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AS previously mentioned, the far-sightedness of Shoghi Effendi had prompted him to establish and develop an archive of the Faith in which relics and Writings would be gathered and preserved for posterity - for believers in general, historians and others - in order to assure authentic sources of information. Immediately after completion of the three additional rooms of the Shrine of the Báb in 1929, he started to assemble every available item that he could secure, concerning the Writings and the records of the lives of Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb and Abdu'l-Bahá, and displayed them as best he could at that time, in the newly-added rooms. As time passed, however, it became evident that the space was insufficient and only temporary, considering the fact that the Shrine was exclusively destined as a sepulchre, a place so sacred that he envisaged the time when visitors would be allowed only to circumambulate the edifice. Another small building, situated very close to the tomb of the Greatest Holy Leaf, in the Monument gardens near to Uno Avenue, was also utilized by the Guardian as part of the archives, and many objects and mementoes were guarded and displayed there. He usually made reference to that building as the 'Minor Archives'.
During my first two visits to the Holy Land, Shoghi Effendi spoke often of the importance of archives not only at the World Centre of the Faith but also for every national and local administrative body. Being well acquainted with the difficulties arising from the uncertainty of historical origins, facts and developments of some of the religions of the world, he encouraged individuals and institutions to develop, along well thought out plans, what would in time become the authoritative and genuine sources of the history of the Cause throughout the world, with an incredible variety of information reflecting the habits, culture, social and intellectual evolution of peoples, and the inception and development of the Faith, including its pioneers and early believers, in all continents of the globe. On such occasions, Shoghi Effendi spoke of the need for erecting a special building, somewhere on Mt. Carmel, in which to gather and preserve all the items already assembled, and all others yet to come.
Before proceeding to the momentous decision of building the new International Archives, I should like to mention an episode which further demonstrates the eager interest of Shoghi Effendi in collecting information and facts pertaining to the Sacred Writings and the history of the Cause. One evening, as I entered the dining-room,the Guardian was already seated at his place at the table, his face shining with an inner jubilation which he could neither control nor conceal. At his side, upon the table, stood a small bundle, an object wrapped in a coloured silk handkerchief, typical of the East and of Iran in particular. As soon as we were all seated and attentive, even before dinner was served, he said that a pilgrim had that day arrived from Tihran, bringing with him one of the most precious documents to be placed in the archives. He untied the handkerchief and with great reverence lifted out a manuscript in book form, and, placing it in a position that every one could see, added that it contained two original Tablets in the handwriting of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. One was the Iqan[*] and the other was a Tablet the name of which I do not now remember.
These manuscripts, Shoghi Effendi stated, were transcribed by Abdu'l-Bahá in His beautiful calligraphy, when He was about eighteen years old, and bore some additions in the Hand of Bahá'u'lláh, insertions which He had written on the margins of many pages in reviewing the manuscripts. Shoghi Effendi had never before seen the original of the Iqan and was deeply astonished to discover that the phrase he had chosen from this book and placed on the title page of his translation of Nabil's Narrative, The Dawn-Breakers, was an after-reflection of Bahá'u'lláh's, written by Himself, on the margin of one page. The phrase in question is the one starting: 'I stand, life in hand, ready; that perchance...'
The Guardian, that evening, was not only astonished but overjoyed as well, because he was conscious that through a mysterious process he had been inspired to adopt that phrase as an eternal testimonial to Bahá'u'lláh's yearning to sacrifice His life for the Báb, the Primal Point. All of us who were seated at the table were awed and profoundly stirred, and I, in particular, felt that the existence of a spiritual link between our Guardian and the invisible world of God was something that no one should ever doubt.
On other occasions he told us how the archives were being enriched with the 'sword of Mulla Husayn', the 'rings of the beloved Bab', some of His garments, and many other relics which he had placed on exhibit accompanied by small inscriptions on cardboard written by his own hand. Shoghi Effendi was always eager to increase the knowledge of everyone who came close to him, and did not spare any effort to reveal or explain episodes and facts that were part of his heritage and vast culture, particularly when they referred to the history and the development of the Cause.
On the subject of the archives, one evening he revealed how the Tablets of the Báb to the Letters of the Living were found. He started by saying, 'Where did the original Tablets come from, and how is it we have them all in the archives?'
'When the Master passed away,' he continued, 'we found the whole set of these Tablets, in the original, twenty in all. They must have been in the papers of the secretary of Bahá'u'lláh, Mirza Aqa Jan, and must have been given to Bahá'u'lláh years ago. The Bahá'ís had no knowledge of them during the days of the Master. One Tablet is addressed to the Báb, Himself; the last one, written on blue paper, is addressed to Bahá'u'lláh, "Him Whom God has manifested and will manifest";[*] these last two bear three seals each.[**] In addition we found in the Master's papers Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh addressed to the Master.'
