Pilgrims would bend down to kiss the foot of the statue and over the years the metal wore away so that the toes blend in with the rest of the foot. Nowadays most visitors touch the toe instead of kiss it, but the feet are still worn down with the human contact.
When we visited there was a steady stream of visitors passing by the statue, some hurrying on to see the next thing, some pausing to say a prayer and others posing to have their photo taken. It’s a way to find some personal meaning in a place where one might otherwise be overwhelmed by the scale and magnificence of it all.
I’m glad that visitors can get close enough to make contact in this way – it would be a pity if all the beautiful objects were shut away behind glass like Michaelangelo’s Pietà, which was protected after someone took a hammer to it.
It somehow misses the point of why such religious works of art were created in the first place.