Christ of Corcovado - History

Christ of Corcovado - History (83)

The idea of building a religious symbol at the top of the hill was proposed in 1859 by Father Pierre-Marie Boss to honour Princess Isabel of Brazil, but it was completely dismissed when Brazil became a republic in 1889. It was not until 1921 that, to take advantage of the upcoming centenary of Brazil's independence, the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro once again proposed the construction of a religious monument. It aimed to show that the Catholic Church was present among the Brazilian people. And a campaign led to a petition with more than 20 thousand names asking President Epitácio Pessoa to build the statue. 

The project finally began and the location was chosen:  on top of Corcovado. A competition was launched. To fund the project, Cardinal Sebastiao Leme organised a popular collection, called "Monument Week", which had an extraordinary response. However, the state had to donate a lot of money to complete the work.

The project selected was that of engineer Heitor da Silva Costa. The original design that won the contest, which was created by artist Carlos Oswal, presented the statue of Christ the Redeemer holding a cross in his left hand and a globe in his right, but in the end it was decided that these two symbols would not be used. 

The sculpture of Christ was partially produced in France. Yes, you read that right, in France. At the time of its creation, it was thought that Brazil did not have enough qualified people to carry out such a work of art. So they went in search of none other than Auguste Rodin, who dismissed the project, and the Franco-Polish artist Paul Landowski was finally chosen. However, the face of the statue was created by the Romanian sculptor Gheorghe Leonida, who studied sculpture at the Conservatory of Fine Arts in Bucharest and moved to Paris, where his work, "The Devil", was awarded the Grand Prix. He was thus included by Paul Landowski in the team that started working on Christ the Redeemer in 1922.

The head and hands were transported to Brazil in many parts. In fact the head alone was made up of 50 pieces.

Work began in 1926 after receiving the pieces, which were transported to the top of the hill via the Corcovado train. 

Its main accomplishment was that no workers died during the nearly five years of construction. This really was an achievement for the time, especially considering the location and the shape of the structure. 

First the body was constructed and then the head parts were pushed up inside the structure in order to assemble it in place. It was a feat of engineering and skill, because the base of the monument is only 15 metres wide. Its success was down to Heitor Levy, the master builder.

The inauguration of Christ of Corcovado took place on 12 October 1931 and was consecrated and blessed by Sebastião Leme, Archbishop of Rio.

The opening day was organised so that the statue would be lit up that very night from Naples by none other than Guillermo Marconi. The Italian scientist would emit an electric signal that would be relayed by an antenna located in the Jacarepagua district of Rio de Janeiro via a receiving station located in Dorchester, England.  But bad weather affected the signal, and Marconi pressed the button without results. So in the end it had to be operated manually via the local system. 

At that moment, the great symbol of Rio and Brazil was born.

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