The reader can well understand the Guardian's decision to assure a new and larger home for all the precious objects and manuscripts, as a part of the development of the World Administrative Centre of the Faith on Mt. Carmel.
When one year later, in October 1953, I reached New Delhi for the last of the Intercontinental Conferences, I was given a message from Shoghi Effendi and a drawing, to be displayed at the Conference. It was a rough pen and ink drawing of the edifice to be built for the International Archives, and to be shown to the assembled believers to make them conscious, as the message suggested, of the immediate necessity of assisting the Guardian in carrying out his project. All the days of the Conference the drawing was placed at the front of the speakers' table. It represented, in a general manner, a Greek temple reminiscent of the Parthenon, and also of temples in Paestum near Salerno, Italy, and in Agrigento in Sicily. The style was Ionic and showed a monumental and spacious building. Shoghi Effendi's message instructed me to take the drawing to Italy and secure an approximate estimate of cost, an important element for the Guardian to know in order to reach a decision. Knowing well the eagerness of Shoghi Effendi, and being myself anxious to render to him some additional service, now that the Shrine of the Báb had been completed, I wrote an explanatory letter and dispatched it, together with the drawing, to a trusted friend in Italy to start some inquiries pending my arrival.
Because of a prolonged stop-over in Persia, I did not reach Rome before the end of December, and was then able to send the information requested by Shoghi Effendi immediately after the festivities of the New Year. A well-developed plan of the building, incorporating all the characteristics shown in the sketch, was dispatched to the Guardian together with an approximate estimate of cost, which had been secured from one firm only. Some changes in the approaches and the front of the building were suggested in return by Shoghi Effendi, and this process was repeated once more until the drawings prepared by Architect Rocca[*] were accepted by the Guardian with enthusiastic approval.
The first tentative estimate had been encouraging to the point of inducing Shoghi Effendi to seek a definite and set cost that would guarantee the execution of the work within a certain time and without additional increase because of material or labour problems.
As with the Shrine of the Báb, there was indeed a divine intervention which permitted the Guardian to consummate his much longed for plan for the International Archives. With his approval, after the working drawings had been perfected and completed, I called for bids from four different firms to provide the marble carved and ready to be loaded on ships sailing from one of the main Italian ports. It was an interesting and challenging experience because although the firms in question seemed eager to secure the work, they must have committed some errors of judgement, as three of the bids were so far apart from the first estimate that it would have been almost impossible for the Guardian even to consider them. As the marble was to be the same 'Chiampo Paglierino', already used for the Shrine of the Báb, I felt it would be a considerable saving if the work could be done as close to the quarries as possible; it was our good fortune to receive the fourth bid from the firm which owned the quarries and had a well-equipped laboratory in the little town of Chiampo. Their bid was so reasonable that for a while I thought it to be a mistake, the difference from the other estimates received being quite considerable. All this work occupied a good part of the year, particularly because detailed plans had to be made to enable the engineering staff of the laboratory to become acquainted with and conscious of the work they would have to undertake. There was still another element which for some time delayed the Guardian's final decision; namely, the acquisition of a piece of land which belonged to an enemy of the Faith, and which was essential as it formed part of the plot on which it was decided to create the Archives building. It took many months of difficult and involved negotiations, culminating with the intervention of the Israeli Government, before settlement was reached. On the eve of the thirty-third anniversary of Abdu'l-Bahá'í ascension, the contract to secure the land was signed, with much relief and thankfulness on the part of Shoghi Effendi, who expressed his feelings in his historical message to the Bahá'í world of 27 November 1954. The way was now free to initiate what he defined as '...one of the foremost objectives of the Ten-Year Plan'.
The whole year of 1954 had been one of great achievements, following the power released by the four Intercontinental Conferences which had spurred the Bahá'ís of all continents of the globe to accomplish magnificent, selfless deeds that brought encouragement and satisfaction to the beloved Guardian. His gratitude to the 'pioneers' who responded to his call - by him named the Knights of Bahá'u'lláh - was perpetuated in his creation of a Roll of Honour, for their activities added much prestige and strength to the process of the spiritualization of the masses. The acquisition of the site of the Siyah-Chal, in Tihran, and the evolution of the Institution of the Hands of the Cause of God, with the appointment of Auxiliary Boards throughout the Bahá'í world, were two other outstanding victories of that propitious year.
