RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Christ the Redeemer is receiving a new outfit.
The iconic symbol of Rio de Janeiro, which was chosen as one of the seven marvels of the modern world by a popular contest on the Internet in 2007, has been under restoration since the beginning of March.
But when it’s expected to be unveiled in June, the image of Christ will don a new outfit, the biggest change during the statue’s remodeling to prepare for its 80th anniversary next year and to make sure the image is looking its best for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.
After all, the 135-foot, 635-ton man perched atop Corcovado Mountain is visited by 1.5 million annually.
“It’s the biggest work that has taken place in the history of the monument,” says priest Omar Raposo, rector of the monument, which belongs to the archdiocese of Rio. “The Christ had already been washed, got some details fixed and so on, but nothing of this dimension.”
But it was exactly the dimensions of the restoration process that enabled vandals to damage the image of the most important monument in Brazil. The scaffolds used by workers to reach the top of the statute 710 meters (2,329.39 feet) above sea level gave vandals easy access to the monument.
On April 15, expressions such as “when the cat’s away, the mice will play,” written in spray paint, stretched across the Christ’s head, face and arms.
Rio’s archdiocese and mayor Eduardo Paes were appalled. A group of entrepreneurs offered a reward of up to R$5,000 (US$2,857) for any information on the case, which dominated the news nationwide.
Paulo Souza dos Santos, 28, and Edmar Batista de Carvalho, 24, surrendered and gave full confessions to police earlier this week. They each face up to five years if found guilty of an environmental crime, as Corcovado Mountain is in the Tijuca national forest, and of vandalizing a religious image.
“It’s ridiculous,” Raposo says. “A person that does something like that to a monument hurts everything, the Brazilian people’s feelings and attacks our love for Christ the Redeemer.”
Visitors had been denied access to the statue because the roads surrounding the monument had been damaged by the heavy rains that had battered the city and killed more than 200 earlier this month.
“We couldn’t get to the Christ for a week because all the accesses were closed due to mudslides,” says Raposo, who first saw the vandalism when he was driven to the site to survey the damage throughout Tujica national park. “It was the first time that we went to the Christ after the rains.”
The surveillance cameras had been knocked out by the blackouts that have struck the city in recent weeks. The graffiti marked the first vandalism since spray paint was used to defame the statue’s base more than a decade ago.
“We will include new technologies [and] new touristic signs, renovation of the floor, cleaning of the balustrades and restoration of the chapel,” Raposo says.
The restoration, estimated at R$7 million (US$4 million), is being sponsored by mining company Vale and by the social campaign “Eu sou de Cristo” (I Belong to Christ), launched in the middle of October. Local parishes are selling pins displaying the monument for R$7 (US$4) apiece to raise funds for the project.
The initial idea for building a religious monument atop the peak of Corcovado Mountain was presented by priest Pedro Maria Boss to Princess Isabel in 1859. In 1923, architect Heitor Silva Costa’s plan to erect a statue of Jesus Christ won a contest. But the final drawing was created by Carlos Oswald, who teamed with French sculptor Paul Landowski for a five-year project that opened to the public in 1931.
But after nearly 80 years, city and religious officials decided it was time to give Christ the Redeemer a makeover.
“It will all be washed, the mortar and soap stones that cover the image will be replaced, the internal structure of iron will be restored, and the monument will become impermeable,” says Márcia Braga, an architect with Cone Engenharia Ltda., which is in charge of the restoration.
The project, however, has an inconvenience: the statue’s enormous height. But it wasn’t tough to overcome.
“It’s such a great responsibility that we forget [about it],” says Diogo Caprio, one of the project’s architects. “When we stop a little to have lunch or to relax is when we realize the beauty surrounding us. It’s when the emotion comes.”