Giant Jesus statue completed in Polish town

White statue in Swiebodzin provides competition to Rio`s Christ the Redeemer.

Swiebodzin: A gigantic statue of Jesus that Poles claim is the world`s largest rose majestically above a small town, as the grandiose dream of a local priest finally came to pass.

The white statue with outstretched arms and golden crown rising above the western Polish plains in Swiebodzin provides competition to Rio de Janiero`s iconic Christ the Redeemer.

The mayor of the western Polish town, Dariusz Bekisz, claims it is now the world`s tallest.

Rev Sylwester Zawadzki, the 78-year-old priest who created the statue said it rises 33 meters, one meter for every year that Jesus lived. Other members of the construction team, however, gave differing figures. One said it rises 51 meters if you include a mound it sits on and the crown on the head.

By comparison, the statue in Brazil`s Rio is 38 meters tall.

While it wasn`t possible to verify the exact height of the new statue, there was no doubt that "Christ the King”, as the golden-crowned Polish statue is called, cut an imposing sight as it was finally completed yesterday.

It has divided Poles and underlined the deep cultural divide between a deeply Catholic population and an increasingly confident secular society with many mocking the statue project as tacky.

But many residents in Swiebodzin welcome it. They believe it will put their town of 22,000 on the map for tourists and Roman Catholic pilgrims and bring in needed money to renovate the historic buildings in the tiny town centre.

"I am extremely proud," said Danuta Gordzelewska, a 60-year-old who watched as the statue`s head was lowered into place.

Gordzelewska has donated money to the statue, which was funded by contributions from as far away as Canada. "It`s special to watch something being built that later generations will have."

After many delays, a crane last morning lifted the arms and shoulders and slowly placed them onto the figure`s lower body. Hours later, workers hoisted on the head, which is crowned with a golden king`s crown rather than the crown of thorns favoured in Christian iconography.

Hundreds of onlookers then broke into applause, and some prayed, grasping rosaries. Workers in safety helmets and neon vests gathered at the base of the statue for a group photo, and Rev Sylwester Zawadzki, the 78-year-old priest who created the statue, waded into an adoring crowd.

"I have never been as happy as I am today," he said, beaming but clearly exhausted after seeing through the project that experienced setbacks and delays.