Indeed it was also an auspicious year for ourselves, because on 25 November we received a cable from Effendi reading as follows: 'Permitted pilgrimage you and Angeline dearest love Shoghi.' Our elation could not be contained and we made immediate plans to leave Rome within a few days. But another cable came requesting us to postpone our pilgrimage by one week. Late in the evening of Saturday, 11 December, we left Rome's airport for Lydda where we arrived early the following morning. For Angeline, it was the greatest happening of her life, to be at the World Centre and meet Shoghi Effendi, as it had been for me some years earlier. At dinner-time, Shoghi Effendi received us most lovingly and asked Angeline to sit in the place of honour. He was extremely happy and spoke of the progress of the Faith in Africa, which seemed to be at the time his favourite subject. In the days that followed, he mentioned the work to be undertaken in Italy for the International Archives, and requested me to verify personally the delimitation of the area upon which the building would be erected - already tentatively made by himself - a difficult task to accomplish considering the roughness of the ground chosen on the slope of Mt. Carmel and the lack of surveyor's instruments. When I went to the site the following morning, I was amazed to see how well the marking had been done under his direction, with the assistance only of his chauffeur, using wooden pickets and white strings. The salient point - part of the whole plan for the establishment of the edifices of the Administrative Centre of the Faith - which was paramount in the mind of the Guardian, was the orientation of these structures towards the 'heart and Qiblih of the Bahá'í world'. To the countless pilgrims who have since then visited that blessed spot on the holy mountain, as well as to the endless stream of visitors who daily wander through out the whole area, the beauty and perfect order may appear the result of skilled engineering calculations done over a number of years. Nothing could be farther from the real truth, as the credit beyond all praise goes to the talent, versatility and ingenuity of Shoghi Effendi alone.
The succession of days during that pilgrimage was filled with joy and delightful new experiences. The Guardian had already started to landscape the ground in the immediate vicinity of the chosen site, and I well remember his satisfaction and jubilation when on one of those evenings at table, turning to Angeline, he said: 'I have just finished planting eleven cypress trees along the future path leading to the Archives building.' Vision and unswerving determination! What an edifying lesson to all of us sitting at the table! As the days passed, Shoghi Effendi requested us to remain longer than the normal duration of the pilgrimage. As we were revelling in this added bounty and making plans to use the precious time to the best spiritual advantage, on 24 December at table, the Guardian, turning again to Angeline, said: 'I would very much like to keep you and Ugo here indefinitely, but Ugo must return to Italy and start immediately to work on the International Archives.'
Although we would have loved to remain near to him for a longer time, we rejoiced because here was the opportunity to render him another great service that would bring much solace and happiness to his heart. The following evening was parting time, and the impending departure next day cast a shadow of sadness upon us. Shoghi Effendi, conscious of the atmosphere brought by the occasion, spoke with a brilliancy surpassing in my memory that of any previous evening spent with him. Again, visions of the things to come were unveiled before our eyes as a certainty in the immediate future. The spiritual conquest of the various continents of the world and the multiplication of the institutions of the Faith were assured by his warm and melodious voice. We were not leaving his presence, but carrying away, to be with us forever, his dreams, his vision and the certainty of extraordinary things that were to happen.
As soon as conditions would permit, he said, he would instruct the election of new National Spiritual Assemblies, and he made reference to the day when the establishment of independent Italian and Swiss National Assemblies would come to pass.
'I have brought with me some gifts,' he said, 'that I wish you to take back to Europe; they are for the National Haziratu'l-Quds of Rome and Berne, and they will become permanent property of the National Assemblies of the two countries, when these bodies come into existence.'
They were a large piece of brocade for Rome, which had lain for a long time upon the inner Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, at Bahji, and a 'Greatest Name' embroidered on silk, from the Tomb of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, for Berne, plus two photographs of the Bahá'í Temple in Wilmette, two lithographs of the 'Greatest Name', two copies of the seals of Bahá'u'lláh, to be equally divided between the two Communities, and a photograph of the Shrine of the Báb for Berne, and of the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh for Rome. He then gave me instructions as to how these objects should be preserved, for all generations of believers to come. When the time came to leave his presence, he arose from the table and, coming close to us, bade us farewell in a moving manner.
'You shall both return to see the Archives when completed,' he said, and embraced me tenderly, holding me in his arms for a long time; then taking Angeline's hand in his, he added: 'I want you to travel and see the friends.' Everyone was deeply moved.
