I have always had a love for the Christus. I remember walking with my mother in an unexpected snowstorm from our hotel to the North Visitor's Centre on Temple Square. We fought against the strong wind—the snow whipping our faces as we were determined to view the Christus. I’ll never forget walking up the ramp towards this extraordinary representation of the Saviour. I still recall the power of the Spirit each time I reflect upon this experience.
Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé shared another example: “On a sunny spring day in 2017, the open house for the Paris France Temple was well underway when one of the tour guides was approached by a man with a sorrowful expression on his face. He said he lived next to the temple and admitted he had been an active opponent of its construction. He related that one day as he was gazing out of his apartment window, he watched a large crane lower a statue of Jesus from the heavens and softly place it on the temple grounds. The man declared that this experience completely changed his feelings toward our Church” (“A Living Witness of the Living Christ,” Ensign, May 2020, 25).
There is a palpable influence that beckons viewers to “come unto Christ” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:59) that emanates from the marble creation of the Christus.
Deepening Our Desire to Live the Gospel More Fully
The history of Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Christus statue and its acquisition by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as part of its official symbol is filled with evidence of the Lord’s watchful eye upon His Kingdom here upon the earth. This history demonstrates how the Lord can use afflictions and tragedies “His wonders to perform” (“God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” Hymns, no. 285). The Lord brought the work of a sculptor, a cemetery manager, and an apostle together to accomplish this wonder. Each was an integral instrument in the hands of the Lord.
The commission to create the Christus was an opportunity to create “beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:3). The Church of Our Lady, now known as the Copenhagen Cathedral in Denmark, had been destroyed by war. For the rebuilding, famous Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen was asked to create sculptures of Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles.
Thorvaldsen had been well prepared for this opportunity. As a youth preparing for exams, he had practiced composing subjects from the Old and New Testaments. He expressed himself best with a chisel as he created his ideas in marble. This commission was a heroic effort that involved several co-workers over many years. The installation of the statues in the Church of Our Lady was not completed until 1848. Beneath the Christus, chiseled in marble, are the words of the Saviour,” Come unto me” (Matthew 11:28).
This statue of the resurrected Christ, commonly referred to as Thorvaldsen’s Christus, has had a powerful impact upon the hearts of apostles and prophets and many people across generations of time. Elder M. Russell Ballard regards it as a spiritual beacon, 'This stunning work of art captures the loving, benevolent spirit of the resurrected Lord, His arms outstretched, kindly beckoning all to come unto Him' (“Festive Lights Reflect Love of Christ,” Church News, Dec. 1, 1990).
A Cemetery Manager
In 1917, Hubert Lewright Eaton stood before a barren depressing cemetery in Southern California. He had recently lost a million dollars and was in need of a job. This was to be a turning point in his life. As he stood there, his heart was filled with compassion for the grieving people that would visit this cemetery. He was inspired to create a place that was dedicated to eternal life and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This became his life’s work.
He acquired many magnificent pieces of art all depicting the life of the Saviour. He had a deep desire to find a representation of Jesus Christ that reflected the love of Christ and His resurrection. He made a trip to Europe and met with the great sculptors of his time. On a trip to Copenhagen, just prior to World War II, Eaton visited the Copenhagen Cathedral and was spellbound by the beauty and compassion of the Christus. He immediately contacted authorities and ordered a reproduction for the Forest Lawn cemetery.
When the Christus was completed, Eaton sent instructions for it to be shipped to America. They waited and prayed. No one knows how the Christus made its way through battle lines and war-torn countries. After four years, it arrived on the docks of Genoa, Italy.
The statue was over ten feet tall and weighed several tons, but through the miracle of God it was protected from destruction and theft. Several months after peace was declared, the Christus finally arrived at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in California.
In 1912, Stephen L. Richards was asked by President Joseph F. Smith to create a cemetery for the Church in Salt Lake City. Elder Richards, who was later called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, visited many cemeteries. One of these was Forest Lawn in California where Elder Richards met and became friends with Hubert Eaton.
Thirty years later, Elder Richards visited the Copenhagen Cathedral where he had an inspirational experience with the Christus. The idea was born to have a reproduction of this statue on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Elder Richard’s friendship with Hubert Eaton was the path through which arrangements were made to have a studio in Italy reproduce the Christus from white marble.
Since that first acquisition in 1959, multiple Christus statues have continued to invite all to come to and be accepted by the inviting arms of Jesus Christ.
An Official Church Symbol
During the April 2020 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced:
“To help us remember Him and to identify The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the “Lord’s Church”, we are pleased to introduce a symbol that will signify the central place of Jesus Christ in His Church.
“This symbol includes the name of the Church contained within a cornerstone. Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone.
“At the center of the symbol is a representation of Thorvaldsen’s marble statue the Christus. It portrays the resurrected, living Lord reaching out to embrace all who will come unto Him.
“Symbolically, Jesus Christ is standing under an arch. The arch reminds us of the resurrected Savior emerging from the tomb on the third day following His Crucifixion.
“This symbol should feel familiar to many, as we have long identified the restored gospel with the living, resurrected Christ.
“The symbol will now be used as a visual identifier for official literature, news, and events of the Church. It will remind all that this is the Savior’s Church and that all we do as members of His Church centers on Jesus Christ and His gospel” (“Opening the Heavens for Help,” Ensign, May 2020, 37).
Deepening Our Faith
When I heard President Nelson’s announcement, my heart leapt with joy and reaffirmed my testimony. My love for Jesus Christ has deepened as I have researched the creation of this marvellous piece of art and its acquisition by the restored Church of Jesus Christ. It is my hope that by sharing a portion of the history of the Christus, faith in Jesus Christ can be increased and strengthened.