The Court of Justice of São Paulo has authorized the construction of a statue of Our Lady in Aparecida, after a more than two year legal battle involving an association of atheists who wanted to prevent the installation of the Marian image.

The monumental stainless steel statue donated by artist Gilmar Pinna in 2017 is about 165 feet tall, nearly 65 feet taller than Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer. The pieces of the work, which remained in the construction stage, are located near the Rodovia Presidente Dutra, the main highway between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

In October 2019 Judge Luciene Ferreira Allemand ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed by the Brazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics to prohibit the installation of the work, alleging the supposed use of public funds and the alleged donation of municipal land to promote the Catholic faith, which would be detrimental to the secular state.

However, the city appealed the decision, and on March 9 the judges of the Ninth Chamber of Private Law of the Court of Justice of São Paulo reversed the ruling and determined that the work of art is justified because the main economic focus of Aparecida is religious tourism, which attracts thousands of people and promotes local commerce.

The judges also noted that at that time the principle of secularism of the state was not violated by the mayor.

"Aparecida is the Marian capital of Brazil, and this judicial decision recognized the religiosity of the Brazilian people," the mayor said following the ruling.

The court order also ruled that five other sculptures of Our Lady of Aparecida, built by the same artist and placed in different parts of the city in 2017 on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the discovery of the original image of the Virgin, should not be removed.

It is traditionally held that the original statue of Our Lady of Aparecida, which is housed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida, was found in 1717 by three fishermen who, after praying to Our Lady, miraculously caught many fish after a morning of no catches.

Miguel da Costa Carvalho Vidigal, a lawyer and the director of the Union of Catholic Jurists of Sao Paulo, hailed the decision of the Ninth Chamber of Private Law, "first, because the national order was respected, to the detriment of the judicial activism so present in our days.”

More in Americas

And “second, because the history of our country, so closely linked to the Catholic religion, has been preserved,” he added.