Little did we know that this was the last time we would see our beloved Guardian on this earth! We left next morning for Lydda, but our plane was much delayed and did not depart from the Holy Land until the early evening of the following day, Monday, 27 December 1954. The next morning we reached Rome's Ciampino airport and, two hours later, we were home, filled with high hopes and joy; that same afternoon a cable from Shoghi Effendi reached us, bearing a message of love.
There was no time to spare; the work for the Archives had to take precedence over everything else, for in my ears were still ringing the Guardian's last instructions as to how to go about securing a favourable contract, and the importance of this new enterprise: '... a most valuable storehouse of information regarding all the aspects of the Faith ... Future generations of believers surely will be in a better position than we are to appreciate truly and adequately the many advantages and facilities which the institution of the Archives offers to individual believers, and also to the community at large...' If the responsibility for this enterprise, resting on every believer (according to the Guardian), was definite and weighty, mine would be far greater and more vital. Therefore I decided to give absolute priority to the execution of this magnificent plan, the spiritual implications of which were to assist over a long-range in time and space the prestige and greatness of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh. It was with much regret that I had to suspend temporarily the translation into Italian of the Writings of the Faith, a work which had already produced many volumes of the Bahá'í Teachings in my native language.
The next immediate step was to get in touch with the firm which owned the Chiampo quarries and had made the lowest bid a few months earlier. The firm in question was the Industria dei Marmi Vicentini, situated in Chiampo and having also a representation in Rome. Two days after our return to the Eternal City, the negotiations started in good earnest, and once more Architect Rocca was to play a vital part in the execution of this project; his skill and competence, fully demonstrated during the construction of the Báb's Shrine, were to be relied upon once more and, with the Guardian's approval, he was engaged to supervise strictly the production, cutting and carving of all the marble needed for the building. His energetic and enthusiastic activity made him a precious collaborator, his full time being completely free and at the disposal of the Faith.
The time had now come to conclude the contract during a visit to the firm in Chiampo; once there, and after having met some of the officers of the firm, Professor Rocca was surprised to find that an old friend and school-mate, Architect Ercole Sanguinetti, was the commercial manager in charge of sales. This was an unexpected bounty as the mutual esteem and friendship between the two gentlemen opened many avenues of understanding and closer collaboration. The general manager, a former Italian naval officer, and the chief engineer of the plant at once became keenly interested in the project and were helpful and accommodating in many ways. Also the whole technical staff, from the miners in the quarries to the draughtsmen and the artisan carvers and sculptors, assumed an attitude of eager consideration, lending their ability and skill with sincere enthusiasm in whatever role they were called on to play in producing the marble required for the finished building. A firm and final estimate was secured and submitted to the Guardian. It was accepted by him by cable on 3 January 1955. Some days later the contract was signed in Rome, thus opening the way for the realization of yet another of Shoghi Effendi's happy expectations. When he was informed of this historical event, a cable, 'Delighted loving prayers accompanying you', came from him in the afternoon of 12 January, a date never to be forgotten!
Conditions in Italy had considerably changed since the days when the Shrine of the Báb had been started, with favourable situations in regard to labour, technical means and shipping. Again, a veritable army of draughtsmen, modellers, stonecutters and sculptors was mobilized, while miners in the quarries of Zanconato and Nicolato in the territory of Chiampo were wresting from the bowels of the earth hundreds and hundreds of tons of marble in huge blocks - a difficult and meticulous work because only the most perfect marble was selected from the abundant yield of the quarries.
Before proceeding to other technical details, it would be useful to the reader who has not yet visited the World Centre of the Faith to have a general description of the building erected on the slopes of Mt. Carmel between the years 1955 and 1957. Shoghi Effendi had supervised and guided the execution of the drawing, which - as I have already mentioned - was exhibited for the first time at the Intercontinental Conference in New Delhi in 1953. It represented a building similar in appearance to the celebrated temple of Athena, in Greece, known the world over as the Parthenon. The substantial difference, however, consisted in the fact that the Parthenon was built in Doric style, while Shoghi Effendi had selected for the Archives the Ionic order. The latter distinguishes itself by the spiral volutes of the columns capitals, well-known in the architectural world by those of the ancient temple of Athena Nike.
The approximate measurements of the building are one hundred feet in length, forty-five in width, and thirty-six in height.[*] It is an imposing structure formed by a central hall cella, built upon a podium and surrounded on all four sides by a majestic colonnade, consisting of eight fluted columns in the front and the rear of the building and of fifteen columns on each of its north and south sides. Each column is composed of three sections or drums, for a total height of nineteen feet, while the base and capital add three feet to the full height of the column.[**]
It would have been a great feat to have monolithic columns but, most wisely, Shoghi Effendi decided to have them composed of drums which, according to Greek architectural canon, must be of uneven number, the choice falling upon the number three. This brought about a considerable economy in cost of the whole structure and simplified greatly the problems of shipping and erecting in situ huge one-piece columns without the proper engineering machinery. Each column is fluted with vertical grooves from base to capital, an amazing work of precision done by expert hands. I was completely fascinated watching those men execute such a difficult and delicate task with steady hands, without committing the slightest error, as even the smallest fault would have required starting the whole section of the column again.
