Back in May 2022, I visited the Christian Science Plaza in Boston, Massachusetts to walk through the “How Do You See the World?” Experience and Mapparium. The terminology involving the buildings around this plaza, along with the religious organization that owns and maintains the area, are somewhat confusing, so I will explain the context before describing the museum.
Within the Christian Science Plaza are three main buildings: Mary Baker Eddy Library, the Mother Church, and the Christian Scientist Publishing House. The Mary Baker Eddy Library received its name from the founder or “discoverer” of Christian Science, a charismatic and independent woman who lived in New Hampshire and Massachusetts from 1821 to 1910. (A brief biography of her life can be found on the Christian Science website and on the Library website.) The Mother Church hosts services on Sundays and Wednesdays like mainline Christian churches. The space also contains The Mother Church Reading Room, a combination of bookstore and meditative place kept open to the public, as these reading rooms are common features of Christian Science worship centers found throughout the world.
For my visit, the most important section was the Christian Scientist Publishing House, the home of the Christian Scientist Publishing Society, whose best known publication is the Christian Science Monitor, along with multiple magazines, hymnals, books, and online events. This area also houses the “How Do You See the World?” Experience, where the Mapparium is located along with other exhibits.
The Mapparium is a three-story-tall stained glass inverted globe built in 1935 and never updated, with its first public use on May 31 of that year. As of 2003, the structure is trademarked, so non-commercial video and photography of the structure are not permitted during tours. The shape and material of the structure create unusual acoustics, amplifying the sounds made by the tour guide and visitors. The tour itself is a brief lights-and-sound show using LED bulbs hidden behind the glass. A prerecorded narrator cheerfully describes the work of Mary Baker Eddy and the Christian Scientists, along with recent world history, while emphasizing the need for people to work together.
While I enjoyed being inside the globe and admired the phenomenal production quality, I found the tour light on material, more suitable for school groups and families than someone interested in learning about its construction, restoration, and modern implications of the outdated globe. Another factor to keep in mind is that the flashing lights and loud audio may be unsuitable for someone with a sensory processing disorder or epilepsy.
For me, the highlights of the experience were the galleries surrounding the Mapparium. The high-tech exhibits juxtaposed the elegant architecture of the building in a way that added to the design. At the end of the Mapparium tour was “Our World: Mapping Progress”, a room with monolithic touchscreens sharing popular articles from the Christian Science Monitor, where images and audio bring global stories to life. A large map on the wall highlights stories of progress for human rights. In the entry way, near the desk where visitors purchase tickets for the Mapparium tour, are two massive touchscreens. One plays a continuous video explaining the history of Christian Science, while the other allows visitors to search the archives of the Christian Science monitor. The technology is user friendly, so young children and grandparents alike can enjoy watching and searching.
On the opposite side of the lobby is “Christian Science and Mary Baker Eddy”, an exhibit including a brief documentary on the life of Mary Baker Eddy, a wall depicting covers of Christian Science publications, a pair of interactive digital books, and a seating area equipped with tablets for reading Christian Science publications. The digital books, created by local digital design company Winikur Productions, were my favorite part of the exhibit. Projectors and light sensors cast images and video onto the printed fabric pages of the books to further explain the life and work of Mary Baker Eddy. The process of reading the books was intuitive, as the projection prompted me where to touch the page and when to turn the page. I would love to see more of this remarkable technology in the future.
In my experience, every aspect of the Christian Science Plaza was top quality, including the “How Do You See the World?” exhibit, outdoor plaza, and reading room. The regularly scheduled guided tours of the Mapparium plus the additional interactives make it an excellent rainy-day trip for families and school groups. Even the women’s bathroom was spectacular, as its cleanliness and fun design make it among the best in Boston. The staff and docents were highly knowledgeable and attentive to guests. Visitors more interested in the Mapparium than the religious aspects of the exhibits should be aware that many employees are Christian Scientists who freely speak about their faith. The cost to tour the Mapparium is $6 for adults and free for both children under 18 and members of the New England Museum Association (NEMA). Visitors who travel by car should park in the garage below Northeastern University and present the parking ticket to the front desk to receive a rate of $17 for the full day.
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Abby Epplett has an MA in Museum Education from Tufts University and currently works as a park ranger for the National Park Service at Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas.