Having probably given up on the locals at long last, the statue of Jesus Christ overlooking Rio de Janiero was dethroned as the world’s most famous last week. Thanks to the efforts of one determined priest and after five years of building, the world’s tallest Jesus was unveiled in Swiebodzin, a city of fewer than 22,000 people in western Poland.
Standing at 33 metres, the figure of Christ the King is topped by a three-metre crown made of gilded metal. Swiebodzin’s Jesus weighs over 400 tonnes and its arms span an impressive 24 metres. Situated on an artificial 16 metre-high, hill made of stones and rubble, the monument stands three metres taller than Brazil’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue.
While Swiebodzin’s inhabitants mostly cherish the project as a potential tourist-magnet, some Poles sneer at the super-size concrete statue and say it has little to do with piety.
Local priest Sylwester Zawadzki, who kickstarted the project, says that the statue’s height is meant as a reference to Christ’s age at his death. He also claims that it was Jesus himself who ordered him in a dream to erect the monument.
“The idea came from Jesus. I was only supposed to build this statue,” Zawadzki told local daily Gazeta Wyborcza. Asked if the statue’s height was not a bit over the top, he disagreed, saying that Christ was “the king of the whole world”, and not just of a tiny city.
In Poland, where religion and politics often mix, the idea of proclaiming Jesus as the country’s sovereign has been firmly supported by radical circles within the Catholic Church. In December 2006, a group of right-wing deputies went so far as to submit a bill to the Parliament that, if enacted, would enthrone Christ as the king of Poland.
However, recent developments show that Poles have become increasingly tired of the Church’s involvement with politics. Following July’s presidential election, in which the former right-wing prime minister Jarosław Kaczynski lost to the more moderate Bronisław Komorowski, it has become clear that the backing of bishops alone is not enough in Polish politics.
Jarosław Makowski, head of the Civic Institute, a liberal think tank based in Warsaw, believes that while Poland is an overwhelmingly religious nation, Poles have traditionally denounced priests who use religion as a political tool.
“In Poland, people tend not to listen to those who mistake the priest’s pulpit for a speaker’s platform at a political rally,” he said.
“The more some marginal circles insist on imposing their ideology on the society, the stronger will become the people’s drive towards secularism,” said Makowski. “Spectacular gestures are meant to obscure the fact that fundamentalists are losing their grip on the Polish society.”