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Shoghi Effendi:

by Ugo Giachery

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Chapter 7

[page 68]


The Superstructure of the Shrine of the Báb

EARLY in 1948, as soon as it was evident that a new State of Israel would emerge from the Palestinian territory then under a League of Nations Mandate to Great Britain, Shoghi Effendi decided that the proper moment had arrived to fulfil the long-delayed plan of erecting the final majestic Mausoleum as wished and longed for by Bahá'u'lláh. The Guardian, in his wisdom and far-sightedness, had been preparing for such a moment for many years.

Shoghi Effendi had given serious consideration to the possibility of using local Palestinian stone and Palestinian labour. Palestinian and Egyptian stone-cutters and carvers were truly skilled at continuing the ancient tradition which, in the past, had made them the best builders in the Middle East. They had also served well in preparing the stone for the Báb's Tomb erected by Abdu'l-Bahá, and for the gates that now grace UNO Avenue at the main entrance to the gardens surrounding the Shrine. The conflict, however, that flared up with cessation of the British Mandate provoked a mass exodus of nearly all artisans, and they had not returned. Under these circumstances, Italy was the next best choice, for there the tradition of stone quarrying and carving had been carried on for centuries. Mr. Maxwell, whom the Hand of Providence had placed in the unique position of being the one chosen to carry out the designs, was therefore sent by the Guardian to Rome to search both for material and for proficient craftsmanship.

Uncertainty of travel conditions made the time of his arrival rather indefinite, but one early forenoon in April 1948, after several fruitless journeys to Rome's Ciampino airport, I saw him come down the ramp from a Norwegian aircraft and greeted him with a welcoming embrace. With him was Mr. Ben D. Weeden, a Bahá'í from the United States then residing in the Holy Land, whose wife, Gladys, was also serving the Guardian. Mr. Maxwell's blue eyes were smiling as he said to me:

"You were the last to bid me farewell when I left for Europe in 1941, and you are the first to bid me welcome on European soil."

Mr. Maxwell's stay in Rome was a great joy for my wife Angeline and me. We were living at that time in the Hotel Savoia, as no apartments were available at any price in the city still occupied by Allied forces. Mr. Maxwell, therefore, came to live in the same hotel. His grace and humour, the breath from the Holy Shrines he brought with him, and his unbounded love for the Guardian showered us with an abundant measure of reward and courage. He was our link with the Guardianship, not only because of the great honour bestowed on him through the Guardian's marriage to his own daughter, and because of the crown of martyrdom won by his beloved wife May, but also because of his appointment by the Guardian as the architect of the arcade and superstructure of the Báb's Sepulchre, an honour now reflecting upon my humble person in the association with him in execution of the project. I felt that an act of Providence had me in Italy, my former homeland, at this time of need.

Some time earlier, Mr. Maxwell had wisely written to his former associates in Canada to secure the addresses of some reliable marble dealers in Italy, and on receipt of the information he had written to a few firms hoping to receive some favourable answers.

The entire Italian nation, however, was then still suffering from the great destruction brought by the conflict on its soil. Public services were almost non-existent. All railroads had been severely damaged and the rolling-stock destroyed or confiscated. Shipping was at a standstill. Several millions of its population were still prisoners of war in nearly every continent of the globe. Food, electricity and water were rationed and practically unavailable. A pall of despair clouded the life of the entire country, with little hope of relief to assist in restoring the shattered economy and open the way for spiritual revitalization of its people. What was left of the nation's industrial power was mobilized to produce goods for reparations and for reconstruction of the country.

Because of these conditions only one answer to his inquiries was received by Mr. Maxwell, and even that was uncertain, as we learned later, for practically no marble quarries in the region of the Apuan Mountains of Tuscany, where the best statuary and finest marble is extracted, were open, and any skilled, specialized labour had been dispersed during the war.

Shoghi Effendi had instructed Mr. Maxwell to seek a marble or stone that would be durable over a period of five hundred years. Therefore we went to the Museum of Geology of the University of Rome, to examine in detail dozens of specimens of granite and marble, to select the ones most suited for the work under consideration. Great was our disappointment when, in the next few days, we learned that the quarries containing the marble samples selected could not be exploited, because their accesses had been blown up by mines placed by the retreating enemy. It would be many months and require large capital investments before the quarries could operate again.

