All visitors to Rio de Janeiro, certainly including the 35,000 arrivals for the 2012 Rio+2 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, can’t help but notice the imposing “Christ the Redeemer” statue overlooking the city. Brazil’s most famous landmark, the structure sits atop the 2,300-foot mountain named Corcovado. Built over nine years, the completed monument was opened to the public in 1931. But it has a long history.
Since its colonization in the 16th Century, Brazil’s people have always been overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. By itself, the country occupies more than half of the land mass of South America and is the continent’s only nation whose chief language is Portuguese. Disputes between Spanish and Portuguese colonizers five centuries ago led to a papal decision that essentially divided what was known of the geographical makeup of the continent’s land mass. Henceforth, it would be Spanish territory to the west and Portuguese territory to the east. Spanish colonies ultimately divided into many countries; the Portuguese colonial areas resulted in just the one very large country.
By the 1850s, Catholicism’s dominance led to a desire to build a large religious monument to celebrate some aspect of the faith. When the idea reached Portugal, the royal family dismissed it. But, after Brazil separated from Portugal in 1889 to become an independent republic, the idea gained more support. In 1921, a group known as the Catholic Circle of Rio began collecting funds from the people that led to the start of construction in 1922. The cost in 1920 dollars was $250,000 (more than $3.2 million today).
Click here to read the entire article.