redeemer is stunning in scale and beauty, and the top of Corcovado offers a magnificent view of the city.