Time, meanwhile, was a precious element. The Guardian had sent me verbal instructions to carry out the work as quickly as possible, as soon as a decision had been reached concerning the material and workmanship, and to ship the finished material at the earliest possible date to the Holy Land. These were standing instructions that remained in force throughout the five years needed to complete the Shrine. As time went by, the note of urgency was increased, and production was speeded up to an almost unbelievable, even miraculous, rate.

The only firm from which Mr. Maxwell had received a reply was that of Messrs. Guido M. Fabbricotti,[*] of Carrara, the marble capital of the world. How this firm came to send a reply is related in the following episode and is yet another illustration of the element of wonder that pervaded every stage of activity connected with the conception, planning and execution of this lofty project.

    * See Appendix VII

[page ]

Mr. Fabbricotti himself, who had carried on the tradition of the firm established a century before, had passed away a few years earlier, and its affairs were being conducted by his two sons-in-law, Colonel Bufalini and Dr. Orlando. A technical adviser and consultant was Professor Andrea Rocca who had graduated at the beginning of this century from the Academy of Beaux Arts (Accademia delle Belle Arti), of Carrara, and was a brilliant architect. His knowledge of granite, marble and other building materials, not only in Italy but also in many other parts of the world, could hardly be matched anywhere. He was born of a long line of marble craftsmen who, as he used to say, went back to the days of ancient Rome. During the lean post-war years, when there was practically no marble business, he called almost every morning of the various firms in Carrara, in the hope of finding something to do. One morning, in the early spring of 1948, he entered the Fabbricotti office as one of the two partners was crumpling in his hand what appeared to be a letter. As he threw it into the waste-basket, Professor Rocca asked:

'What is that you are throwing away?'

'Oh, it is only a preposterous request for information that sounds like a fable,' the partner answered; 'something about a grandiose mausoleum to be erected in the Holy Land! But who can build such a costly structure at this time? Let us forget about it.' Architect Rocca bent forward and lifted the crumpled letter out of the waste-basket.

'Let us read this again, together,' he said.

As soon as he became aware of its contents, he felt it provided the opportunity of a lifetime. After some resistance he induced the officers of the firm to answer it, and to offer their services in whatever capacity needed. From that moment on, Architect Rocca became the enthusiastic and indefatigable supporter of the project. Some weeks later, Mr. Maxwell met him in Rome and felt immediately that the project could be accomplished with speed and with the least element of error by a skilled staff under Professor Rocca's supervision. Architect Rocca's devotion to the whole work became his second nature; his competence and knowledge were astounding. He and I made a team of travelling surveyors to the quarries to select the perfect marble and to the ateliers where it was cut and carved with the highest degree of skill. After erection of the Shrine of the Báb was completed we teamed up again for the production of the marble needed to build the International Archives on Mt. Carmel. My association with him lasted well over ten years and taught me to appreciate and admire his great talent and versatility in doing things with marble. Through our association he learned much about the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, and his respect for the Cause and his love for Shoghi Effendi, in time, knew no bounds. When he passed away on 4 November 1967,[*] Italy lost one of its best architects of the old school.

    * Exactly ten years to the day after the passing of Shoghi Effendi.

[page ]

Some days after Mr. Maxwell arrived in Italy, he decided to invite the principals of the Fabbricotti firm to meet with him, to learn to what extent they could be of service. This was the beginning of another chapter in the extraordinary and memorable enterprise devoted to the erection of the Shrine of the Báb.

[page 72]


From my conversations with Mr. Maxwell I understood that Shoghi Effendi had decided to build the outer structure of the Báb's Sepulchre in different stages, owing to the limited funds available at the time and to the political situation. Mr. Maxwell had been charged by the Guardian, therefore, to contract only for construction of the arcade that would completely surround the original edifice erected by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, to which the Guardian had added rooms to make a quadrilateral polygon, such as would lend itself to be encircled by a colonnade protecting the four sides of the Shrine. The arcade has also the purpose of creating an ambulatory or covered way, for circumambulation of that Holy Place. Furthermore, the arcade made it possible to extend the base of the original Shrine to support the superstructure proportional to the whole design.

In Hellenistic and Roman periods of architecture, colonnades were widely used in shrines and temples, particularly after the invention of the Roman arch. The colonnade was adopted in both Christianity and Islam for religious structures; for example, in the cloisters of Christian orders and the great mosques of Islam.

