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Europe's biggest Mormon temple complex opens in Rome

March 10, 2019

In the heartland of the Catholic Church, a new Mormon temple is now open for business. The Rome Temple has been 10 years in the making.

The Mormon Temple in Rome
Image: Reuters/R. Casilli

On Sunday, the city of Rome is playing host to a major religious celebration — but not one taking place in Vatican City. The Rome Temple, the largest complex for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — also know as the LDS or Mormon Church in Europe — was officially dedicated after over 10 years of construction.

Far away from the crowds in St. Peter's Square, nestled just at the edge of the Grande Raccordo Anulare, the ring highway that encircles metropolitan Rome, the compound boasts a 3,716-square-meter (40,000-square-foot) church, visitors' center and a family history center (one of the many genealogy research centers funded by the LDS Church around the globe).

Raimondo Castellani, the head of public affairs for the Italian branch of the LDS church, said having the Mormon place of worship in Rome was highly significant.

"Rome is the world center of Christianity. It's the city where the apostles Peter and Paul preached and were martyred ... how could we not have a temple here?" he asks.

In keeping with the location

Castellani said that while the Rome Temple was not in itself the largest Mormon temple in Europe, the complex was the largest such on the continent when all its buildings were taken into account. The compound is organized around a central plaza, meant to pay tribute to the traditional architecture of its home city. Centuries-old Roman olive trees had been replanted in the square in homage to the city, he said.

He said the ceremony to open the temple would be "very simple.": "Hymns and speeches precede the dedicatory prayer, with a profound spiritual significance for the members of the church."

Rome: City of religious pluralism

Although Rome is most famously the home of the Catholic Church, it has long been a place of religious pluralism. The Mosque of Rome is the biggest in the European Union, and the city has the largest Jewish population in Italy. Rome also hosts the largest church for Jehovah's Witnesses, or a Kingdom Hall as they are called, on the continent. Indeed, Italy is home to the biggest Witness community in Europe, by a wide margin.

Mormon temple in Rome
After the dedication, no non-Mormons will be allowed inside the templeImage: Imago/epd/R. Sicilliani

It is therefore unsurprising that tens of thousands of people took advantage of a two-week open house at the beginning of February to visit the site that had been in the making since 2008. After the dedication, no non-Mormons will be allowed to enter the temple itself.

Elena, a 30-something NGO worker who saw the grounds, said: "Everyone was really kind. I guess the church itself isn't really my style, but it was really interesting to talk with people of a different faith."

Read more: When in Rome, do as the Chinese do

Italy's history with the LDS Church goes all the way back to the movement's founding, when two missionaries first arrived in Italy in 1850. They made dozens of converts, but the church in Italy petered out quickly once all of the new LDS members had emigrated to the United States. For a long time, Italian law banned them from proselytizing.

Mormonism would not take permanent hold in Italy until about 2,000 American LDS military personnel were stationed there during World War II. Today, there are nearly 26,000 church members throughout the country.

Portugal, which has the second-largest population of Mormons in Europe after Spain, will be the next country to get its own palatial temple, which is set to open in September. Germany is home to the continent's third-biggest population, with some 40,000 LDS Church members.

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.