This is how American religious historian Thomas Tweed describes “Christ the Redeemer,” the statue of Jesus that looks down over Rio. Tweed’s reference to the statue as Brazil’s “Statue of Liberty” is from Michelle Boorstein’s recent Washington Post piece, “The Many Meanings of Rio’s Massive Christ Statue.”
Here is a taste:
Christ the Redeemer” — or “Cristo Redentor” — rises almost a half-mile into the Rio sky, and is perhaps the most recognizable Christian image in Latin America.
Yet Cristo’s meaning to Brazilians varies. Some see it as a tribute to Catholicism while others consider it a salvo against secularism. Still others in the rapidly diversifying country consider it a general symbol of welcome, with arms open wide. One of its original creators called it a “monument to science, art and religion.”
Cristo is an iconic image of Brazil. It is “reproduced everywhere,” read a 2014 BBC feature, “in graffiti art, sand sculptures on Copacabana beach — and even on skin.” During Carnival, there is a street party called Christ’s Armpit, or ‘Suvaco do Cristo,” that weaves its way at the base of the mountain, called Corcovado.
Thomas Tweed, a history professor and Latino Studies Institute fellow at the University of Notre Dame, compared Cristo to the Statue of Liberty — national iconic images that can’t help but stir debate about what, specifically, they say.
“The statue looms large on the landscape, but it hides as much as it reveals about the diverse religious life of Brazilians,” Tweed said Monday.
When the project began in the 1920s, Brazil was almost entirely Catholic. It made perfect sense for the most ambitious public art project to be funded through the Catholic Church. Until as late as 1970, 92 percent of Brazilians identified as Catholic, according to a Pew Research poll.
But today, Tweed noted, Brazil is “a remarkably diverse religious world.” A quarter of the country is Protestant — mostly evangelical — 10 percent more are unaffiliated, and there is a great deal of blending of faiths and beliefs.
According to the BBC, the original idea for a monument to Christ came from a group of Brazilians who, “in the wake of World War I, feared an advancing tide of Godlessness. Church and state had been separated when Brazil became a republic at the end of the previous century, and they saw the statue as a way of reclaiming Rio — then Brazil’s capital city — for Christianity.”
Read the entire piece here.