When Mr. Maxwell arrived in Italy, our first search for marble and granite, therefore, was limited to the needs of the arcade, and our first consultations with the Fabbricotti firm were directed to ensuring that there would be enough material to complete the first stage of the construction. After the negative results of our inquiries concerning suitable material in the Carrara area, Professor Rocca brought us a ray of hope when he suggested the possible use of Chiampo marble which comes from the region of Venice and, strangely enough, from the geologic point of view, is very similar to the Palestinian stone available in the Holy Land.

The Chiampo quarries are between Verona and Vicenza, the former well known as the locale of Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet and the latter as the birthplace and theatre of action of the great architect, Andrea Palladio (1518-80).[*] Some millions of years ago this region was a sea atoll; it is still possible to find fish fossils embedded in stones now located at high elevation above sea level. A large quantity of marble, of various colours and structure, is now quarried there. In the arcade of the Shrine, Chiampo marble is used for the arches, capitals, walls, corners and balustrade.

    * See Appendix X.

The quarry for the beautiful granite needed for the columns, pilasters and bases - called Rose Baveno granite - is located high in the north-west Italian Alps, near the borders of Switzerland and France. Mr. Maxwell's design called for twenty-four columns and eight pilasters (for the corners), all monolithic as requested by Shoghi Effendi. Because this quarry was outside the war zone, difficulties encountered were only mechanical ones, which were solved by ingenuity and perseverance.

Architect Rocca was dispatched to the two quarries, and his expert opinion brought us much joy: granite and marble of the finest quality could be had, within a relatively short time. As is customary in the marble trade, the Fabbricotti firm wanted to celebrate the occasion by giving a dinner for Mr. Maxwell in one of the famous Roman hostelries where rare wines and inebriating spirits are part of the ritual. It was a surprise, and perhaps a relief, to them when the invitation was graciously declined and the reason explained. Our relationships then became better founded, as there was much appreciation on their part of the habit of temperance which, over the many years of collaboration, proved the basis of much respect for the Cause and admiration of its followers.

The days that followed were busy indeed, particularly for me. Drawings and plans were discussed in detail, and every word of the discussion had to be translated from English into Italian and vice versa, with absolute accuracy, in order to eliminate any misunderstanding or error. During the ensuing years until completion of the Shrine, all correspondence to or from the World Centre had to be translated precisely, with the myriad of technical details and terms upon which the success of the enterprise rested. The slightest oversight or error would have been fatal and costly. Several days were spent by the contracting firm in making calculations, so as to quote inclusive rates for the material needed, for the best workmanship possible in its preparation, and for its delivery in wooden packing cases on board ships leaving Italian ports for Haifa.

Several cablegrams had been sent to Shoghi Effendi to keep him informed of the negotiations, and when quotations for the first contract were sent and received his approval, the way was open for drafting this document. It was signed by Mr. Maxwell for the Guardian of the Faith, on 29 April 1948.[*] At the Guardian's request, a further contract was discussed, approved by him, prepared and signed on 5 May. Thus, both contracts were made even before the State of Israel was proclaimed.

    * This event is described in my article in the Bahá'í World, vol. XII, p. 240.

[page ]

These two contracts set in motion an army of specialists anxiously waiting for work. I must note that never again could we have found such a team of the most skilled, competent and artistic workers, had the construction of the Shrine been delayed by one or two years. Again Providence had made it possible to make use of special craftsmen who were idle because of lack of work!

In Pietrasanta, for example, we had the great fortune to secure the services of a yard well equipped to transform the blocks of raw Chiampo marble into the ornamental components of the Shrine. This small city, in the pre-Apennine hills of the Apuan chain of mountains, has been the throbbing heart of the marble industry of Tuscany for a millennium, in its strategic position between the quarries and a railroad spur that comes to within a few hundred yards. Before the railroad spur was in existence, one of the Roman consular roads, the Aurelia, passed nearby, leading from Rome along the coast to Genoa. Michelangelo, when procuring huge blocks of marble for some of his masterpieces, had passed much time in Pietrasanta, and it seems that the spirit of artistry in shaping stones into beautiful forms has remained with the people of that area; they have, for generations, maintained the primacy and prestige of this noble art.

