The country of Italy has been a focal point for centuries. From the ancient Roman civilization to the renaissance, Italy has been the place to experience beauty, culture, art and religion.Italy also made headlines in the Church News last year when the Rome Temple was completed and dedicated. For many reasons, Legacy Tours wanted to share this remarkable land with our guests. And thankfully we were able to visit Italy in 2019, not quite a year before the Covid 19 pandemic. In February of 2020 the spread of the virus would halt travel to Italy and empty the streets of this incredible country. When we visited we were fortunate to spend an afternoon at the temple. We participated in an endowment session and explored the visitor center and the grounds of this historic site.
Rome Italy Temple
I will not forget the feeling of joy and excitement I felt being able to participate in a session in this beautifully constructed temple. It is a small temple and even though we were the first session of the evening, our group used up all available locker space. We filled every seat and then they brought in more chairs for us. Several of the temple workers were local members, but many others were couples serving missions to the Rome Italy Temple. Even though the temple district member population is relatively small, the temple was busy and stayed busy up until the shut down.
Apostle Peter and Paul
Earlier that day we had visited the Vatican. We had walked through the Basilica of St Peter and considered the dedication of the Senior Apostle, ultimately giving his life. We visited the Roman Forum the day before, noting that Paul had been here, arguing the case for Christians in this city 2000 years earlier. Standing in the celestial room, I reflected on the experiences of early Christians in this very city. My feelings were of gratitude and wonder in the miracle the temple represented. Knowing that these great brothers are memorialized in marble and most certainly close by in spirit as the temple was dedicated, made me appreciate anew their commitment and sacrifice. Walking through the Visitor’s Center after, we stood in front of the marble replicas of Thorvaldsen Twelve Apostles. It is a truly remarkable experience.
The design of the temple was to be Italian throughout. The oval shape is reminiscent of the San Carlino Cathedral in Rome. The oval motif, displayed throughout, symbolizes eternity. The floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows and the outdoor piazza was designed to feel familiar to Italians. The temple architect Niels Valentiner said “once you walked on the site every person should feel like they were on an Italian site.…They would recognize it because of the materials, because of the design, and because of the surroundings.” A decorative pattern throughout the temple is inspired in part by Michelangelo. It is similar to his design for the Piazza del Campidoglio, at the summit of the Captioline Hill in Rome. You can see the church’s video presentation of the temple here.
Italy’s Response to the Temple
Italy is predominantly Catholic, and many wondered what the response would be to this new structure. The New York Times reported that 50,000 Italians attended the open house. This high level of interest to discover another faith confirms that many Italians see their city as a universal city, not just Catholic. A CNN article reminded its readers that the Vatican was just a few miles down the road. It claimed that the temple indicated there was a “new church in town.” Both of these articles made me realize something else though, more than just about the temple. In the articles, the reporters, used the correct name of the church only once.
Church of Jesus Christ
Ever other time, they used the word “Mormon.” It struck me profoundly how this needs to be corrected. It also made me realize how important President Nelson’s announcement in General Conference in April 2018. He asked us to consciously use the correct name for the church. It is important that we no longer refer to ourselves as Mormon. To hear the temple described as the “162 Mormon temple in the world” made me painfully aware that the Lord’s name was not being associated with the temple.
Thankfully, when one visits the site, the focus on the Savior is clear. The beautiful marble carvings of the 12 apostles already mentioned, with the Christus at the center look out toward to the temple. In fact, many photos show the temple reflected in the glass with the Christus statue shining through.
Visiting Italy in the Future
We are looking forward to traveling in Italy again next spring. International travel restrictions are projected to be lifted at the end of March. Although we had originally planned a September 2020 tour, we have been able to reschedule for May 5 – 17, 2020. Our group will visit Venice, Milan, Portofino, Pisa, Florence, Pompeii in addition to Rome and the temple.