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Rio recovers the mantle of Christ.

THE GIANT STATUE of Christ the Redeemer that dominates the skyline 2330 feet above Rio de Janeiro recently emerged from six months of shrouding in scaffolding during which time its reinforced concrete robe was entirely restored.

Noted for the infinite tenderness of its two huge arms widespread over the city that lies at its feet, the monument has been the symbol of Rio de Janeiro ever since it was inaugurated on October 12, 1931 -- the day that honors Our Lady of Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil.

As twilight fell on that day replete with festivals and ceremonies, the entire city turned out to see the illuminated Christ. At exactly seven o'clock in the evening, the reflectors on top of Corcovado hill were turned on for the first time. They were activated by a radio signal from Italy sent by scientist Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the wireless.

The statue had been blessed that morning at a solemn mass held in the playing field of the Fluminense Soccer Club. The mass was officiated by fifty archbishops and attended by Getulio Vargas, president of the provisional government, and a throng of believers. The statue seemed destined to watch over Rio for all eternity.

But six decades of exposure to the vagaries of weather have taken their toll. The experts ascribe the damage to strong winds, priximity to the sea, and sharp changes in temperature, which is apt to rise from 10 to 37 degrees Celsius in a single day.

Monsignor Francisco Bessa, the parish priest of Saint Judas Thaddeus who says the Sunday mass in the chapel at the base of the monument, was the first to sound the alarm over two years ago. The Monsignor was told by experts that emergency patching with cement was urgently needed--a piece of the mantle almost a meter long had already fallen. Last September, Jornal do Brasil reported that technicians recruited from the Institute of Military Engineering to examine the monument found 26 leaks and fissures up to three meters wide in the statue's concrete vestments.

The Shell Company of Brazil and the Globo Television Network--which is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its founding this year--agreed to underwrite the two-million-dollar expense of the restoration as a gift to the city of Rio de Janeiro.

In April 1989, tubular scaffolding with a total weight of 30 tons was erected around the Christ. The technical staff of Jatocret Engineering, a specialized restoration firm contracted for the job, reported that the cruciform central structure was virtually intact but that the entire reinforcement structure had rusted and cracks were apparent throughout the robe, necessitating a complete overhaul.

A team from the Rio de Janeiro Federal University examined the material and concluded that the rust was caused mainly by the presence of chlorides in the original mortar. According to engineer Sergio Ferreira, director of Jatocret, chlorides can trigger the equivalent of cancer in concrete structures with metal supports. Jactocret decided to adopt a rustproofing technique developed in cold-climate countries where salt (a common chloride used to de-ice streets) has caused cracking on bridges and other surfaces. This technique involved running a layer of titanium mesh throughout the inner surface of the Christ's garmets and then inducing an electrical current to render the metal framework rustproof.

Even so, the most corroded patches had to be removed and replaced. To preserve the original form at those spots, molds had to be placed inside and out on the vertical surfaces. The molds were made of fiberglass, a lighweight and highly resistant material that proved to be most effective under these circumstances.

The restoration involved replacing twenty percent of the outer surface, including the layer of triangular soapstone mosaics that reflect the sunlight and imbue the monument with a lovely aura of clarity and an illusion of weightlessness. The rest of the stones were lightly sanded to restore the original appearance and tonality they had sixty years ago, when nuns and Carioca society women carefully glued individual pieces to rectangles of netting for use in surfacing the statue.

The idea of erecting a monument to the Catholic faith atop Corcovado was introduced in 1859 by Father Pedro Maria Bos, chaplain of a parish in the district of Botafogo. At that time, a number of hikers, including Emperor of Brazil Dom Pedro II, enjoyed scaling the heights around Rio. However, very few made it to the top of Corcovado to appreciate the exquisite view of the city.

In 1882 the emperor, who was a proponent of progress, granted a concession to two engineers to build a railway straight up to hillside through the dense woods. The fortunate pair, Francisco Pereira Passos and Joao Teixeira Soares, were granted the privilege of a fifty-year period "for construction, use, and enjoyment of a Riggenback railway, using a cogged wheel." In addition, the engineers were given free title to all the land they would need, subject to a commitment not to use slaves for the various rail services.

