The biggest statue in the Catholic world is in Rio Grande do Norte.
The vocation that Santa Cruz has for religious tourism comes from when it was first founded and is a story marked by faith and devotion to St. Rita of Cascia. Today, the town that bears the saint’s name is known as the Sanctuary Town, and besides being one of the biggest centres of tourism in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, it is also on the main religious tourism routes in the Northeast of Brazil. It is certainly no coincidence that Santa Cruz paid tribute to its patron saint, who has blessed the city, by erecting a monumental statue to her and considered to be the biggest Catholic image on the planet.
The town of Santa Cruz is located in the wild back country of Rio Grande do Norte, some 122 km from the state capital, Natal. The area was initially inhabited by tapuia Indians, who started settling there in 1831 because of their agricultural and livestock farming activities. Today, thanks to its religious tradition and faith in St. Rita of Cascia, tourism has been driving the local economy, which since the construction of the statue in 2010, has been increasingly structuring itself to receive the crowds of faithful followers of the saint and the pilgrims who visit the town throughout the year.
The religious belief of the town’s residents dates from the 19th century. Legend has it that a missionary, knowing of the tradition of the inharé tree, which was considered sacred by the people of the village, ordered a cross to be erected, made from branches of the tree, which was set up in a hole into which the local population’s arms were also placed. As a result, the ills that had beset the region all supposedly ceased, which is how the village came to be known as Santa Cruz do Inharé, later shortened to Santa Cruz.
Years later the chapel of Santa Rita of Cascia was constructed, based on an image that had been acquired by the daughter of one of the town’s founders. Today, the chapel is a sanctuary and the patron saint of Santa Cruz has already received more than one million faithful from all over the world, especially during the four pilgrimages that form part of the municipal calendar of events. On 22 May, the date on which the saint is celebrated worldwide, Santa Cruz receives more than 60,000 tourists.
The chapel is still standing today, but round it has been built the Upper Religious Complex of Santa Rita of Cascia, on the top of Monte Carmelo, which is already known Brazil-wide and comprises also a miracle room, a pilgrimage square, an auditorium, shops selling items of handicraft, a viewing platform, a restaurant, a snack-bar, public toilets and an ample car-park, in addition to the statue that can be seen from kilometres away. This statue is the result of the expression of love for, and faith in the “Patron Saint of Impossible Causes”, who is also considered to be the Godmother of the Back Country.
St Rita of Cascia’s statue is the biggest Catholic image in the world, without a doubt. It stands 56 metres high, almost half as tall again as the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, which measures just 38 metres. The statue of St. Rita started being built in 2007, and was finally inaugurated on 26 June 2010. The structure, which was designed by architect, Alexandre Azêdo de Lacerda, is supported on a concrete wall that is eight centimetres thick.
The opinions expressed in this text are the author’s opinion and do not necessarily reflect the position of WTM Latin America.
by Sergio Vilar, SETUR – Rio Grande do Norte