The Story Behind Rio’s Christ the Redeemer Statue

Towering 2,310 feet above the city of Rio, the Christ the Redeemer statue has fascinated experts and historians for nearly a hundred years.

This landmark is must-see in any visit or free tour around Rio, and for good reasons! It’s the fourth largest statue of Jesus Christ in the world, the largest Art Deco-style sculpture on the planet, and to top it all off, in 2007 the statue was deemed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World along with Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China and the Roman Colosseum.

Perched on the summit of Mount Corcovado in Rio, the statue stands at a whopping 98 feet (or 30 metres) tall (making it two-thirds the height of New York’s Statue of Liberty), and its outstretched arms reach to 92 feet (or 28 metres) horizontally.

Not only is the statue the most recognizable landmark of Rio, it’s become a cultural icon of Brazil as well. But most importantly, however, the statue has become a global symbol of Christianity that attracts millions of believers and non-believers to the top of Mount Corcovado every year.

The fascinating origin behind Rio’s most famous landmark

The idea of designing a massive statue of Jesus Christ in Rio first came about way back in the 1850s, when a local priest came up with the idea of placing a Christian monument on top of Mount Corcovado. Apparently he had requested Princess Isabel (the daughter of Emperor Pedro II and Princess Regent of Brazil at the time), to fund the project, but the idea was scrapped after a Declaration of the Republic was declared in Brazil in 1889 – a pinnacle move as it separated the church from the state in the country.

It wasn’t until after World War I when the Roman Catholic archdiocese in Rio and a group of locals started becoming concerned about the “lack of religious faith” in the Brazilian community, and it was hoped that by placing a massive statue of Jesus on top of a mountain in Rio, it would rebel against what they saw as an “increasing godlessness” in the country. It was requested that the statue be placed on the summit of Mount Corcovado so it would be visible from anywhere and everywhere in Rio, and thus represent a way of “reclaiming Rio” (which was Brazil’s capital city at that time) to Christianity.

It’s all about the details

The statue’s design is thanks to not one, but a handful of different designers who crafted the statue over a period of nine years. By the time of its completion, the construction of the statue cost $250,000 (or the equivalent of $3.4 million nowadays) and was funded entirely by the Catholic community in Brazil.

Initially the Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa sketched the statue as Jesus carrying a cross in one hand and a globe in the other, and he also came up with the idea for the statue to “face the rising sun” from the top of the mountain. Eventually da Silva Costa changed his mind and decided to design the statue into the massive Art Deco-style statue that it as seen out today, with Jesus Christ stretching out his arms wide, as if to welcome the citizens of Rio with open arms (literally).

The face, on the other hand, was designed by the Roman artist Gheorghe Leonida, while the statue’s Art Deco design was thanks to the work of Paul Landowski (a French-Polish sculptor), who spent several years designing the statue into clay pieces, which were later shipped to Brazil and remade with concrete.

So… how did the statue get up there?

One of the many things that baffles anyone who feasts their eyes on the statue for the first time is, how the heck did the statue get up there in the first place? If you have climbed Mount Corcovado either on your own or on a free walking tour, you surely know how impressively high it is!

Because of the statue’s massive size, the statue was actually put together on top of Mount Corcovado, and all the necessary materials (as well as the workers) were transported up the mountain on a small cog-wheel train; (which at the time was mainly used to take tourists to the top of the mountain to see the vistas).

Workers used long wooden poles to act as scaffolding during the construction phase, and they actually had to scale them in order to put all the materials in the right place – a task that must have been truly daunting in every sense of the word, yet symbolized the locals’ intense religious faith, above all else.

If you want to know more about Christ the Redeemer and the rest of Rio, feel free to check out the free tours in Rio de Janeiro.

Free Tours in Your Language