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Last Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006, 03:12 GMT 04:12 UK
Sanctuary status for Rio landmark
Statue of Christ in Rio
The famous landmark, atop a 710-metre mountain, towers over Rio
Brazilian church leaders have marked the 75th birthday of one of the world's best known landmarks - Rio de Janeiro's statue of Christ the Redeemer.

The site has been formally declared a Catholic sanctuary, which means that in future it can host religious ceremonies such as weddings and baptisms.

The statue's serene gaze over the city gives little hint of the Herculean effort that went into its construction.

Over 1,000 tons of materials had to be moved up the 700m high Corcovado hill.

Workers began transporting the stone and other building materials in 1922.

The statue was assembled at the top and officially opened on 12 October 1931.

Today the site is visited by more than 300,000 tourists each year, but the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro says it wants to reclaim what it calls the sacred sense of the monument.

So to mark the birthday, the statue was officially declared a Roman Catholic sanctuary, meaning couples will now be able to marry in a small chapel at the foot of the towering structure.

On Thursday hundreds of nuns and priests watched as the site was consecrated at a mass led by Archbishop Eusebio Scheid.

He read out a goodwill message from Pope Benedict XVI describing the Christ statue as a beacon of compassion and fatherly protection.

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