A Place in Florida – The Lure of the Underwater Jesus

There’s a place in Florida where every year hundreds of people get married – or ‘buried’ – and it’s not a church, not a cemetery. This place in Florida is entirely under water. You would not expect it to be one of Florida’s most popular attractions, since visitors have to go under water to see it. (The water is shallow enough so you can snorkel or you can dive to see it.)

It’s an 8½-foot bronze sculpture of Jesus Christ — Christ of the Abyss — that stands in 25 feet of water in the Florida Keys. It has been seen by millions since it was placed there Aug. 25, 1965, making it one of the most popular underwater sites in the world.

With Christ’s arms outstretched toward the surface (or the heavens), the 4,000-pound statue sits on a 10-ton concrete slab in one of the world’s few underwater parks, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, about six miles east-northeast of Key Largo Cut. It’s said that the statue’s pose is a peace offering.

Even before it was dedicated, the statue was tested two weeks after it was (painstakingly) put in the water, when Hurricane Betsy slammed the Florida Keys. It passed the test; it stood its ‘ground’. John Pennekamp himself, a Miami newspaper editor who helped preserve the park named for him, helped dedicate the statue.

The statue is a copy of ‘Il Cristo Degli Abssi’, placed in the Mediterranean Sea near Genoa, Italy, in 1954. The original was cast by artist Guido Galletti. There is another copy in Grenada in the Caribbean.

In 1961, without knowing where its final resting place would be, Italian SCUBA entrepreneur Egidi Cressi commissioned the Key Largo casting from the original mold and donated the result to the Underwater Society of America. It was created to celebrate the establishment of the world’s first underwater park.

The statue wound up in storage in Chicago, waiting for a home. Florida Sen. Spessard Holland heard about it and helped John Pennekamp park to be chosen as its final resting place.

After a time under water, bronze deteriorates, but that’s not what caused a hand to fall off in 2003, nor was it somebody’s ashes. A misplaced anchor was the culprit. Its counterpart in Italy earlier had suffered the same fate, for the same reason. (No, it wasn’t vandalized by Satanists, as some believe.) In both cases, it took more than a year to replace the hands.

If you’d like to see the statue, but you don’t dive or snorkel – or even swim – you can see a bronze replica of it at St. Justins Martyr Catholic Church at Mile Marker 105.5 in Key Largo.

Or, if you’d like to get married or ‘buried’ at this place in Florida, there are commercial establishments in the Keys to help you. If marriage is in your plans, you may have to wait in line. More than 200 weddings are performed at the statue every year.

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