When the first completed column was erected in my presence in the yard of the laboratory in Chiampo, I could not believe my eyes; its beauty and perfection were beyond any possible imagination! The men who had done the work stood around to see the expression on my face. For a moment I felt it was only a mirage, a sort of dream produced by my fantasy, but when I looked again on the faces of those humble workers, waiting for a word of praise and appreciation, I felt a great and intimate joy. As I shook their hands and warmly felicitated everyone, I thought with anticipation of the moment when Shoghi Effendi himself would behold a similar sight, and follow breathlessly the erection - one by one - as if by magic, of all forty-six columns.
A staircase, almost as wide as the building, ascends from the level of the ground to that of the podium. Fifteen comfortable steps lead to the front portico on which opens the imposing single door of the building.
On the opposite, or western, side of the building, there is a huge window, almost as large as the rear terminal wall, with coloured stained-glass panes, sustained by a sturdy hand-wrought iron frame. Besides shedding daylight inside the main hall, this window is so perfectly oriented towards the west that, during the hours when the sun starts its descent, its beams strike the whole window so that it becomes alive in a glory of consuming light. The window is composed of a sturdy iron grille which holds aloft sixty-five panels of stained glass in three colours, the centre of each a golden disk surrounded with ruby-red and blue panes alternating with clear glass. Many samples of coloured glass were gathered from different sources - Italy and other European countries - and sent to Shoghi Effendi, who made his choice of colours. The columns all around support the entablature composed of the trabeations which hold the ceilings of the front and back porticos, and of the corridors along the north and south sides.
On the north and south walls there are six simulated windows on each side - in accordance with the strictest Greek architectural tenet - but above each one of them there is one real window of smaller dimensions. These twelve windows, provided with iron frames and clear glass, permit the daylight to penetrate inside the main hall and, in particular, illumine the two balconies which run all along the upper level of the hall itself.
Under the podium and the whole cella there is a large basement which extends itself under the main staircase. Ventilation for this useful underground space is provided by spiracles opening on the north side of the wall towards the sea.
To terminate this summary description of the building, mention remains to be made of the east and west tympana which complete the facades outlining the shape of the roof on the east tympanum, looking towards the Qiblih of the Faith, there is a large mosaic disk with the 'Greatest Name' in the centre. From it departs a cluster of long and short rays in the manner of a risen sun; the rays carved in the marble are gilded. The decorative design of this tympanum was chosen from many others, and it had been the original idea of Shoghi Effendi. He charged me to secure many suggestions from the leading architects in Rome, and I applied to the Dean of the School of Architecture of that University, who himself, after a few weeks, provided some drawings, several with arabesque ornamentations, and others with more unconventional motives. When the sun rises every morning in the east its beams strike this beautiful and original frieze, which, as if it possesses an inner power, comes alive in a blaze of light.
Returning now to some other details embodied in the building, I would like to say that the inner structure of the walls is made of ytong blocks, a Swedish invention of the post-war period, and is covered with thick slabs of Chiampo marble on the outside. The architraves, the columns, the bases and capitals, the tympana and other decorative parts such as the door corbels, the friezes, the antefixes, the acroteria and the entablature are all made of solid marble. The beams of the floor and of the ceiling, the podium and the staircase are made, instead, of reinforced concrete covered with heavy marble.
The door is a masterpiece of ingenuity. It was originally conceived by Shoghi Effendi, who chose this Greek style of door with rosettes from many different types, as the most beautiful and dignified for this position. The pattern consists of ten bas-relief rosettes arranged in two rows, each having nine petals and an unopened bud at the centre; the whole door, studded with knobs symmetrically placed, is finished at the base by a protective knobbed plinth. Before preparation of a model was started, I visited the Roman antiquities to study closely some of the most ancient doors still in existence and use, and came to the conclusion that the door of the Archives should be made of hard wood covered with a heavy bronze lamina, while all the decorative parts of the ten panels and the knobs should be in solid cast bronze. A reputable sculptor from Carrara made the model of one panel to exact proportions, from which a full-scale model of the door was made for the Guardian to approve. The photograph of this model was published in the United States Bahá'í News of June 1956, and after its approval it served as a guide to the carpenter and the foundry undertaking the execution of the door. The city of Pistoia in Italy - not far from Florence - has been famous for many centuries for the skill of its artisans in woodworking and decorative bronze casting. In this century the best railroad-cars are made there for the Italian State Railway. Therefore it was decided to seek out the most reliable foundry and woodworking firm to execute such an important element in the construction of the Archives. After some inquiries and preliminary consultations, the choice fell upon the firm of Renzo Michelucci, for the metal part, and Saiello Saielli,[*] for the wood-carpentry work. Great care was taken to choose well-seasoned and dry planks of oak-wood for the frame upon which the bronze plate would be placed.
