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Christ the Redeemer struck by lightning. Credit: Cecilia / Adobe Stock

Rio’s Christ the Redeemer Statue Survives Despite Lightning Strikes

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Perhaps the best-known landmark in the vast country of Brazil is the colossal statue, ‘Christ the Redeemer’. At 125 feet high, it continues to stand tall despite the fact that it has been struck by lightning multiple times. In one of the most violent strikes, a lightning bolt hit the right hand of Jesus, knocking off part of his thumb.

The History Leading to ‘Christ The Redeemer’

In the 19 th century a local priest suggested placing a giant statue of Christ on one of the many heights that circle Rio de Janeiro . In 1888, however, after a Republican revolution that installed a secular government, the state and national government refused to fund the project.

The idea was revived in the 1920s as the Catholic Church became increasingly concerned about the growing secularization of Brazilian society and many Catholics felt alienated from the political establishment. As a result, leading prelates decided to construct a statue of Jesus Christ and launched a campaign to raise donations for the project.

Christ the Redeemer. Credit: Satori / Adobe Stock

Christ the Redeemer. Credit: Satori / Adobe Stock

While many ordinary Catholics helped fund the project, the backers of the project had to collect the signatures of thousands of people to persuade the local authorities to allow the project to go ahead.

The design competition that was held was won by local engineer Heitor da Silva Costa (1873-1941), although his original concept is very different from the present-day sculpture. Da Silva Costa traveled to Paris, the center of the art-world, to secure the service of a world-class sculptor and eventually employed the French sculptor, Paul Landowski (1875-1961).

Bust of Heitor da Silva Costa (1873-1941), designer (CC BY SA 3.0)

Bust of Heitor da Silva Costa (1873-1941), designer ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

He decided to create a figure in the Art-Deco style, a medley of different influences, which strived to be modern and daring. The design was developed by the French sculptor who later collaborated with da Silva Costa and the Romanian sculptor, Gheorghe Leonida, who sculpted the face of the Redeemer. The eyes are closed as if in contemplation.

Landowski made the sculpture out of clay which was shipped to Brazil in pieces. Construction began in 1922 and took 9 years to complete. The statue was unveiled to the world with great fanfare.

In 2007 it was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

The materials and construction of ‘Christ the Redeemer’ Rio de Janeiro

The figure stands at a height of 125 feet (38 meters) and weighs 632 tons, while the pedestal is 130 feet (39 meters) high and is made of concrete. It is located at the top of the 2000-foot (609 meter) Corcovado Mountain, located in the Tijuca National Park.

The figure of Christ was first created by erecting a steel superstructure, after which a massive amount of concrete was poured into the steel frame. The sculpted clay pieces were then applied to the structure. The last phase of the construction, intended to give the sculpture its glowing finish, was the application of approximately five million soapstone tiles.

A panoramic view of the statue at the top of Corcovado Mountain (Mariordo / CC BY 3.0)

A panoramic view of the statue at the top of  Corcovado Mountain ( Mariordo / CC BY 3.0 )

There has been a series of lifts and elevators constructed, allowing more people to visit the site. A Catholic chapel was built at the base of the sculpture and many weddings and baptisms are celebrated here.

The figure’s outstretched arms were intended to convey that Christ was protecting the people and also represents the crucifixion, the event when Christians believe he died for their sins. This statute seeks to emphasize the role of Christ as the source of all redemption, and the hope of humankind.

Lightning Strikes Hit Christ the Redeemer

Standing at 125 feet tall on top of a mountain peak reaching 2,300 feet (710 meters) altitude, the iconic statue is a prime target for lightning strikes.

The statue is hit by around three to six relatively harmless strikes every year, but occasionally, violent storms over the city cause intense strikes that cause extensive and costly damage.

"They say lightning does not strike the same spot twice. But with the Christ it does,” joked  Father Omar Raposo  of the Archdiocese of Rio, the organization that maintains the statue.

In 2010, $4 million of repairs were done to a damaged finger and face parts, and in 2014, a strike hit the right hand of Jesus, knocking off part of the thumb. The repairs lasted for weeks at a cost of $500,000.

Local authorities have since placed several lightning rods on and around the statue to protect it from strikes.

The figure of Christ has also been badly eroded by weather . The original white stone is no longer available and darker shades of stone are used to replace the damaged portions. As a result, the once dazzling white statue is slowly becoming darker.

The Journey to Christ the Redeemer

Rio de Janeiro is popular with tourists and there is plenty of accommodation near the statue of Christ the Redeemer. You need a ticket to visit the site and these can be booked online. It is possible to reach the statue by cog train or hired van, or the more adventurous can hike up the mountain. There are restaurants and toilets at the top and the views are inspiring.

Top image: Christ the Redeemer struck by lightning. Credit: Cecilia / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

References

Della Cava, R. (1976). Catholicism and society in twentieth-century Brazil . Latin American Research Review, 11(2), 7-50

Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2502548

Knauss, P. (2006). S caling down the monumental: how public art came to inspire community action in Rio de Janeiro. Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas, 39(2), 173-187.

Murray, Lorraine. " Christ the Redeemer (last updated 13 January 2014 )". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 11, 2014,

Available at:   https://www.britannica.com/topic/Christ-the-Redeemer

Comments

Lightning DOES strike the same spot twice, even more, if that spot is well prominent. On the other hand, lightning strikes offer no guarantee, as the last “leap” of the lightning spark depends on the very local atmospheric conditions (mainly the ionic charge).  

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