Scratched, time-worn religious sculptures stand within the shade of the Congress Street Bridge, forming a lovely, peaceful sculpture garden. Quite miraculously, they’ve survived decades of floods, droughts, and vandalism.
They exist because during World War I, a man named Felix Lucero lay seriously injured on a battlefield in France. Wounded and in agony, he proposed a deal with God: If he survived, he’d use his natural skills as a sculptor to create religious statues.
After returning home from the war, Lucero set about making good on his word. In the late 1930s, he lived in Tucson, Arizona, in a shack beneath a bridge. From there, he began creating beautiful works of art.
While in Tucson, Lucero spent years crafting detailed statues of religious figures out of sand and debris from the Santa Cruz River, which he then slathered in a protective coat of plaster. He created iconic Biblical scenes, including the Last Supper, Joseph and Mary, and Jesus on the crucifix.
Though Lucero died in 1951, his work is still standing—which is amazing, considering the statues weren’t built from lasting materials and have faced frequent vandalism over the years. Many are damaged, but they still stand tall. Dedicated locals have worked to salvage and repair the sculptures after each vandalism incident, and in the 1980s moved them to form this sculpture garden near the very bridge Lucero once lived beneath.