Cristo Rei – Dili, East Timor - Atlas Obscura

Dili, East Timor

Cristo Rei

This giant Christ statue was a failed attempt by Indonesia to dissuade East Timor from demanding independence. 

East Timor is the one of the most Christian countries in the world, with 99.1% of the population subscribing to the faith. Meanwhile its neighbor next door, Indonesia, is the most populated Muslim country on Earth. While this religious intermingling has caused a few incidences of violence over the years, it also begat a compassionate yet awkward gift exchange.

This 89-foot statue of Cristo Rei was constructed in 1996 as a present from Indonesia to East Timor. Indonesian President Suharto wanted to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Indonesia annexing East Timor by half-apologizing to the East Timorese people for Indonesia’s occupation of the country. To please the Catholic majority, Suharto, a Muslim, built a giant statue of Jesus standing atop a globe, accessible by a 590-step staircase. The statue was built in the Indonesian city of Bandung, where nearly all of the workers carving the face of Jesus into copper were Muslim.

Despite three months of construction and a cost of 5 billion rupiah ($559,000), the Indonesian government failed to appease the majority of East Timorese people. Part of the reasoning for this is that Suharto angled the statue to be facing the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, which caused controversy amongst the recipients of the gift.

The ploy had little effect on staving off the East Timorese independence movement, which the people won in 2002. But, like its counterpart in Rio De Janeiro, the Christ statue in Dili still stands.

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