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The statue of Christ - The Sacred Heart of Jesus

A bishop ordered its construction as a token of thanks for the sparing of his life

Statue of Christ In Jesus
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It was during the Spanish Civil War, a time of blood soaked confusion during which, even on Ibiza, churches were set alight and priests killed. Bishop Antonio Cardona Riera, known as Frit, fled to the hills near Puig d'en Valls and sought refuge there. He survived and was to give thanks for his escape by ordering the construction of a statue of Christ that, at 23 metres high, is a mere 14 metres "shorter" than its larger cousin on Corcovado mountain outside Rio de Janeiro...

What do Ibiza and Brazil have in common? Not a great deal, you might think - with the exception of a few attractive Brazilian go-go dancers in the clubs, and the salsa music and caipirinhas that pep up the atmosphere around the island's beaches and bars.

Very few people are aware that there is a monument on Ibiza that is a spitting image of one of Brazil's most visited landmarks. We are referring to the statue of the "Sagrat Cor de Jesus" - the Holy Heart of Jesus up on the "Puig de na Ribas" hill between Eivissa and Sant Rafel.

The figure of Jesus looks up towards the heavens, its arms outstretched, as if it wanted to embrace the whole world. It is a gesture full of compassion: Jesus appears to be searching for sheep to join the flocks of his community of believers. The statue of "Sagrat Cor de Jesus" measures 23 metres and can be seen from a distance of several kilometres. It is an impressive white stalagmite of cement and stone.

Hardly anyone knows this monument exists and anyone who happens to catch a glance of it from a distance must ask themselves: "Why is there a pillar up there on the hill?" Only those who venture a little closer will realise what they are seeing. "It reminds me a little of Rio de Janeiro," some may think, and they are not mistaken.

"Sagrat Cor de Jesus, property of the bishopric, please behave respectfully", a sign in three languages reads. The cars of a few local residents are parked in the car park. At this early hour of the day, everything is silent and the majority of the houses and apartments look unoccupied. Jesus points heavenward on his pedestal: he weighs 4,300 kilos, is over 4.5 metres high and 60 years old. "It was a great day for the people of the island when the statue was officially inaugurated on the afternoon of 12th October, 1947," states the chronicle of the bishopric.

On the eve of the official celebration, the bells started to ring out in churches in communities across the island, and on Sunday, despite the rain, the faithful came in their droves, travelling from all four corners of the island in horse-drawn carts to watch the ceremony. Thousands of townsmen and women made their way on foot through the streets of Sant Antoni and up the hill, singing, praying and waving their flags as they went. Back then, there were almost no cars on Ibiza.

Ibiza's population has Bishop Antonio Cardona Riera, or "Frit", to thank for the statue of Christ. "In 1936, Bishop Cardona hid for several days in these hills and was able to survive the uprisings. He was a member of the "Cor de Jesus" community and had this monument built in its honour," reads the entry in the Island Council's encyclopaedia.

The Valencian sculptor Antoni Sanjuan was commissioned to create the statue of Christ. The pedestal and pillar were ordered from the Mallorcan construction company, Joan Serra, the Ibizan master builder Joan Costa led the construction team, and architect Guillermo Moragues dealt with the structural details. They were obviously all masters of their trade - because the monument has been standing up to the tests of time and weather for six decades.

Only the surrounding area has changed in the meantime: although you can still see as far as the old city, the harbour, Talamanca bay and Sant Rafel, many fields and farmland have given way to roads, new buildings and factories. The pine covered hill to the left of the main road between Eivissa and Sant Antoni, home to one of the island's main quarries, has all but disappeared. Even the names "Puig de na Ribas" or "Puig del Sagrat Cor de Jesus" have been updated and the location is now known as "Monte Cristo", as is the nearby industrial estate.

There is an alcove in the lower section of the pedestal that contains an altar. A collection of vases - some empty, some filled with flowers, chubby-cheeked angels, images of Christ, tea lights and candles have been placed under the large cross, proving that the island's faithful are drawn to this place. Visitors have scratched their names and crude hearts into the slabs of cement: Pepe, Juanito, Paquito, Javi - all of them seemingly in the hope that Jesus will bless their love.

Despite all of the changes that have taken place on Ibiza as we know it, Bishop Frit's former place of refuge still gives off a certain sense of peace and calm. Just a few feet away from the statue, a cluster of houses and apartments hug the hillside. Tiny alleyways and cobbled stairways lead up and down the hill to places like: Plaza del Sagrat Cor, Plaza de Santa Lucila, Carrer de Sant Jordi, Carrer de Sant Pere, Carrer de Sant Robert - there are many saints watching over the "Monte Cristo". It is a tranquil place with an atmosphere all of its own.

However, it is doubtful whether the statue of "Sagrat Cor de Jesus" will ever follow in the footsteps of its Brazilian cousin and turn into a tourist magnet - thank goodness. This isn't necessarily because the statue in Rio de Janeiro is sixteen years older and about 15 metres higher. In fact, it has more to do with the fact that tourists are far more interested in visiting Ibiza's beaches and bars than going to see a statue of Christ.

This does not deter the island's faithful who plan to organise an annual "pilgrimage" in future to "Sagrat Cor de Jesus" in memory of Jesus' love and Bishop "Frit".

For the first time ever after almost 60 years, an official celebration was held in June, 2006 to commemorate the construction of the monument. A short time ago, the community of Santa Eularia installed floodlights to mark its 60th anniversary and, ever since, the figure of Christ can be seen day and night in all of its glory. It's almost as if they wanted to compete with the garish spotlights of "Amnesia" and "Privilege". Both clubs can be seen from the hilltop.

"It is a sign that Jesus is always with us and that his love is all encompassing. A sign that can also be seen by people working late or who are out enjoying the nightlife," says the island's current bishop, Vicente Juan Segura. A concept that, considering the lessthan- Christian activities going on at night time, can certainly do no harm. No doubt Bishop Antonio Cardona Riera would have agreed with the underlying message, too"

So, here's how to get there: if you want to visit the statue, you're going to have to hone your scouting skills. Follow the main road from Eivissa to Sant Antoni and take a right towards the industrial zone after the "Hiper" supermarket. Keep driving straight ahead and uphill.

As soon as you see the "Carpintería Can Partit" on your left, take the next right up the hill. Don't expect to see any signposts, but you won't need them anyway because the statue of Christ will show you the way towards the place that commemorates a bishop's faith and gratitude for surviving a civil war, whose bloody aftermath was to leave no area unscathed - not even Ibiza.

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