Travel writer Jay Martin writes: Australia is a Big Place. I’m not talking landmass, although we’ve got plenty of that. But rather, our Thing for Big Things. The Big Avocado of Durinbah. Sarina’s Big Cane Toad. The Big Poo of Kiama (a show of community support for recycled water). To name just a few.
We build Very Large Objects. And having built them, we duly perform pilgrimages to them, often in the course of family driving holidays. Who wouldn’t recognise some variation on the theme, “First the Big Banana Educational Presentation, then the beach”, barked by dad in the front seat, as an inescapable part of the Australian summer holiday experience?
So I like to think it was some innate cultural legacy calling to me when I heard that the World’s Biggest Jesus was being officially opened in Swiebodzin, western Poland, last Sunday, and I immediately knew I’d be there. If not, then it means it’s just me. And that’s a bit worrying. But regardless, the five hour drive each way from my current home in Warsaw certainly wasn’t enough to stop me.
For hundreds of years the town of Swiebodzin (population about 21,000) has been remarkable probably for being largely unremarkable. Lying about 60 kms from the German border, between Warsaw and Berlin but without great connections to either, it’s been going about its business largely undisturbed. Yet a single priest with an idea that was ‘just so crazy it might work’ has changed all that. Move over, Rio de Janeiro. Stand aside, Bolivia and your Cristo de la Concordia. Swiebodzin (‘shvye-BOD-jin’) is now the official home of the World’s Biggest Jesus.
At 33 metres high (one for every year of Jesus’ life), Swiebodzin’s plaster and fibreglass ‘Christ the King’ pips the former title holder, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer, by around 3 metres (and, incidentally, Cairns’ Big Captain Cook by a whopping 26), although you have to add his crown before he beats Bolivia’s Christ of Peace. Designing and building him took nine years, and was largely driven by one local priest Rev. Sylwestr Zawadzki, who raised the $1.5 million it cost entirely from private donations.
It’s clearly an exceptional effort on many levels. Yet I was a bit disappointed at first. My travelling companion and I, having finally arrived, stood at his Big Sandaled Feet and cocked our heads. “I just thought he’d be bigger,”she said. I had to agree.
Perhaps part of my response stemmed from its location. While Rio’s statue looms over a sprawling megalopolis from a mountain top, the Polish Jesus rises from a field of cabbages, located (conveniently) across the road from the local Tesco supermarket. I guess each city was inspired by what they had to work with.
But is it because the Giant Ram of Wagin is “gigantic” (broadly defined) that I once drove two and a half hours to see it? Or that it’s in a stunning location? Of course not. It’s a bit naff. But it’s there. And, well, sometimes that’s enough. Big Things, like life, are more about the journey than the destination.
And it was impossible not to be swept along by the enthusiasm of so many of those at the opening. “Imagine, the ruler of the universe — on Polish soil!” said one member of a delegation from Kielce, in southern Poland, recognisable by their billowing red capes. “It’s beautiful, just beautiful,” said another, standing proudly beside his wife and two children, barely able to tear his eyes away.
One of the goals of the project was to bring more tourists — and their spending power — to the little town. If the Australian experience is anything to go by, it’s a strategy that might just work. “We just came to see what it was about,” said one German who’d come across for the event, munching on some hearty pork stew. Does he think other tourists will come to see it? “More than would have before,” he shrugged.
As probably the first Australian visitor, I’ve got the (big) Antipodeans ball rolling. And what with the Australian cultural appetite for such things, I fully expect the odd station wagon to now trundle into Swiebodzin, with dad in front barking, in that characteristically Australian fashion: “First Big Jesus, then EuroDisney.”
Although if you’re planning a trip, you might want to make it soon. Some hold doubts that the statue’s foundations will actually hold the 400 tonne structure up for long. As such, Swiebodzin’s entry in the record book may well go the way of the original Big Axe of Kew (NSW), which fell down after being eaten by ants.
“I would prefer to be living in a normal country,” AP reports cite one local as commenting.
But where would be the fun in that?
Jay Martin is a travel writer and editor from Canberra who has somehow ended up in Warsaw, Poland. You can find more of her writings here.