Celebrating Christ the King: 12 Interesting Facts About Christ the Redeemer Statue

Learn the little-known story of a Catholic princess who worked to end slavery in Brazil.

The statue of Christ the Redeemer, Cristo Redentor, on Mount Corcovado, looks over Rio de Janeiro, with the famous Sugarloaf Mountain and Copacabana Beach in Brazil
The statue of Christ the Redeemer, Cristo Redentor, on Mount Corcovado, looks over Rio de Janeiro, with the famous Sugarloaf Mountain and Copacabana Beach in Brazil (photo: Mischa Schoemaker / Sipa via AP)

The image is iconic: the statue of Jesus towering over the landscape in clean white, with arms outstretched. However, this amazing figure of Christ our King and Redeemer was originally never meant to be famous — and could’ve easily been just a depiction of a political figure — if it wasn’t for the humility of Princess Isabel, a Brazilian emperor’s daughter who had a grander, and more religious, idea. 

“It’s a pity that, although the statue of the Redeemer is a cherished icon of the country and a very popular touristic venue," Marcelo Musa Cavallari told the Register. Born in São Paulo, Brazil in 1960, the editor-in-chief of ACI Digital says the rich history of how the statue came into being is lost to millions. 

"The wonderful story about its relation to the end of slavery and princes Isabel has been basically forgotten by Brazilians, Hardly anyone knows it in the country”.

As we contemplate Christ the King today, here are twelve interesting facts about the biggest statue in Brazil, Christ the Redeemer, which stands to remind us all of the heavenly kingdom and presence. 


1. In 19th century Brazil, slavery was the law of the land. After her two brothers tragically died, Princess Isabel was heir to her father's throne, Emperor Pedro II. But being a woman married to a Frenchman, coupled with a fierce Catholic faith and her determination to abolish slavery, she was not popular among many Brazilians, especially powerful planters who fueled much of the agrarian economy in the 1850s.

The oath of the Princess Imperial as regent of the Empire of Brazil, c. 1870
The oath of the Princess Imperial as regent of the Empire of Brazil, c. 1870(Photo: Victor Meirelles )

2. While her father was traveling abroad, Princess Isabel was called to act as regent carrying out duties on his behalf. It was during her third and final role as regent, on May 13, 1888, Princess Isabel of Bragança signed Imperial Law number 3,353. Containing only 18 words, it is considered one of the most important pieces of legislation in Brazilian history. Lei Áurea or the “Golden Law" abolished slavery in all its forms.

Interestingly to note, Cavallari told the Register, when she was the regent, "Princess Isabel was second only to Queen Victoria of England as the most powerful woman in the world in terms of territory and number of subjects under her rule."

3. Heralded as the “Redemptress” for saving so many Brazilians from a life of slavery, a proposal was put forth to erect a statue in her honor. Vincentian Father Pedro Maria Boss offered the idea of placing a Christian monument on Mount Corcovado to honor Princess Isabel for her noble act of ending slavery. Princess Isabel was also given a Golden Rose by Pope Leo XIII for her actions. 

Open mass on 17 May 1888 commemorating the abolition of slavery. Isabel and her husband can be seen under a canopy to the left. The monarchy was never so popular, but at the same time never so frail.
Open-air Mass on May 17, 1888, commemorates the abolition of slavery. Isabel and her husband can be seen under a canopy to the left. (Photo: Antônio Luiz Ferreira)

4. Instead of agreeing to a statue atop Mount Corcovado erected in her honor, Princess Isabel asked that an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus be built as a visible declaration that he is the true Redeemer of mankind. 

Paul Landowski’s model for Christ the Redeemer in the 1920s.
Paul Landowski’s model for Christ the Redeemer in the 1920s(Photo: The Collector)

5. Commissioned by the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, it was a collaboration between artists in Brazil and France. It was originally sketched as Christ carrying a large cross in one hand and a globe in the other, but after assessing the landscape, the depiction of Jesus with his arms outstretched was planned in Art Deco style. 

6. Local engineer Heitor da Silva Costa designed the statue. The outer layers are soapstone, chosen for its abundance in Brazil. Resistant to erosion, small triangles were cut of the beautiful stone then glued by hand on tissue to then be applied to the statue. Women working diligently to afix the pieces to the statue also wrote names of loved ones on every triangle, creating a real living history on each stone placed. 

7. Paul Landowski, a French sculptor, molded the statue using clay. The large pieces then had to be shipped to Brazil, so there was a painstaking process of making the huge statue in parts: carving the head and hands in full size, then sculpting a 4-meter-high version of the body, a piece that would then be finished on site in Brazil. Romanian sculptor Georghe Leonida was asked by Landowski to create the last piece, the face of Christ, carefully carving the fragile intricacies. 

A view of the Corcovado before the construction, 19th century
A view of Mount Corcovado before the construction, 19th century (Photo: Marc Ferrez/Instituto Moreira Salles)

8. Just one year after the Golden Law was signed and Brazil became a republic, the empire of Pedro II was toppled only to avoid Princess Isabel becoming the empress.

9. Christ the Redeemer has been a world wonder since 2007. The public voted Christ the Redeemer onto the list of the New Seven Wonders of the World, making the cut among 21 finalists. It is the world's first open-air sanctuary. 

A panoramic view of the statue at the top of Corcovado Mountain with Sugarloaf Mountain (centre) and Guanabara Bay in the background.
A panoramic view of the statue at the top of Corcovado Mountain with Sugarloaf Mountain (center) and Guanabara Bay in the background

10. Every year, more than 2 million people visit the famous landmark. The statue climbs 98 feet high into the sky, and that doesn't include the 26-foot-high pedestal. The arms of the statue stretch 92 feet wide. Weighing 635 metric tons, it is the largest Art Deco statue in the world. Don't worry ... you can take an escalator to the top!

By Marc Ferrez - Instituto Moreira Salles, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73708791
Christ the Redeemer in the 1930s(Photo: Marc Ferrez )

11. Amazing photos exist of Christ the Redeemer being struck by lightning. Given the frequency of lightning hits to Christ the Redeemer, the statue’s lightning rods divert most of these strikes. Back in 2014, during the World Cup, the back of the statue’s head was struck, causing some damage. Every action was taken to have repairs made before kickoff of the first soccer game of the championship. 

The statue lit in the colors of the Flag of Brazil
The statue lit in the colors of the flag of Brazil

12. Desiring a very unique wedding venue? A beautiful but small and simple chapel lives at the foot of the statue offering Mass daily for those that climb to the base of Christ the Redeemer. Dedicated to the patron saint of Brazil Nossa Senhora Aparecida, couples can also request to be married there.

 

Tomb of Princess Isabel (far left) at the Imperial Mausoleum, within the Cathedral of Petrópolis, Brazil
Tomb of Princess Isabel (far left) at the Imperial Mausoleum, within the Cathedral of Petrópolis, Brazil.(Photo: Wikimedia Commons )
Oh Corcovado: there stands the stone giant, craggy, towering and sad, as if questioning the immense horizon: When will you come? For centuries I hope. Yes, here is the unique pedestal in the world. When will the statue, as I colossal - image of the one who made me?
Hans von Kulmbach (1480-1522), “Christ the King”

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