Similar care was taken to counterbalance the traction created by the grain of the wood in order to prevent any warping due to climate or other adverse conditions. Wooden pegs and copper nails were used to eliminate the possibility of damage produced by iron rust, with the wood being treated with special oil and wax. The door, quite a big one, measuring over eleven feet in height and six in width,[*] is divided into two sections. It presented a challenge to the craftsmen, who I believe had never made a door of such size and refinement. During the time the door was being made - it took six months to complete - I went many times to check on the progress of the work, including the bronze casting, the gilding of the rosettes, and the packing of the two half-sections of the door in a huge case for shipment to Haifa. Concerning the gilding of the bronze rosettes, we entrusted this particular and delicate job to the same Florentine gilder who had gilded the 'Greatest Name' monograms of the Báb's Shrine. He gave first a silver plating to the bronze, and then used the fire-gilding method previously described.
The door, being quite large and heavy, could not be attached to conventional hinges and we therefore ordered special ball-bearing hinges, made of the finest steel, which would permit opening and closing of the door with the least possible effort. When the door was completed, it was really magnificent, and when Shoghi Effendi saw it, he was truly overjoyed. It was placed in the building and was functioning before he left Haifa in the early summer of 1957, never to return again.
By then the building had been finished, and it was possible for him to see and appreciate many of the things made in Italy, which completed all the structural and subsidiary elements of the whole edifice. I shall mention a few briefly. First, there was the beautiful grilled inner vestibule door, the duplicate of an ancient Greco-Roman bronze door, the design of which Shoghi Effendi much admired, and which was in perfect harmony with the style of the building. The large window, which occupies a good part of the surface of the building's west side, was another result of Shoghi Effendi's personal decision, an innovation in the architectural style chosen [*] which, when completed, fully produced the effect he wanted.
The iron frame for the window and the bronze grilled door of the vestibule were made in Sarzana, Italy, by the firm of Malatesta, the same firm that had produced all the lamp-posts and the various gates now visible on Mt. Carmel and in Bahji. The firm of Jorger, in Turin, which had made the stained glass for the lancet windows of the Shrine of the Báb, had ceased to exist some two years before on account of the death of Mr. Jorger himself. A search was made in other localities, including Belgium, but without success, as although the task appeared to be quite easy, it required much skill because the colours chosen by the Guardian were different from those available in standard coloured glass panes. Remembering that a small stained-glass factory at one time had existed in Palermo, Sicily, specializing in making church windows and panels, I made a journey to that island, and learned that the original owner had passed away but that his son, a professor at the local Accademia di Belle Arti, and an associate professor of the School of Architecture of Palermo University, was still engaged in making rare and highly artistic stained-glass panels for decorative purposes. A meeting with him revealed his willingness to undertake the work and thus the way was opened to carry out this unusual task. Some samples of the final colours were made and dispatched to Shoghi Effendi, together with a full-scale drawing of one panel, and the estimate of cost for all sixty-five panels. After acceptance of the colours and estimate, the work was initiated. Professor G. Gregorietti, the artist in question, had a modern and ample atelier, where he accomplished the work meticulously and alone, including the operation of the kilns and the soldering of the hundreds of yards of lead alloy binding.
During the months required to finish everything, I went to Palermo several times to make sure of the quality of work and of packing when all was ready to ship. The final product was perfect and when placed in its permanent location was highly praised by the Guardian. After his passing, in reviewing some of the technical details of the Archives, the Hands of the Cause in the Holy Land felt that this large window was vulnerable from the outside, and it was decided to place in front of it, in the exact pattern of the original grille, an additional one of steel, which was produced immediately by a local ironmonger. Thus this side of the building was protected against any possible attempt at trespassing.
