Whether you’re just visiting Boston, or a long time resident trying to prove your knowledge of obscure local landmarks, I’ve found few attractions both more bizarre and breathtaking than the Madonna Queen of the Universe National Shrine. (Yes, you read that correctly. And no, unfortunately no relation to the queen of the pop music universe.)
This intimidatingly impressive 35-foot tall statue of the Madonna (i.e. a visual representation of the Virgin Mary) stands atop the height from which East Boston’s Orient Heights neighborhood was named. This Eastie icon marks the United States national headquarters of the Don Orione Order – which, despite the name, is not a secret cult like I initially hoped. It’s actually a charitable home of faith.
Even from a secular standpoint, this Madonna National Shrine – a full-size replica of the original statue from the Montemario district of Rome, Italy – is an inspiring must see. I visited for the first time with a friend last summer, with neither knowing what to expect.
We were greeted with the pleasant surprise of detailed sculpture work, intricate mosaics, and a unique alternative to the traditional Boston skyline view. From the top of Orient Heights, you look down onto East Boston and its marshlands, across the Boston Harbor, with the mainland city glimmering in the distance.
In summary: The Madonna Queen National Shrine is uniquely bizarre, unorthodox, and you can’t miss it for sure.