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The Look of Mormon

Understanding the New Mormon Temple in Rome

Despite its olive trees and piazza, the new temple will look familiar to American eyes.

CityLab, March 21, 2019

There are more than 900 churches in Rome, many of them jaw-droppingly beautiful inside, like the Sistine Chapel and Santa Maria in Trastevere. The Eternal City’s newest religious structure doesn’t boast any medieval mosaics or Renaissance frescoes. But it’s sumptuous by 21st-century standards, with high, curved walls of white granite, two tall spires, inlaid marble floors, and a grand staircase surmounted by a huge crystal chandelier.

The dedication last week of the new Mormon temple in Rome marked the arrival of Mormonism—a comparatively young denomination that still meets with bias and suspicion—in the global center of Catholicism. It is the 162nd operating Mormon temple in the world, thanks to a relentless building campaign over the past few decades by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or LDS Church) to serve its growing ranks, which now number above 16 million.

Back in 2006, Mormon leaders petitioned for official religious status in Italy, and even hired a Washington lobbyist to advance their cause. Official status was granted in 2010, and construction on the 40,000-square-foot temple began that year.

Kathleen Flake, a professor of Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia, said the opening of the temple has “enormous cultural significance” for Mormons. The church dispatched all 15 of its highest-ranking leaders to Rome for the dedication—which was unprecedented—and LDS President Russell Nelson had an audience with Pope Francis on March 9, the first-ever such meeting.

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