The interior of the Archives also possesses something in its structure which was the specific idea of Shoghi Effendi, namely, the two balconies which run along the south and north sides of the main hall. Access to the upper level is by two small staircases, connected at the top by a narrow corridor from the centre of which a complete view of the whole interior is obtained. The stair located on the north side is extended down to the basement. These balconies were decided upon by the Guardian in order to provide more space for exhibits; to the visitor the wisdom of this addition is immediately evident.
Here I wish to call the attention of the reader and the visitor to the wooden balustrades along the two balconies. The style and design of such a balcony were chosen by Shoghi Effendi; it is the replica of a famous balustrade designed by the great Palladio[*] for the Villa 'La Rotonda', in Vicenza. It seems that the Guardian became acquainted with this type of balustrade by perusing an architectural book, for it exists in Mereworth Castle, near Maidstone, Kent, which was built by a Scottish architect, Colen Campbell, who made a perfect replica of the Palladian villa mentioned.
After receiving instructions from Shoghi Effendi that an accurate copy of the balustrade should be made, I went to Vicenza, accompanied by Professor Rocca, to study the original. Gaining access to 'La Rotonda', we were able to take careful measurements and make various drawings, which assisted greatly in drafting the final working plans for the artisan who was to carry out the work. Again, the choice fell upon Saiello Saielli, of Pistoia, who worked for many months with much enthusiasm and skill in the production of this highly decorative and outstanding crowning of the two balconies. The most perfect oak-wood was chosen, uniform in tint and texture, and a variety of ingenious details were incorporated during its manufacture to make the balustrade solid and extremely safe. When the complete work reached Haifa, and the balustrades were erected in the proper places, Shoghi Effendi was incredibly pleased and highly praised their beauty and workmanship.
Another important element in the completion of the building was the gabled roof and its covering. The ancient Greeks, and the Romans after them, used timber to make this type of roof and then covered it with heavy copper laminae. After exposure to nature's elements it assumed a sort of cobalt-green colour which, in temperate climates, sometimes blended with the colour of the sky. Shoghi Effendi wished to have the Archives covered by such a roof, but he would not consider the use of copper because of the danger that the marble might be stained by the metal's oxide during the sometimes torrential rains in the Holy Land. It was decided therefore to use fired clay tiles, glazed to the hue of ancient copper. The firm Westraven, of Utrecht, Holland, was again consulted, and experiments were made to prepare several samples of colour from which Shoghi Effendi could choose. The important point was that the tiles should be similar in size and shape to those used in ancient times. Nearness to the wealth of archaeologic antiquities in Italy made it possible for me to find the most authentic model. Drawings were then prepared to scale and the tile factory made a few samples for the Guardian's approval. When this was received, a contract was signed in Utrecht, on 6 June 1956, to produce 7,892 tiles sufficient to cover the five hundred square metres of roof.
The co-operation received from Junker R. de Brauw was once more the source of great satisfaction and relief, as it made possible the production of tiles which were perfect in measurement to fit the roof-space. As with the dome of the Shrine, a section of the roof was built in wood so that each tile produced could be tested on it for accuracy. A few necessary devices were incorporated to make the immobility of the tiles permanent, and, once placed in situ, it was amazing and highly rewarding that not even the slightest error of space was found; every tile - and there were nearly eight thousand of them - fitted perfectly in its place. As to their appearance, Shoghi Effendi was delighted; the colour selected by him blended with that of the sky on clear days. The majesty of the ensemble of front and rear tympana - each topped at its apex by a carved anthemion and connected by the corniche, above which rise 235 carved acroteria plus four additional anthemia at the four corners - gave to Shoghi Effendi the inspiration to call it yet another crown. The International Bahá'í Archives, he wrote, is the 'initial Edifice heralding the establishment of the Bahá'í World Administrative Centre on Mt. Carmel', contributing together with 'the stately, golden-crowned Mausoleum rising beyond it, to the unfolding glory of the central institutions of a World Faith nestling in the heart of God's holy mountain'.
The other elements which enhance the greatness of this Edifice are the lighting system and the pavement of the main hall. Plans had been made by Shoghi Effendi to illuminate the interior of the Archives, supplementing the large rear and small side windows with powerful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and with wall brackets well distributed on the south and north walls. I was requested to secure a catalogue of crystal chandeliers, from which Shoghi Effendi selected a very beautiful one provided with sixty lights, and well decorated with prisms and pendants. Six were ordered from a Bohemian firm in Czechoslovakia, and they arrived during the summer months of 1957. These chandeliers were not seen by Shoghi Effendi, as the packing cases were opened only after his passing and the chandeliers placed in service early in 1958.
