David G. Bromley Caitlin St. Clair

Christ the Redeemer


1850s (mid century):  Father Pedro Maria Boss requested financing from Princess Isabel to build a large religious monument atop a mountain in Rio de Janeiro.

1870:  The idea of building the monument was dismissed.

1889:  Brazil became a republic, with a constitutional provision for separation of church and state.

1921:  A second proposal for building a landmark statue on a mountain in Rio de Janeiro was prepared by the Archdiocese. Funds were raised by donations from Brazil’s Catholics.

1922 (February):  Heitor Da Silva Costa’s design was chosen.

1924:  Costa went to Europe to consult with sculptors. Paul Landowski was awarded the commission.

1926:  Construction of the monument commenced.

1931:  Construction was completed.

1931 (October 12):  A dedication ceremony was held.

2003:  Renovations included addition of an elevator, escalators, and walkways.

2006 (October 12):  A chapel in the base was consecrated, allowing weddings and baptisms to be performed at the monument.

2007 (July 7):  Christ the Redeemer was named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

2010:  The monument was renovated; another renovation was scheduled for 2020.


In the mid-1850s, Father Pedro Maria Boss asked Brazil’s Princess Isabel, provisional head of state, for funding to build a large religious monument in Rio de Janeiro to look out over the city. Father Boss proposed that the monument would be constructed in Princess Isabel’s honor (Dunnell n.d.) It was to be a statue of Jesus, called Christ the Redeemer, built on Corcovado, a wooded mountain in the hills of Rio. Princess Isabel signaled her reluctance by not acting on Father Boss’s request. When her father, Emperor Pedro II, returned from the Paraguayan war in 1870, no further mention was made nor action taken on the proposal.

When the monarchy was overthrown and Brazil became a republic in 1889, separation of church and state was adopted as a founding principle, which complicated the construction of a religious monument. In the aftermath of World War I, a group of Brazilians from the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro “feared an advancing tide of godlessness” (Bowater, Mulvey and Misra 2014) and, in 1921, they proposed building a massive statue of Christ as a way of reclaiming Rio de Janeiro for Christianity. Sugar Loaf Mountain, a smooth dome shape rising from the water of Guanabara Bay, was this group’s suggested location, but Corcovado, the site from the initial request, was judged to be a better choice.

Several monument designs were considered. The first commission for designing the statue went to Carlos Oswald. His vision had Christ carrying his cross and holding a globe in his hands while he stood over a pedestal meant to symbolize the world. In the end, the existing statue of Christ, with arms outstretched to show universal love and acceptance, was selected. The Archdiocese asked for donations from the many Catholics living in Brazil, and in the single week set aside for fundraising (Semana do Monumento), enough money was raised to begin the project, with money continuing to come in for its completion (Dunnell n.d.).

Heitor da Silva Costa, a Brazilian engineer, designed the statue, and French-Polish sculptor, Paul Landowski crafted it, with much of the construction work taking place in France. A Romanian sculptor, Gheorghe Leonid, designed the face of the statue. Together, Costa and Landowski, who was Jewish, began building the statue in 1926 and completed it in 1931. The original construction cost was $250,000, which would be over $3,000,000 in current dollars (Dunnell n.d.). A dedication ceremony was held on October 12, 1931, the day of Our Lady of Apareida, the patron saint of Brazil (The wonders of the world). Until 2010, it was the largest art deco statue in the world, before being surpassed in height by Christ the King in Poland.

Since the monuments construction, numerous renovations have been made. The statue is constructed from concrete over a steel frame and faced with over 6,000,000 soapstone tiles. The quarry for the original soapstone has closed, and matching replacement tiles therefore are difficult to obtain. Over time, the statue’s surface has become slightly darker with each renovation. To commemorate the monument’s seventy-fifth anniversary, a chapel commemorated to Our Lady of the Apparition (Nossa Senhora Aparecida) was added in the base of the monument in 2006. It can seat 150 people and accommodate weddings and baptisms. Christ the Redeemer has become one of Brazil’s most frequented tourist sites, drawing about two million visitors annually.

Although its inception and inspiration were religious, the statue has broader significance. One of the early backers of the project in the 1920s, Count Celso, described it as a “monument to science, art and religion” (Bowater, Mulvey, and Misra 2014). Padre Omar Raposo, rector of the chapel at the base of the statue, says, “It’s a religious symbol, a cultural symbol and a symbol of Brazil. Christ the Redeemer brings a marvelous vista of welcoming open arms to all those who pass through the city of Rio de Janeiro” (Bowater, Mulvey, and Misra 2014). During Rio’s annual Carnival, a street party dubbed Suvaco do Cristo (Christ’s Armpit) winds its way beneath the statue in tribute to its outstretched arms overhead.


