It’s not particularly in your face, but Brazilians are predominantly catholic and deeply religious, a fact highlighted by the thousands of icons to be found in the shops. Many folk wear crosses, or if you’re on the beach, (actually you can be anywhere), and people are unclad, it’s common to spot religious tattoos.
So after being here a few weeks now, we decided to make the tourist pilgrimage to the most famous Jesus in Rio. (Incidentally, Jesus is pronounced ‘Hey Zeus!’ in Portuguese. At first I was impressed by the potential economy of prayer, however it is apparently just a coincidence. Who would have thought?) Anyway – the pilgrimage. So the most famous statue of Jesus – “Christ the Redeemer” – lies at the top of a mountain called the Corcovado. It is seven hundred metres above sea level and commands an extraordinarily impressive view of the whole city. To get up there, you can either ride the funicular railway, a small train on specialised cog tracks to stop it falling down the steep gradient, or take two mini buses. (This option is weird, as you can only take a public minibus to a carpark 2km from the top and then you have to disembark and catch another one that’s run by the site management and is expensive. Wait times are maybe less, I suppose)
We took the train which was only two carriages and came with it’s own live music. It was a great way to travel through the jungle up the side of the mountain and had some amazing views of its own. The only down side was all the other tourists. Swarms of them. Upon reflection, though, it probably wasn’t well thought out going to visit Jesus on a Sunday morning. Lots of others had chosen that day for spiritual reasons. You’d think this may have occurred to us……
It was very crowded at the top and indeed, there was a church service being conducted in the small chapel located underneath Jesus’ feet and from which sporadic singing of hymns contributed to the general soundtrack. The weather was clear and the views spectacular, and from above, Rio is a very beautiful city. It has mountains, a harbour, the ocean beaches and lots of islands. The built up areas are very high density and I was struck by how small it seemed considering how many people live here.
The statue itself is 38 metres high and from the bottom, we all noticed Jesus’ toes, incongruous as they peeked out from underneath his robe. To me his face was strangely expressionless in a benign kind of way and it struck me as being an odd contrast to his outstretched and all encompassing arms. His sheer size is confronting and it set me to wondering about his role – aside from redeeming that is. Ultimately I concluded that he is whatever he’s needed to be. With one pose, he’s reassuring the lonely, he’s confronting the sinner, he’s sympathising with those in grief. And as I’ve looked up at him many times from ground level – sometimes as he floats on clouds that sail beneath his summit – he seems each of these things depending on the viewer’s mood. Kind of spiritually multipurpose.
The day ended with some great photos and, (for me at least), a better geographical understanding of Rio’s layout. A warning for any prospective visitors – we’ll definitely take you there, it’s well worth the trip.