Nine legends and trivia about Christ the Redeemer, who turns 90

RIO – Did you know that Princess Isabel was the one who first dreamed of a Jesus on top of Corcovado? And that it was Cardinal Leme who gave the idea that the statue had the shape of a cross? In the 90 years of Christ the Redeemer, we selected nine picturesque stories that involve the statue.

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The visionary princess:

The first person to imagine an image of Christ atop Corcovado was Princess Isabel. After the signing of the Lei Áurea, abolitionists sought her out with the proposal to immortalize the “redeemer” in a statue, as she had been nicknamed by José do Patrocínio. The princess kindly declined the idea. And more: on August 2, 1888, the then Minister of Business, José Fernandes da Costa Pereira Júnior, on behalf of His Highness, asked the Organizing Committee of the monument to change the tribute to “a statue of the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ, true redeemer of men, who will raise himself on top of the Corcovado hill”.

The oldest image of a Christ with open arms that is reported in Brazil
The oldest image of a Christ with open arms ever reported in Brazil Photo: Agência O Globo

The document was found by journalist Rodrigo Alvarez, who has just released “Redentor” (Globo Livros), the first biography of the statue in the book. Until then, the glories for being the first to dream of Jesus on top of the mountain in Rio de Janeiro belonged to the French priest Pierre-Marie Bos. In 1903, he recorded the wish in a poem.

The Rio engineer and the wronged sculptor

The monumental project of Cristo Redentor has an author: the engineer from Rio de Janeiro Heitor da Silva Costa, who won, within the Organizing Committee, other famous architects of the time with his project of a Christ with the globe in one hand. In the other, Jesus would hold a cross. The idea was inspired by the Christ of the Andes and soon gained the nickname in the city of “Cristo da Bola”. The project had to be modified, so that from afar it had the shape of a cross, and Heitor has the painter Carlos Oswald to put his Christ on paper. With the drawings under his arm, he sets off for Paris in search of a sculptor.

The idea was inspired by the Christ of the Andes and soon gained the nickname in the city of
The idea was inspired by the Christ of the Andes and soon gained the nickname in the city of “Cristo da Bola” Photo: Agência O Globo

The chosen one is Paul Landowski, a Parisian son of a Polish author of important works in France. It is he who creates the art deco sculpture, transforming the idea into a work of art. In other words, Christ has more than one father, although on the top of Corcovado there are only busts of Cardinal Dom Sebastião Leme, the central figure in the execution of the project, and Heitor da Silva Costa. For Rodrigo Alvarez, Landowski is a character wronged in this whole story, and one of the hypotheses is the fact that he is a Frenchman in the middle of a project that was born within a nationalist context. And the Parisian has never visited his most iconic work.

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Open arms

With the “Christ of the ball” the target of jokes, Cardinal Dom Sebastião Leme, at the head of the Organizing Committee and the greatest leader of the Church in Brazil at the time, asks that a statue be made “with high symbolic content, that is not just Christ, but let it also be seen from afar as if it were a cross”. It is he, therefore, who brings the crisis of how Jesus should be represented to an end. It is worth remembering that at the inauguration of Christ, the cardinal had the words that remained for history: “Christ wins! Christ reigns! Christ governs! And defends Brazil against all evil!”

Christ and Getúlio Vargas

Strange as it may seem, it is with the arrival of Getúlio Vargas to power, in 1930, that the Church approaches the State. With the end of the monarchy, there is the separation of State and Church, which was left aside during the Old Republic. Writer Alexei Bueno, who knows the history of Rio in depth, says that even in the Empire, the relationship with power was troubled. Dom Pedro II, in the end, no longer had the support of the Church. – When there was the Proclamation of the Republic, there was complete separation.

President Getúlio Vargas, Cardinal D. Sebastião Leme, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro and d.  Augusto Álvaro da Silva, Archbishop of Bahia
President Getúlio Vargas, Cardinal D. Sebastião Leme, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro and d. Augusto Álvaro da Silva, Archbishop of Bahia

The Republic was completely positivist, influenced by Auguste Comte, and very anticlerical. In fact, in the Revolution of 1930, there was the opposite of what might have been expected: a movement of approximation, says Bueno.

