Healing Presents

Miniature copies of Hopkins' Christus Consolator, long a symbol of healing at the hospital, are in demand.

April 17, 2004|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The towering statue of Jesus has stood under the Johns Hopkins Hospital dome for more than a century as an icon of hope and healing.

Now it can stand in your living room, too.

The hospital gift shop is selling a smaller version of the 10 1/2 -foot marble sculpture, known as Christus Consolator, or "The Divine Healer."

Not that small, though. The statue, made of a marble composite, measures 21 inches high, weighs about 30 pounds and comes with a hefty price tag: $240.

"I bought it sight unseen, and I'm really not an impulsive buyer like that," said Colleen Cusick, a former emergency room nurse at the hospital who now works for Hopkins Health System as a nursing career specialist.

Cusick, 45, used to walk past the larger-than-life statue every day on her way to work. Her office was on the Dome building's second floor, where she could look down on Jesus' marble head.

"It's sort of one of the embodiments of Hopkins," she said of the statue. "Everybody knows it. It's the landmark. Everybody gets it on the tour."

Truth be told, the gift shop wasn't sure whether the smaller statue would sell, so its first order - which arrived just after Christmas - was for just six. Those went quickly. The next order of 12 was also snatched up.

"People are buying them without a blink," said an admittedly surprised Irene Voxakis, assistant manager at the gift shop, the profits of which go back into hospital care.

One buyer took the statue right out of the box, put it on a cart and wheeled it upstairs to her husband's hospital room, where she had it blessed by a priest.

At least a half-dozen customers are waiting for the next shipment of statues to arrive. There's no way the shop can order more than 12 at once, Voxakis said, because there isn't enough room to store them. Only one is on display; it's kept in a glass case and is not for sale.

The sculpture under Hopkins' historic dome - where countless people have come to pray, leave flowers or just meet colleagues - is a replica of an 1820 work by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorwaldsen, housed today in Copenhagen's Church of Our Lady cathedral.

Some have found it odd that a secular institution would display a Christian religious image with such prominence. But when the statue was erected in 1896, that was, in large part, the point.

The first president of Hopkins' hospital and university, Daniel C. Gilman, liked Thorwaldsen's statue and appealed for someone to donate a copy - apparently to stifle criticism that the institution had been founded without religious affiliation. A wealthy trustee agreed, and contributed some $5,300 to cover the cost.

Theobald Stein, director of the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen, was commissioned to carve the work. The finished sculpture, made from a single block of marble, arrived in Baltimore by ship and was carried up from the wharf on a wooden sled pulled by a quartet of horses. It was so big the main hospital doors had to be removed to fit it inside.

The history of the miniature statues is, predictably, more prosaic.

Always looking for new customers, Victoria Karpos, founder of Salt Lake City-based MARBLECast Products Inc., saw a picture of the Hopkins statue on the hospital's Web site and contacted the public affairs office.

She thought the board of trustees might want to use a smaller version of Thorwaldsen's work - which she had been selling for years - as a gift for substantial donors. "It's a beautiful piece," she said. "Once I saw that they had it, I said, `I bet they're going to go crazy over [the miniature].' "

Instead, the gift shop decided to sell the smaller version - with one change. Hopkins wanted Karpos to add the words etched into its statue's pedestal: "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest."

As a result, all the statues bound for Baltimore come with a special base with an inscription plate.

The Christus had been part of MARBLECast's collection for almost a decade - in large part because of its popularity in the Salt Lake area. One of the visitor centers at the city's Temple Square contains an 11-foot replica of the Thorwaldsen statue, making it something of a local icon.

"Any Mormon that you meet, you'll say, `Do you know the Christus statue?' and they say they do," said Karpos, who keeps one on her piano at home.

Last year, she said, MARBLECast sold 1,500 made-to-order copies. Without the Hopkins inscription, they're available for $189.95 on the company Web site (statues.com).

Maura Grega, a nurse in the cardiac surgery unit at Hopkins, bought one from the gift shop for her 73-year-old mother, who visits the Christus in the rotunda whenever she comes to see her daughter at the hospital.

Grega admits it wasn't cheap - she split the cost with her brother as a combined Mother's Day and birthday gift - but knew what the Hopkins sculpture meant to her mom.

"She said it was very emotional to see it," Grega explained.

The statue has also had personal meaning to Cusick and her family. Her husband, Michael, 44, visited the rotunda repeatedly a few years ago while he was at Hopkins for a battery of tests, followed by surgery. He would place his hand on Jesus' foot, then sit quietly in the atrium.

"It's a very trying time. You're emotionally drained. Physically, you're drained, because you have all the tests. ... It was very comforting," Michael Cusick said. "That burden was just taken off your shoulders for a short amount of time."

By coincidence, the Cusicks are spending three days in Copenhagen this summer before a cruise of the Baltics. They wouldn't consider missing a chance to see Thorwaldsen's original Christus.

Said Michael: "We've already got that planned out."

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