One hundred years ago this week, "The Divine Healer," the majestic statue of Christ donated to the Johns Hopkins Hospital by Baltimore merchant and philanthropist William Wallace Spence, was unveiled.
Spence couldn't possibly have envisioned the lasting emotional effect that his 1896 gift to the Johns Hopkins Hospital of sculptor Bertel Thorwaldsen's Christ statue would have upon patients who came to the world-famed East Baltimore medical institution seeking relief from illness and disease.
"One by one, dozens upon dozens reach out for a fleeting touch of the cool gray marble. They are seeking luck, power, faith, hope, and healing," wrote Sun medical reporter Diana K. Sugg last May.
"They leave flowers, pictures, 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."
The setting for the majestic statue with outstretched hands that stands under the dome of the administration building and faces the Broadway entrance of the hospital was selected by its donor.
Christ the Consoler, Christus Consolator, with its inscription from Matthew 11: 28 -- "COME unto ME All Ye That Are Weary And Heavy Laden And I Will Give You REST" -- portrays the risen Christ, with open arms and deep nail marks in the hands and feet.
It was cut from a single block of Carrara marble and is a replica of Danish sculptor Thorwaldsen's original work, which was done in Rome in 1820.
The Johns Hopkins replica was completed in 1896 by Professor Stein, a sculptor and director of the Danish Royal Academy of Arts. It weighed 6 tons at completion and was set upon a pedestal weighing 3 tons that had been designed and carved by South Baltimore stonemason Hugh Sisson.
Sisson's grandson, who bears his name today, is the founder and owner of South Baltimore's Clipper City Brewing Co.
"On a visit to Copenhagen I saw the great work of Thorwaldsen, his ideal conception in marble, of 'Christ, the Divine Healer.' It impressed me more than did any statue I had ever seen, and I think this is the general experience of those who have had the good fortune to see it," said Spence at the statue's dedication Oct. 14, 1896.
"Later on, the thought came into my heart how eminently appropriate it would be to have this ideal statue placed where it now stands, in the centre of this hall, under the lofty dome of this great hospital.
"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, and as it were saying to him, 'Come unto Me and I will give you rest.' I thought it might help to comfort some sad and weary one and HTC lead his heart and thoughts up to the ever-lasting Divine Healer, Who alone could give that rest," said Spence.
William T. Dixon, speaking for the hospital trustees, said, "And not only are the outstretched hands of this Christus Consolator held out to this company, this community and the people of this age, but they will remain extended to tens of thousands of the generations yet to come."
Emily Riggs, a great-granddaughter of Spence, pulled the coverings from the statue.
Admiration and laughter
The Sun reported that "the spectators burst out into expressions of admiration at the first glimpse of the beneficent character of the sculptor's conception so finely wrought in marble, but the little child who had revealed all of the chiseled beauty to their eyes was unmindful of the interest she created, and during the address of President [Daniel Coit] Gilman, which followed, her childish treble was several times heard as she laughed gleefully alongside the platform erected by the statue."
More than 800 invited guests witnessed the ceremony.
"A landing halfway up the broad stairs in the rear of the statue was occupied by a number of invalid chairs containing convalescent patients of the hospital, while on the upper tiers around the rotunda were white-capped nurses and visitors," said The Sun.
"I cannot say in Mr. Spence's presence what I would say in tribute to him. He has told you how the erection of this statue gratifies a wish I expressed seven years ago," said Gilman.
"Let me put on my wishing cap again and hope that as long as Baltimore lives and is flourishing, it may have the presence, the influence, the co-operation of such men as William Wallace Spence."
The ceremony then closed with the singing by a male quartet of a hymn by Whittier.
Spence, who had crossed the ocean at 18 in the 1830s with a $100 stake from his father, became an influential Baltimore financier, director of philanthropic enterprises and supporter of the Presbyterian Church.
He also donated to the city a statue of his hero, the Scottish patriot William Wallace, who with drawn sword still stands guard over the reservoir in Druid Hill Park.
He died in 1915 at 100, leaving an estate of $1.7 million, but he is most remembered for his civic generosity and modesty.
Pub Date: 10/13/96