The Touching Story Behind Our Lady of the Rockies

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Close up of a religious statue

You’ll see famous statues across the world — immediately recognizable icons.

But a statue that may not make the list of the top ten most famous sculptures in the world but is one of the top five tallest statues in America is Our Lady of the Rockies in Butte, Montana. 

Let’s look closer at the beautiful story of love behind this artistic creation. Perhaps you’ll plan a visit to see this towering work of art in person. Let’s dive in!

What Is Our Lady of the Rockies?

Our Lady of the Rockies is a huge statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It took six years to build. In December 1979, the project began as a tribute to the Virgin Mary. By September 1985, construction began with the pouring of concrete. 

Just a few months later, on Dec. 17, 1985, the Nevada Air National Guard lifted the four sections of the statue with a sky crane. Thousands of residents watched this process until the head, the final section, was placed atop the statue. 

Where Is Our Lady of the Rockies?

High up on a mountain, the statue overlooks the city of Butte, Mont. You’ll find Butte where Interstate 90 and I-15 connect in southwest Montana.

It’s about an hour and a half south of Helena and about two and a half hours west of the Idaho border.

The base of Our Lady of the Rockies sits 8,510 feet above sea level and 3,500 feet above the town. At night, it lights up and casts a beautiful glow into the night sky.

The statue’s pure white color contrasts the darkness of the Rockies in which she stands.

How Tall Is Our Lady of the Rockies?

Our Lady of the Rockies is the third-tallest statue in the United States at 88.5 feet high. The base of the statue used 400 tons of concrete.

The Statue of Liberty in New York and the Pegasus and Dragon in Florida surpass it at 151 and 110 feet, respectively. However, the Birth of the New World statue in Puerto Rico has become the tallest in all of North America, standing 360 feet tall.

View of our lady of the rockies
Source: Wikipedia

Why Was Our Lady of the Rockies Built?

Originally, the idea for paying tribute to the Virgin Mary came when Butte resident Bob O’Bill’s wife, Joyce, was diagnosed with cancer. He vowed to build the statue to honor all mothers if she survived.  

Joyce shared in an interview with CNN in 1979 that “He was worried about raising our daughters by himself, and… well, he was worried about me.” 

Thankfully, Joyce did survive, and his idea started taking shape. Although he had initially envisioned a 5-foot statue, his pure joy came from stirring a much larger plan. 

Much of the construction resulted from the local community rallying behind the O’Bills. With money, materials, and labor donations, the 90-foot Our Lady of the Rockies took shape.

It stands high above the town of Butte. The land on which to place the statue was also donated.

Joyce further explains the love from the community: “They all got behind him and built it. I think each one of the guys and the people working on it felt that individual love for their mothers and their family. They all poured their love into her.”

Keep in Mind: If you’re looking for another piece of religious artwork to visit, then you need to learn about Salvation Mountain!

What Is the Mission of the Statue Today?

Although first conceived as a tribute to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Rockies now stands for women and mothers everywhere, regardless of religious belief.

A makeshift shrine at the statue contains personal mementos, stuffed animals, plaques, candles, and handwritten notes, all paying tribute to mothers.

The mission statement of Our Lady of the Rockies states, “To recognize the dignity of motherhood and the sacrificial love a mother has for her child, without regard to nationality or belief in a manner that honors all women and lifts the human spirit in love, peace, and joy.”

Visitors from all over the world come to the statue to honor their mothers and women in their lives.

What Is the Women’s Memorial Wall?

Next to the statue is a chapel and observatory. In 2001, volunteers started a Women’s Memorial Wall here where people could fill out dedication forms online to have their mothers’ names placed on the wall. 

This memorial continues to grow, with names pouring in worldwide, with over 15,000 name tiles to date. Many visitors come to Our Lady of the Rockies to find the name of their mothers and give thanks.

Have There Been Controversies Over the Religious Statue?

But like with any religious statue, Our Lady of the Rockies hasn’t existed without controversy.

Even though the statue represents mothers from all walks of life and doesn’t adhere to a particular religion or denomination, the figure’s location in a very visible public space has raised questions about the separation of church and state.

Ann Landers, the pen name used by Ruth Crowley at the Chicago Sun-Times, published a letter from a reader in March 1985 complaining about how “one religious group in Butte, Montana is forcing its religious beliefs on an entire city.” 

In addition, the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint against the Anaconda Job Corps because it contributed to the building of the chapel.

According to the complaint, using federal resources to construct a place of worship was not permitted.

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How Can You Visit Our Lady of the Rockies?

The road leading up to the mountaintop is closed to public traffic. Our Lady of the Rockies isn’t open to public walk-ins, but you can take a bus tour.

These private tours take about two and a half hours and include about an hour at the statue. 

The road to the mountain is rocky and filled with twists and turns, but it’s worth seeing this beautiful piece of art standing atop the town of Butte.

Is Our Lady of the Rockies Worth Visiting?

You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the story behind the construction of Our Lady of the Rockies. It’s a beautiful picture of a man who loved his wife. 

When you visit, you can bring something that represents your own mother to leave at the shrine. Or find her name tiled on the Women’s Memorial Wall. And pause to thank the women in your life who have shaped, encouraged, and taught you along your life’s journey.

Will you visit Our Lady of the Rockies when you travel through Montana?

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