Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opens Mormon temple near Vatican in Rome

Italy's first Mormon temple opened its doors on Monday in Rome, just a few miles from the Vatican.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon church is officially known, was founded in the state of New York in 1830 by Joseph Smith, who claimed to have a revelation of God. Almost two centuries later, the church is opening the Rome Italy Temple, with tours for non-Mormons to see inside.

"This is a worldwide religion," said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who serves as chairman of the Temple and Family History Department. "We have more than 16 million members and the church is recognized and established in over 170 nations, so it’s only a matter of time before we have temples in most major cities in the world, but it is of particular significance to have a temple in Rome, the Eternal City."

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Unlike churches where members gather for Sunday worship services, Latter-day Saints consider temples "houses of the Lord" and one of the central teachings of the Mormon church is that families can be together forever. This sacred union -- through marriage, baptism, and other ceremonies -- is only made possible in holy temples with members in good standing.

In the heart of the temple, is a full-immersion baptistry, where members will be able to baptize their dead ancestors by proxy in a ceremony. Showers and locker rooms are also provided in the building, where members must change into white garments and slippers before the ceremonies.

The baptistry of the Rome Italy Temple.

The baptistry of the Rome Italy Temple. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

The Italian Mormon temple, which took nine years to build and is modeled after a Roman Catholic church in the predominantly-Catholic country, is part of a 15-acre religious and cultural center that includes a multifunctional meetinghouse, a visitors’ center, a family history center, and housing for visitors.

The 40,000-square-foot temple will serve over 23,000 Latter-day Saint members living in Italy and in neighboring countries. Currently, there are more than 160 operating temples worldwide, including 12 in Europe.

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Mormons, much like other Christians, view Rome as one of the most important historic locations in the world, where ancient apostles Peter and Paul preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. They purchased the land in 1997, and while the cost is not made public, no expenses were spared, with Swarovski crystal and Murano glass chandeliers set in 24-carat gold filling its rooms.

The Christus and the apostles in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center.

The Christus and the apostles in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

"I'm just very humbled to be here, to think that we're walking in the footsteps of those original apostles," Elder Ronald A. Rasband said.

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The temple will be open to any visitors through February, but once it has been formally dedicated in March, non-Mormon visitors will only be allowed into its outside spaces and visitors' center, where missionaries will be present if they have any questions.