Behind the winding roads and hilly terrain of East Boston’s Orient Heights, stands the most breath-taking landmark that my city has to offer- the Madonna “Queen of the Universe” statue. At 35-feet tall, the bronze statue of Our Lady Madonna stands tall against the backdrop of Boston’s inner city skyline, as she overlooks the streets of East Boston. Thousands of visitors travel to her every year, and the view of inner Boston from below is unparalleled. According to Best of Boston back in 2017, the Madonna statue was “One of the most overlooked tourist destinations” of the city of Boston. Despite her grandeur, this holy statue is often missed by many visitors of the area and doesn’t gain the exposure that such an historic landmark like her deserves today.
Surrounding the glorious statue are vibrantly colored mosaics that depict various biblical scenes and an entirely granite pillar behind her. She stands upon a copper globe, where her granite backdrop and what looks like a golden crown above her head, can be seen from Logan Airport and a large majority of the city. For a number of lucky individuals, this historic sight instantly reminds them of the rich religious history East Boston has to offer. I am one of those lucky individuals who can actually see the statue from her bedroom window, and my friends and I would often find ourselves watching the planes fly above her at night, fearing her crown would somehow touch the planes. Our Lady Madonna asserts her godly power upon the world below, and is a landmark that often reminds the young citizens of East Boston of a time before all of us were even born.
Located at 150 Orient Ave, the Madonna statue is the leading lady of the Catholic faith center that has dominated the area for over half a century. The statue was originally unveiled before a crowd of about 10,000 East Boston citizens back in the year 1954 by the Don Orione Fathers. It had originally been placed in front of the Don Orione retirement home, but due to renovations some years later, the Fathers moved the holy lady across the street to the plaza. This way, the statue would remain an important part of their Catholic congregation while also having its own space to be adored by millions of people. Madonna “Queen of the Universe” is an exact replica of the 35 ft tall Madonna of the Order (known as La Madonna di Monte Mario in Italy) statue that overlooks Rome upon the hill of Monte Mario. Both of these statues were sculpted by a Jewish sculptor named Arrigo Minerbi who sought refuge from the Nazis with the Catholic church during World War II.
Back in the early 1940s, the Nazi’s invaded Italy and arrested about 8,000 Italian Jews. However, Arrigo Minerbi was not one of those arrested, because the Don Orione Institution of Rome gave Minerbi’s refuge in their church by disguising him as one of the Catholic Priests. Minerbi and his family were given salvation by the Don Orione Fathers of Rome and protected against the Nazis. As a way to honor the Fathers for saving his life, Minerbi sculpted the original La Madonna di Monte Mario for them in Rome of 1953. Upon the request of Boston’s governor John Volpe and the Don Orione Fathers of Boston, Minerbi excitedly agreed to create a replica for East Boston as well. Thus, East Boston’s Queen of the Universe was born.
In addition to the Madonna Queen National Shrine, the Don Orione Fathers have built a catholic sanctuary into the statue. The sanctuary is definitely a hidden gem of the Catholic community in the area. It serves multiple religious purposes to the community around it, as well as those who choose to practice their faith right inside of the shrine. Our larger than life Madonna is a reminder of faith for the residents of both the Don Orione home and religious prospects of East Boston. The sanctuary physically functions underground, right below the plaza that Madonna “Queen of the Universe” overlooks. The sanctuary is home to a multitude of spiritual activities, and still holds weekly masses decades after being built in the 1980s. Inside of the sanctuary, visitors and worshippers will be exposed to more colorful mosaics, beautiful biblical artwork, and wonderful people eager to share this place of worship with the outside world. Clearly, the Madonna Shrine holds a great spiritual and historical significance to the city of East Boston- capturing the hearts of every person who has had the pleasure of standing in her presence.
Rome, S. of. (2012, February 28). La Madonna di Monte Mario. Retrieved April 17, 2020, from http://sightsofrome.blogspot.com/2012/02/la-madonna-di-monte-mario.html
East Boston, Massachusetts: Madonna Queen of the Universe National Shrine ~ The Catholic Travel Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2020, from https://thecatholictravelguide.com/destinations/u-s-a/catholic-sites-boston-massachusetts/east-boston-massachusetts-madonna-queen-universe-national-shrine/
Parks, G. N. (2018, July 5). Madonna Queen of the Universe National Shrine, East Boston, Massachusetts. Retrieved April 17, 2020, from https://pillarsfoundations.blogspot.com/2018/07/madonna-queen-of-universe-national.html
Hovanasian, D. (2019, July 13). Statue of Madonna beckons to Boston and beyond. Retrieved April 17, 2020, from https://www.lowellsun.com/2006/07/29/statue-of-madonna-beckons-to-boston-and-beyond/
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2020, from https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/italy