The original floor was made of green tiles of compressed cement, executed in Italy, but when they were set in place it was found that they did not match the beauty and refinement of the building. It was then decided to cover this layer with almond-green vinyl tiles made in England by Semtex Ltd, a subsidiary of Dunlop & Co. The whole surface to be covered was almost 450 square metres, and it represented a difficult and challenging task which required much endurance and skill. Marble was used instead in the vestibule and for the staircases.
During the summer and autumn of 1957, Shoghi Effendi had gone to London to complete the purchase of various furnishings and ornaments for the Archives; he had just completed his purchases, when a sudden illness took him from our midst. It thus became the responsibility of Ruhiyyih Khanum, in the months that followed, to transfer the material contained in the archive rooms of the Shrine of the Báb to the new building and to display everything in accordance with the Guardian's wishes as occasionally expressed to her. I am certain that Shoghi Effendi would have been extremely happy and pleased to behold the finished building because during one of the months preceding his passing I received a cablegram from him, reading as follows:
"Congratulate you splendid historic highly meritorious achievement ensuring execution details structure Archives particularly Greatest Name. Present future generation believers including myself profoundly grateful. Shoghi."
[2 great photos between pages 166-167 in the book]
Here I would like to add that on each of the two side platforms of the main entrance staircase Shoghi Effendi wanted to place a large marble eagle, for which sketches and scale drawings were made and approved: the two eagles having semi-spread wings, ready to fly. One day a cablegram from him was received in which the plan for the eagles was abandoned. In their place there are now two beautiful wrought-iron torch holders, bought by Shoghi Effendi, which have been transformed into electric beacons - a luminous and friendly welcome to those who approach the Archives after sundown; the simulated glass flames were specially made in Murano, Venice, Italy.
The magnitude of the enterprise is perhaps best illustrated by some additional dates and statistics. It took seventeen ships to carry the total of one thousand tons of carved marble for the Archives building from Italy to Haifa. Other ships were used to transport structural steel, cement, floor and roof tiles, lumber, stained and clear glass, small and large iron window-frames, varnish and paint for the interior, chandeliers, electric and other wires, the main and the vestibule bronze doors, the oak balustrades and plinth for the balconies, lamp-posts and many other items, such as chain-lifts, nails, drain-pipes. The one-third section of every column weighed two tons; each capital and the six anthemia, one ton each. The roof tiles weighed forty tons and were packed in 7,200 cardboard boxes with the additional use of 25,000 metres of gummed paper in strips.
The first load of marble left from the port of Trieste on the S.S. Nakhshon, of the Zim Line, under the command of Captain Israel Auerbach, on 10 August 1955, barely seven months after the signing of the contract, and consisted of 169 cases brought to the ship-side in eight railroad cars. The first column was raised in December 1955, on the north-east corner of the podium, facing the Qiblih; all the others followed thereafter and the entire structure was completed by June 1957, under the supervision of Hand of the Cause Mr. Leroy C. Ioas.
As previously mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, Shoghi Effendi had started the landscaping of the grounds well in advance of the building operations and had traced a wide arched path, the 'arc', to which he had made reference in some of his messages to the Bahá'í world. During the summer of 1956 he bought in England a certain number of iron and bronze gates to be used both on Mt. Carmel and at Bahji; these gates were received in Haifa during the early months of 1957. The 'arc' had no opening into UNO Avenue and, before departing for Europe that year, Shoghi Effendi had given instructions to cut in the rock wall a large opening to enable the placing there of a beautiful and stately wrought-iron gate, part of the above-mentioned shipments. The gate was to be suspended from two pilasters of Dover-stone, each surmounted by a decorative urn carved from the same stone, but it was not raised until the beginning of 1958. Following the passing of Shoghi Effendi, it was the source of deep joy for me to direct the execution of this opening - which had to be blasted with explosives - and the construction of the semicircular recess with its retaining walls, the set of steps leading to the 'arc', and the erection of the gate, a work that Shoghi Effendi would have loved to accomplish himself. On the first day of Ridvan, 1958, the gate was officially swung open, and became the entrance to the 'arc' leading to the International Archives, and to the future Edifices of the Central Institutions of the Faith.
The happy conclusion of Shoghi Effendi's efforts to initiate the series of buildings required for the full establishment of the Bahá'í World Administrative Centre offers to the believers the world over the opportunity to collaborate - in the years to come - with the realization of his cherished plan. Then the World Centre of our Faith will rise to such glory as cannot yet be fully understood. I was able to have a glimpse of it through the ideal conception of the whole plan so well expressed to me by the Guardian on more than one occasion during my presence in Haifa. Then his memory and his life of consecration shall be glorified to the fullness of his wisdom and his understanding of the plight of mankind.
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