I had the pleasure of visiting Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Cristo Redentor statue this past February. I’ve seen Christ the Redeemer in so many pictures, but seeing it in person was truly special. Corcovado, the mountain on which the statue stands, is something to behold–over 2,000 feet of solid granite rock rising sharply and steeply towards the sky. I took the cog train up the mountain to the site. It’s a relaxing twenty-minute ride–you get a great view of the city and valleys, and there is lush tropical foliage to see as the train moves through the Tijuca Forest on its climb towards the top.
There were a lot of people up there near Cristo. There was a young priest, wrapping up a blessing– it was the morning of Ash Wednesday: that pensive, quiet day that’s supposed to sober those who are still recovering from days and nights of bacchanalian revelry during Carnaval. True to Brazilian nature however, even an atmosphere of attempted solemnity retains a festive spirit. The priest was grinning and chuckling as he sprinkled holy water over an energetic bunch of people, some of whom were paying attention to him, while others milled around. Standing at that high point, you see much of Rio, and are reminded of the beauty that gives the beloved city its well deserved nickname, a Cidade Maravilhosa, the “Marvelous City.”
There’s a slight sense of desperation as people jockey for a prime spot in front of the statue, eager for perfect shots of themselves with their arms outstretched, imitating the stance of the 130-foot-tall statue behind them. Once one person has gotten a satisfactory photo of himself with arms wide open, he rushes to trade places with someone else in his party, knowing he must return the favor and snap a picture of his friend or relative doing the same thing. Folks lying on the ground are a common sight in front of the statue; they’re not doing penance, they’re just taking pictures.
As for the statue itself… Before seeing it, I was tempted to lump Rio’s Redeemer in with other similar religious works. After all, the world is chock-full of Jesus statues, and after fourteen years of Catholic preschool-through-high-schooling, and a lifelong passion I’ve had for visiting old churches when traveling, I’ve seen lots of Jesus statues. But upon viewing it up close, seeing the delicate workmanship of the piece, the serene expression of the face of the statue, I couldn’t think of it as yet another Jesus statue. Standing before it added a whole other dimension to my perception of the piece; I was so moved. My friends and I were fortunate to have such a beautiful, bright sky on that sunny Wednesday morning. Cristo Redentor is truly stunning, and I think of it as one of the most special sites I’ve visited.