The Construction of Brazil's Christ the Redeemer Statue

The Origin and History Brazil's Famous Icon

Cristo Rei, Christ Statue in Lisbon
Sen LI / Getty Images

The Christ the Redeemer statue is one of the most important monuments in Brazil, situated at the top of Mount Corcovado in the Tijuca National Forest. The 98-foot-tall Art Deco statue soars on a mountaintop 2,320 feet above Rio de Janeiro and the ocean below, and blesses the region with outstretched arms that measure 92 feet from fingertip to fingertip.

Design History

The seeds of Christ the Redeemer were sown in the 1850s, when a Vincentian priest, Pedro Maria Boss, began championing the idea of a Christian monument on Mount Corcovado to honor princess Isabel, daughter of the Brazilian emperor, Pedro II. Although the project wasn't approved at that time, in 1921, the Roman Catholic archdiocese proposed that a statue of Christ be built at the summit of Mount Corcovado, where it could be visible throughout Rio de Janeiro. Upon petition from the citizens, approval for the project was granted, and the foundation for the monument was laid in 1922, well before the statue's design had been finalized. Also in that year, the design was awarded to Heitor da Silva Costa, a Brazilian engineer working with artist Carlos Oswald.

Da Silva Costa’s original design featured Christ holding a cross in one hand and a globe in the other, but this concept met with some ridicule—people began calling the proposed statue “Christ with a ball.” Da Silva Costa went back to the drawing board and created Christ the Redeemer as we know the statue today, with his arms wide open.

Construction History

Under Silva Costa's supervision, active construction on the statue itself began in 1925 and continued for five years, with funds raised primarily by the Catholic Church. Actual construction of Silva Costa's design was done by a Frenchman, Paul Landowski, who commissioned Romanian sculptor Gheorghe Leonida to assist him.

The monument is made from reinforced concrete with an outer shell of soapstone tiles. The materials were transported to the building site at the top of the mountain by cogwheel railroad, and construction entailed raising the statue by stages within a metal construction scaffolding. Workers had to prepare the cement on site with water hauled from a fountain 984 feet away from the construction site

Tiers of concrete blocks shaped in clay molds gradually extended the construction upward, and once the core was finished, the statue was covered with tiles of soapstone from Sweden. Construction concluded in 1931, with a total cost of about $250,000 U.S. dollars—equivalent to about $3.4 million in today's value.

Restoration and maintenance work is ongoing with Christ the Redeemer. The location of the statue makes it susceptible to erosion, wind, and lightning strikes, all of which create damage that needs to be periodically addressed. Major restoration occurred in 2003 and 2010. The 2003 project saw the installation of escalators and elevators on the interior of the statue, while the 2010 restoration focused mostly on repairs to the inside and outside surfaces. With the original light-colored soapstone tiles no longer available, the statue is gradually darkening as damaged tiles are replaced with darker forms of soapstone.

Lighting is an ongoing hazard, given the high location of the statue. In 2008, lightning damaged the head, hand, and eyebrows of the statue, and in 2014, lightning destroyed one of the fingers. Some of the restoration work has involved installing new lightning rods in an effort to prevent further damage.

Occasional vandalism also occurs. In 2010, for example, a house painter vandalized Christ the Redeemer, spray-painting the head and right arm.

Quick Facts

  • Cristo Redentor, as the statue is known in Portuguese, measures 124 feet tall, including both the statue and its pedestal. It is 92 feet wide. 
  • The monument weighs over 1,400 tons.
  • Christ the Redeemer is the largest art deco statue in the world.
  • Christ’s right arm points to south Rio de Janeiro and the left arm points to north Rio de Janeiro.
  • A chapel built inside the pedestal can accommodate over 150 people. 
  • Christ the Redeemer is considered the fifth largest statue of Jesus in the world—the tallest is Poland’s Christ the King.
  • Christ the Redeemer was named one of the Seven Wonders of the World in July 2007.
  • Visitors need to climb 220 steps order to reach the statue. However, elevators and escalators now exist.