Corcovado is located inside the Tijuca National Park, and so administration for this landmark is shared between the Archdiocese of Rio and the Ministry of the Environment (Morales 2013). Administration of the chapel is in the hands of Padre Omar Raposo. The Archdiocese and the Ministry of the Environment work together to organize access to the shrine.


The construction of the statue itself was a major challenge. The immense size of the statue and the enormous length of the outstretched arms meant the piece had to be extraordinarily strong, so building materials were considered carefully. Designer Costa decided on steel-reinforced concrete, the “material of the future,” he said (Bowater, Mulvey and Misra 2014). However, he considered concrete to be too rough and crude to be the exterior finish. He happened on a fountain on the Champs Elysees covered in a silvery mosaic. “By seeing how the small tiles covered the curved profiles of the fountain, I was soon taken by the idea of using them on the image which I always had in my thoughts,” wrote Costa. “Moving from the concept to the making of it took less than 24 hours. The next morning I went to a ceramic studio where I made the first samples” (Bowater, Mulvey and Misra 2014). He chose soapstone for the tiles because of its durability. From quarries near the city of Ouro Preto, small triangles of pale colored soapstone, 3cm x 3cm x 4cm and 5mm thick, were cut and subsequently glued to squares of linen cloth by women in one of the parishes near the foot of Corcovado. Renovation also presents a challenge since perfectly matching tiles are not available. As a spokesman for Brazil’s National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage noted, “The stones of Christ are hard to find” (Bowater, Mulvey and Misra 2014).

Given the statue’s size and location on a mountain top, an ongoing threat to the monument will be lightning strikes. The Brazilian Institute of Space Research estimates that there are two to four direct hits each year, but historically the damage has been minor. Some exceptionally severe lightning storms have occurred in the past few years, however. Bowater, Mulvey and Misra (2014) report that “In the past few years, there have been some cases of storms registering more than 1,000 lightning bolts, which did not occur previously.” These events are causing the Institute’s atmospheric electricity group to revise the grounding system of the lightning rods. The statue has lost a middle fingertip and there has been damage to the back of the statue’s head in recent years. The statue has also been the target of vandalism (Ribeiro 2010).

Despite the various problems in maintaining the monument in a hostile physical environment, Christ the Redeemer has continued to receive recognition and serve as a model for other statues. Christ the Redeemer was named to the New Seven Wonders of the World, by a globally organized popular vote, along with other notable sites (the Great Wall of China, Rome’s Colosseum, Machu Picchu, and the Taj Mahal) (Wilkinson 2007). Tentative plans have been announced for Brazil to create a replica statue in England in advance of the 2016 Olympic Games (“Brazil Plans to Build” 2012). Other replicas, inspired by Christ the Redeemer have already been created at sites such as Lisbon, Portugal; Guanajuato, Mexico; Havana, Cuba; and Arkansas, United States.


Bowater, Donna, Stephen Mulvey, and Tanvi Misra. 2014. “ Arms Wide Open.” BBC News, March 10. Accessed from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/2014/newsspec_7141/index.html on 27 April 2014.

“Brazil Plans to Build Christ the Redeemer Replica Statue in London.” The Guardian, January 26. Accessed from http://www.theguardian.com/news/blog/2012/jan/26/brazil-christ-redeemer-replica-london on 27 April 2014.

“Christ the Redeemer.” 2011. The Wonders of the World . Accessed from http://www.thewondersoftheworld.net/christtheredeemerstatue.html on 27 April 2014.

Dunnell, Tony. n.d. “History of Christ the Redeemer Statue, Brazil.” Accessed from https://suite.io/tony-dunnell/2stf2j7 on 27 April 2014.

Morales, Elizabeth. 2013. “Good to Go for Rio.” World Youth Day. Accessed from http://worldyouthday.com/good-to-go-for-rio-jmj-youth-preps-for-pilgrims.

Wilkinson, Tracy. 2007. “The Seven Wonders of the World, 2.0.” Los Angeles Times, July 8. Accessed from http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-wonders8jul08,0,299368.story?coll=la-default-underdog#axzz305XU1q7T on 27 April 2014.

Ribeiro, Patricia. 2010. “Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio: After the Rain and Vandalism.” Go Brazil, April 16. Accessed from http://gobrazil.about.com/b/2010/04/16/christ-the-redeemer-statue-in-rio-after-the-rain-and-vandalism.htm.

Post Date:
28 April 2014