The Healing Statue of Hope
The story behind the Christus Consolator statue at Johns Hopkins Hospital and how it will resemble faith and hope for many.
In her story The Healer, about battling depression and getting help at the renowned Johns Hopkins medical center, Therese Borchard talks about being comforted by her unexpected sighting of the Christus Consolator statue—a ten-and-a-half-foot-tall marble statue of Jesus—in the hospital’s administration building.
The statue’s pedestal has an inscription from Matthew 11:28: “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
“What was a statue of Jesus doing here?” Therese wondered. “I knew that Johns Hopkins had been founded by a Quaker in the nineteenth century, but this was the last thing I had expected to see today at the cutting-edge medical center.”
We wondered too, so we did some digging.
It turns out the statue was a gift from Scottish immigrant turned successful Baltimore businessman William Wallace Spence. Spence was an associate of Johns Hopkins and in Mr. Hopkins’s later years, part of his inner circle of friends. He supported Mr. Hopkins’s plans for the hospital and university and made numerous contributions to the institutions.
According to The Johns Hopkins Medical Journal, Spence visited the Frue Kirke cathedral in Copenhagen, where he saw the Christus Consolator statue by sculptor Bertel Thorwaldsen. Spence was awestruck. He commissioned an exact replica and presented it to the hospital in October 1896.
“The thought came into my heart how eminently appropriate it would be to have this ideal statue placed where it now stands, in the center of this hall, under the lofty dome of this great hospital,” he said. “To every weary sufferer entering these doors, the first object presented to him is this benign, gracious figure, looking down upon him with pitying eyes and outstretched arms.”
The unveiling of the statue was a big event. The mayor of Baltimore attended as well as members of the City Council, hospital staff and 700 guests.
The Rev. Jere Witherspoon, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, led a prayer evoking images of Christ as healer and minister to the sick.
According to the minutes of the hospital trustees, “As the loosened drapery fell and the divine figure stood revealed, the effect upon the audience of this presence was so impressive that they were awed into silent admiration, rather than moved to applause.”
W. T. Dixon, president of the hospital’s board of trustees, said, “This ‘Divine Healer’ [is] just where it can be seen by all who may enter…thus affording them the opportunity to derive comfort, courage and hope from its contemplation. And not only are the outstretched hands of this Christus Consolator held out to this company, community and the people of this age, but they will remain extended to tens of thousands of the generations yet to come.”
That was certainly the case for Therese Borchard more than a century later.