— The one who convinces Washington Luís to abandon the presidency and go into exile was Cardinal Leme, who later became a personal friend of Getúlio, who was of positivist and Castilhist origins. But this union with the Church for governability was of great interest. The post-Revolution period of 1930 was the best for the Church. And the milestones of this approximation and the resumption of a strong Church are the proclamation of Nossa Senhora Aparecida as the patroness of Brazil and the inauguration of Christ the Redeemer, both of which took place in Rio in 1931 with the presence of Getúlio Vargas.

How much it cost

In values ​​of the time, the Christ the Redeemer cost 2,076 contos de réis. Journalist Rodrigo Alvarez, in the book “Redentor”, says that in updated values ​​the work was around 6.5 million dollars. Today, this total would be equivalent to almost R$36 million. It sounds like a fortune, but the 1886 Statue of Liberty cost about $60 million. Of that expense with the Christ, 10% went only to the work of the sculptor Paul Landowski and also the French engineer Albert Caquot, responsible for the structural calculation. For labor, 30.6% of the final amount was paid by Brazilian Catholics who contributed with donations.

The signal that didn’t arrive from Italy

The book “Redentor” denies that the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, considered the pioneer in radio transmission, pressed, from Italy, the button that would illuminate the Christ at his inauguration, via a telegraphic signal. The story had been repeated for 90 years. Some say that the signal arrived, but weak. Roodrigo Alvarez rebuts:

— This is a lie of Chatô (journalist Assis Chateaubriand). They tried to do this, but the signal never came. Engineer Gustavo Corção pressed the button at the Jacarepaguá station to illuminate the Christ.

The lie spread around the world that the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi turned on the lights of the Redeemer at the inauguration
The lie spread around the world that the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi turned on the lights of the Redeemer at the inauguration Photo: Agência O Globo

Corcovado Train

The history of Christ the Redeemer is associated with that of the Corcovado Train, which decades before the inauguration of the monument was already a means of reaching the top of the hill. At the end of the 19th century, the space was a disputed viewpoint from which you could observe the city, known as Chapéu do Sol. The structure, built in 1885 (one year after the inauguration of the railroad), was demolished to make way for the monument of Christ. The train project was carried out in stages. On October 9, 1884, the Cosme Velho-Paineiras section was opened.

The lie spread around the world that the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi turned on the lights of the Redeemer at the inauguration
The lie spread around the world that the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi turned on the lights of the Redeemer at the inauguration

And on July 1, 1985, the connection between Paineiras and the base of the monument was opened. With 3,824 meters, the Trem do Corcovado was the first electric locomotive in the country. During construction, it was used to transport materials to erect the monument. The ticket has prices ranging from R$ 27.00 (elderly people) to R$ 88 (adults in high season). City residents travel at the promotional price of R$54

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Spire of Temptation

In the past, Corcovado was known as the Pinnacle of Temptation. The original name was far from what would fit a Sanctuary. The name was inspired by a passage in the New Testament that referred to the Spire (highest place) of the Temple in Jerusalem. In it, Jesus Christ would have been the target of an attempt at seduction by the devil to sin. The devil tried to convince Jesus that if he threw himself off the pinnacle, he would be held by the angels, because he was a child of God. But Jesus refused.

converted jew

Among the stories surrounding the construction of Christ the Redeemer is the foreman and assistant engineer Heitor Levy. During the work, he almost fell off the cliff, but was saved by his colleagues.

In the photo, Heitor Silva Costa (author of the project), Pedro Fernandes Viana da Silva (fiscal engineer) Heitor Levy (general foreman)
In the photo, Heitor Silva Costa (author of the project), Pedro Fernandes Viana da Silva (fiscal engineer) Heitor Levy (general foreman)

A Jew, Levy converted to Catholicism and wrote the family names on parchment that he kept in the inner heart of the statue. ”It was a practical example of the 11th Promise of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: People who propagate this devotion will have their name forever inscribed in my heart’, informs a text from the Archdiocese of Rio.