Two years later the inaugural trip on the Corcovado Railway carried the emperor and his family, government ministers, and other guests only as far as the Paineiras station. It took 40 minutes because the steam locomotive had to stop to take on water halfway up the slope. The journey all the way to the top of Corcovado was opened to the public about a year later, on July 1, 1885.

The venture, which cost a little over $156,000, was a success from the first year of operation: 31,885, passengers rode to the top of Corcovado to enjoy the view. The railroad was electrified 35 years later by the Rio de Janeiro Tramway, Light and Power Company--holder of the concession at that time--and the climbing time was cut to fifteen minutes.

But the voice of Father Bos, who first suggested a hilltop monument, found no echo in the community until 1917, when supporters in artistic and social circles began to espouse the idea. In 1921, when supporters in artistic and social circles began to espouse the idea. In 1921, the church took over the leadership of the movement and formed a committee of dignitaries headed by Archbishop Leme to select the best proposal.

Preference went to the project presented by engineer Silva Costa, with a major change suggested by Archbishop Leme himself: eliminate the long cross and the huge terrestrial globe the designer had placed in the hands of the Christ and use the statute's widespread arms to form the transverse line of the cross.

Although it is commonly thought that the Christ was a gift from France (like New York's Statute of Liberty), in fact the French contribution was limited to technical details of sculpture and engineering. Silva Costa was sent to Europe to study construction techniques in large-scale monuments. In Paris, he met a French sculptor, Paul Landowski, who told him that concrete would be the best material, given the dimensions and position of the proposed monument. Silva Costa had already observed that the bronze commonly used for statutes darkened with the passage of time and would not provide the desired contrast against the sky.

Contracted by the Brazilian committee, the French artist made a plaster model four meters high, drawn to scale with open arms and the head slightly bowed forward. He also constructed the head and hands for the final larger-than-life size models. A Brazilian sculptress, Margarida Lopes de Almeida, who was studying in Paris, sat as the model for the hands.

While the figure of the Christ was taking shape in the sculptor's studio, the Parisian engineering firm of L. Pernard-Considere and A. Caquot was hired to produce the final structural calculations for the construction. The work in France was completed late in 1927

Back in Rio, Silva Costa stated in an article published in 1928 that from the technical standpoint the monument should "constitute one of the most noteworthy examples of its kind, not only because of the nature of the site but also because of the dimensions and stance of the statute." He also emphasized "its enormous resistance to wind, in a place where it gusts in violent swirls. Each arm measures thirty square meters and must support seven and a half tons of wind pressure as well as its own weight of eighty tons plus that of the massive hands, an additional eight tons."

The full-size plaster models of the Christ's head and hands were brought from Paris and reproduced in concrete in Brazil, then covered with the mosaic of soapstone by engineer Heitor Levi, who later executed and attached those pieces to the body and arms of the statue. The statue's base, feet, and tunic had already been constructed at the Corcovado site.

Because of his role in the work, Levi was popularly acknowledged as the man who built the statue. It was even said that he had converted to Catholicism during the construction, and had carved his name deep in the heart that appears in relief on the breast of Christ.

The legend that the statue had been a gift from France was belied by an Appeal published on June 29, 1929, on the first page of O Cruzeiro magazine:

"The cardinal archbishop, the archbishop-coworker, and the parish committees, confident of the good will and enthusiasm with which the entire population of this city welcomed the idea of erecting the monument of Christ the Redeemer and moved by the generosity of its contributions for the realization thereof, now well under way on top of Corcovado, call on you once again not to deny Our Lord and Brazil one more contribution from you and from everyone in your family to avoid and interruption or standstill in the work . . ."

That Appeal undoubtedly hit the mark, for two and half years later, in the midst of the world depression, the campaign had amassed $155,000.

The monument to Christ the Redeemer is the product of the combined will and spiritual determination of thousands of individuals. Now that the statue has been braced for the future, it will continue to embrace the people of Rio for centuries to come.

Mauricio Pedreira is an architect and freelance writer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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Title Annotation:the giant statute of Christ in Rio de Janeiro
Author:Pedreira, Mauricio
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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