At dawn, the heavy front doors are unlocked. Soon the familiar rhythm comes to life in the administration building at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Voices on the security guard's radio echo in the quiet corridors. A woman's heels clack against the marble floor. Students cut through on their way to classes. Physicians hurry to surgery.

It is here, at the intersection of six major hallways, underneath Hopkins' historic dome, that even the busiest people take a moment to pause in the presence of a towering statue of Christ.

One by one, dozens upon dozens reach out for a fleeting touch of the cool gray marble.

They place their palms on the statue's right foot or rub the long robe draped over Christ's muscular shoulders. Patients wearing slippers and dragging IV poles walk softly into the atrium, craning their necks to look up into the face of Christ.

They are seeking luck, power, faith, hope, and healing. They leave flowers, pictures and prayers at the statue's feet. Few will go away untouched. For in this citadel of high-tech medicine, the statue of Christ has evolved into a spiritual touchstone.

"You walk in, and you see those arms outstretched, and you know you're going to be all right. You feel like he's hugging you," whispered Sandra Keller, 52, a Delaware woman who is recovering from severe complications from a recent kidney transplant.

Perched on one of the two blue leather chairs placed near the statue, her hands shaking from medication, she savored the warm breeze coming from the open front door.

"I just feel like I've been enclosed in a nice little bubble of comfort, like no harm can come to me."

Called "Christus Consolator" or "The Divine Healer," the statue turns 100 this year, coinciding with an emerging national movement to infuse more spirituality into medicine.

"Pure technical care is wonderful, but we think that's incomplete," said Maryann Fralic, Hopkins' vice president for nursing, whose office is near the statue.

"You have a patient, you have a family. We get some of the sickest patients in the world. We need to be more than a technical facility."

Spiritual search

As part of its re-engineering effort, Hopkins has created a task force to integrate spirituality into every phase of health care, from admission to discharge.

Doctors see the statue as a physical embodiment of that compassion.

"In this day and age of the bottom line being the important thing, I think it's useful to have a piece of art that reminds us of what medicine is all about," said Dr. Victor A. McKusick, a pioneer in medical genetics who has been at Hopkins for 53 years.

Some surgeons stop by before going into the operating room to finger the hem of Christ's garment.

"The statue means something different to almost every person," said Clyde Shallenberger, who was the chaplain at Hopkins for 30 years. "It's just too big to be ignored."

Standing 10 1/2 feet, the sculpture was carved out of a single piece of fine Italian marble. It is a copy of a work by the Danish artist Bertel Thorwaldsen. Etched in its pedestal are the words: "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest."

Those who get lost in the hospital and stumble upon it find themselves compelled to return.