In this small city, then, a team of sixty men, chosen from a hundred or more firms engaged in marble work in that region, set to work on the Chiampo marble for the arcade. Many of these men were graduates of the best art schools of Italy; others were sculptors, of established reputation, who undertook the modelling in clay of all the ornamental parts, including the capitals of the columns and pilasters, the panels of the facade and the finials of the balustrade. Draftsmen enlarged to natural size the thousands of drawings of every block or stone or decoration, from Mr. Maxwell's designs, to enable the stone-cutters and carvers to reproduce every detail with absolute perfection.

The working-yard for the huge blocks of Rose Baveno granite was at the foot of the mountain where the quarry was located. Each block of granite, about four times the size of the beautifully shaped, gleaming column to be extracted from it, had to be taken down the mountain to the yard, with great difficulty.

The consultations that followed the signing of the first two arcade contracts prepared the way for a close collaboration between Mr. Maxwell, acting for the Guardian, and the contracting firm with its architects and technical experts. My role was to act as personal representative of the Guardian for selection of material, supervision of its artistic carving, for the packing and shipment of the finished work, for its insurance, and as the clearing agency for the voluminous mail and exchange of technical data.

On 15 May 1948, Mr. Maxwell and Ben Weeden flew back to the Holy Land, taking with them to Shoghi Effendi the assurance that at last, notwithstanding the apparent difficulties prevailing in Italy, the erection of the long-awaited Sepulchre of the Báb was a certainty. Immediately after their arrival, reports came that the Guardian was overjoyed and had started work to prepare the ground for the foundation of the arcade with further excavation of the mountain-side, as the new structure would expand the base of the edifice to a size practically double that of the existing Tomb. Shoghi Effendi took it upon himself to direct this difficult and arduous task. As in 1928-9, when the three rooms had been added on the south side of the original edifice, so now the mountain had to be hollowed out still more to accommodate the arcade, again without the proper excavating equipment. The cut-away mountain-side had to be reinforced by an almost vertical wall; tons and tons of rock had to be carted away; trees had to be removed with care to be replanted as soon as the new construction would permit; and innumerable marble tiles paving the walk around the Shrine, as well as huge vases and pedestals, floral plants and hedges, had to be removed and temporarily stored, later to be reinstalled. Shoghi Effendi's drive to finish this work anticipated the moment when the site he was so lovingly preparing would be fined, as if by magic, with the towering architectural gem he had seen depicted in Mr. Maxwell's model and colour rendition.

At the very beginning of the work in Italy, the Guardian had instructed me to send him photographs of all clay and plaster models of the intricate decorative parts, for his approval, before starting their execution in marble. Communication with the Holy Land was difficult; messages, photographs and construction plans had to be sent by unscheduled aeroplanes in parcels taken to the Rome airport, and called for at the airport in Haifa. There was a constant element of uncertainty. Fortunately, however, telegrams and cablegrams, accepted at the sender's risk, went through with some speed, and were only very exceptionally delayed. Thus, the fluidity of contact with the World Centre was maintained. When Mr. Maxwell returned to the Holy Land he prepared, with the assistance of the engineer of the project, Dr. H. Neumann, a professor at Haifa's Technion, the structural plans for laying the foundation and erecting the first elements of the colonnade. After some weeks the Guardian authorized me to sign some new contracts to provide for the marble facades up to and including the balustrade, and he left to my judgement the approval of the clay and plaster models for all the decorative parts of this stage of the construction.

Carved marble and granite columns, however, were not the only constituent parts needed to construct the arcade. As the political situation crystallized with proclamation of the State of Israel, it became evident that the economy of the new nation would undergo great changes from the systems hitherto in effect there, requiring radical adjustment of its industrial enterprises and its labour situation. It became imperative, therefore, to procure from outside the country, at least for the time being, all the necessary materials for proceeding with the construction of the Shrine. Attempts had been made locally in the new State, but with insignificant results. The influx, in large numbers, of refugees to the 'promised land', with the consequent need for dwellings, placed a great strain and priority on all building material. But again, Shoghi Effendi's judgement and decision proved to be essentially timely and wise, and the obtaining and shipping of the much needed material was referred to me.

