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Monday, September 30, 2019

The First Mormon Temple in Italy - in Rome (sort of)

The temple looks large and impressive in this view, but it's actually quite small. The
curved planes seen here may be a citation to Meier's Jubilee Church, below,
or to Borromini's San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. 
Our search for contemporary churches led us a few months ago to the first Mormon temple in Italy – dedicated on March 10 this year. It’s the 162nd Mormon temple in the world.

It was indeed a search to find the temple, which is as far out of the center of Rome as any church we’ve found.  Touted as a building whose sponsors “spared no expense,” the temple is, frankly, underwhelming.  Of course, it must compete not only with the spectacular Catholic churches of the Renaissance, such as St. Peter’s and San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (both cited as inspirations for the temple) to name just two, but also 21st-century churches we admire that include Richard Meier’s Jubilee Church and Piero Sartogo’s Santo Volto.

Scale model of interior of temple

For those who think Meier’s Jubilee Church is way out of town, you need to go twice as far to get to the Mormon Temple. It’s practically on top of the GRA (Rome’s outer ‘ring road’) and seems to fit in with, perhaps even be diminished by, the large, undistinguished shopping mall and apartment buildings nearby.

Meier's Jubilee Church

Piero Sartogo's Santo Volto
We found the temple decidedly uninspiring. The Salt Lake City-based Mormon architect might have done better to collaborate with an Italian starchitect to end up with something that approaches the awe-producing design of Paolo Portoghesi’s Mosque, or Meier's and Sartogo’s churches.

Admittedly, we did not go inside the temple because once it is dedicated, non-Mormons are not permitted inside. Mormons are allowed inside only for specific purposes, which do not include basic church services.  The inside – from the scale model we were shown by a young American proselytizer at the Visitor Center, looks more homey than church-y.  Church services are held in a chapel, which again is decidedly – and it appears purposefully – plain.  There’s none of what Alain de Botton cites as the religious architecture that makes one almost believe there is a God.

Adam and Eve

The Visitor Center paintings include an Adam and Eve who look like Barbie and Ken, the Mormons’ patron saint, Moroni, who looks like Charlton Heston, and others who may be designed to make us feel that we, too, can be figures in a Passion Play. It also has a faux Italian farmhouse and faux farm landscape.  A villetta was torn down to make way for the temple complex – so perhaps this is an homage to that villetta.  Regardless, it’s kitchy at best.

Faux villetta inside Visitor Center
The Mormons have only recently been added to the list of religions that have an elevated status in Italy, allowing them some tax and other benefits. They cite the 1929 Concordat between Mussolini’s Fascist government and the Roman Catholic Church for inspiration, and they ended up hiring a lobbyist to get what they wanted, beginning that particular quest in 2006. The history of discrimination against the Mormons is an interesting one to be sure. Pope Francis met the LDS (see PS below) President in March, a first-ever meeting of those figures.
Faux campagna romana inside faux villetta

We’d like to think we’re eclectic in our lay appreciation of religious architecture, but, frankly, we’d skip this complex in favor of almost any other one in Rome. In fact, what attracted Bill on our scooter ride home was his discovery of a brutalist water tank that is in one of the books in our library on 200 great Rome architectural works of the 20th century.  At least he got something out of our trek.

Bill's brutalist water tower

PS We read recently that the Mormons no longer want to use that name and ask that everyone use the Church of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS for short.  Because they used Mormon when building and consecrating this temple, we stuck with it for this post.

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