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Baha'i House of Worship (Wilmette, Ill)

Stephen Regenold
Special to the Star Tribune

Published Feb. 16, 2003

Flowery adjectives rarely seep into my vocabulary. But it's hard to rely on anything too weak when describing a place as striking, eloquent, and, yes, grandiose as the Bahá'í House of Worship.

This church of the Bahá'í faith is the oldest of seven temples of its kind found throughout the world -- from Sydney to New Delhi -- and is surrounded by meticulously kept gardens and pools. Lake Michigan's waves crash just a couple of hundred yards from the front steps.

The House of Worship is 15 miles north of downtown Chicago in the suburb of Wilmette, Ill. We ran into the near-utopian scene while driving out of the city on a recent weekend trip. The temple stood in stark contrast to the cosmopolitan midst that had immersed us for three days in the city. Intrigued, we hopped out of the car for a closer look.

The nine-sided dome structure loomed overhead, rising several stories from the top of a grand staircase. Symbols from Eastern and Western religions were woven together in an intricate exterior facade. The bell-shaped dome appeared to be solid marble, but we later read that a quartz-embedded concrete was used in construction.

At the visitors center we learned about the Bahá'í faith and the history of the building. The temple took more than 40 years to build. Architect Louis Bourgeois submitted a first draft of the temple's design in 1909 and then worked through several revisions until church leaders agreed on a plan.

In 1912, the Bahá'í patriarch Abdu'l-Baha, son of the prophet-founder of the faith, Baha'u'llah, traveled to Chicago to be part of the groundbreaking ceremony. The temple formally opened in 1953, and in 1978 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today the temple is a full-functioning church with an auditorium that seats 1,000. Worship ceremonies and classes are held on Sunday and other times throughout the week, but visitors are welcome any time.

The Bahá'í faith claims more than 5 million members worldwide, with more than 100,000 in the United States. The religion's belief is that God has been revealed through several prophets over time, including Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, Mohammed and others. A central theme is of humanity as one single race that one day will be united as a harmonious global society.

-- Stephen Regenold ( a Minneapolis freelance writer.

©Copyright 2003, Star Tribune (MN, USA)

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