The situation in Italy, however, as already pointed out, was perhaps even more critical than that in Israel. Demand for building material for reconstruction of the nation made it practically impossible to obtain any such items, especially for export. Every item of building material was controlled by licence issued by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, which was granted only after a lengthy procedure. If the request was for export, further permission was required from the Ministry of Foreign Trade, with the approval of yet another Ministry, that of Finance, which controlled the Customs of the whole country.

Cement and structural steel were, of course, at the top of the list, both for frequency and quantity needed. Hundreds of tons were in constant demand from Haifa, and as the work progressed and the need increased, the supply from the overburdened Italian industry became scarcer and scarcer. Other needed materials included lumber for scaffolding and shuttering, nails, iron wire, wrought-iron gates and fences, iron posts, electric wiring and cable, insulators, iron and zinc pipe, chain lifts, various types of tools, anti-rust varnish, paint and, in due time, lamp-posts, lamp-holders, switches, metal chains, mouldings, marble pedestals, marble steps and tiles (other than Chiampo), door and window frames, plain and stained-glass window panes, marble adhesive, electric globes and lamps, as well as a variety of additional items essential to the construction work and too numerous to mention. I must say that only the intervention of divine assistance made it possible to comply with the construction demands, which at times were in quantities almost impossible to obtain. Yet not once was I forced to inform the Guardian that a request could not be fulfilled.

Many years have since passed and even today I still wonder how it was possible to obtain all that was needed and in such large quantities. I can only say that I was wholly confident in the power that emanated from the World Centre of the Faith; I knew that if the Guardian asked for something, nine-tenths of the problem had been solved. His daily prayers and supplications at the Shrines would solicit the intervention of heavenly assistance that would remove every difficulty, near or remote. I never informed him of the obstacles, the labour and the heartaches involved to obtain licences, nor of the many hours of work required each day, month after month for nearly five years. I had to move fast from Ministry to Ministry, from committees to individual officials, all scattered in different parts of Rome, waiting long hours in antechambers, filling out forms, even paying dues in advance so that the applications could be considered. I am sure the Guardian knew well my anxiety and cares and pains, because in the rarefied world of the spirit in which he lived, he was open to perception and awareness far beyond the usual human limitations.

The answer and the reward came to me that first night I was in his presence, part of which I have described earlier in these recollections. Turning to the friends seated at his table for dinner, he said, among other things:

"We are very glad to have such a Bahá'í friend, to whom the whole world is indebted."

Then, addressing me, he added:

"The service you have rendered is not sufficiently appreciated today, but it will be fully appreciated in the future ... You see, you worked for so long all alone; and no one appreciates this more than I, myself. When you are alone, you have such a big weight to carry. Single-handed, you have rendered an historic service to the Cause... This evening when I went to the Shrine, I remembered you, and I have come to the decision that we shall have a 'Giachery' door for the Shrine - one of the doors."

After explaining some details concerning 'Abdu'l-Bahá'í purchase of land for the Shrine, His sufferings in order to build it, and the difficulties caused by Jamal Pasha, he turned again to me and said:

"You are one of the three - Sutherland,[*] myself and you. Sutherland rendered services in connection with the Shrine which are most meritorious - more meritorious than anything I have done - more meritorious than anything Ugo has done."

    * Referring to William Sutherland Maxwell, F.R.I.B.A., architect of the Shrine and Hand of the Cause. This conversation took place on the evening of 4 March 1952, exactly twenty-one days before Mr. Maxwell's passing away, in his native Canada.

[page ]

No more touching statement could have been said to compensate me for whatever efforts I had made to help carry on the work started by the Master, Abdu'l-Bahá!

Shoghi Effendi, as I have mentioned, had the rare capacity to visualize things as a whole after a plan had been conceived by him. When the possibility of erecting the superstructure of the Báb's Sepulchre seemed about to materialize, Shoghi Effendi intensified the landscaping of the surrounding grounds. Much inventiveness and imagination were required to adapt to the irregular nature of the ground the superb and graceful landscaping he planned, to make a befitting framework for the majestic structure of the Shrine when it would be completed. Therefore from the inner recesses of his refinement and good taste and from the natural resources at hand, with his usual enthusiasm, he drew the arrangements of colours, plants, flowers, trees and shrubs that make up the beautiful gardens on Mt. Carmel. I saw him intensely at work, directing a few men to trace lines, stretch strings, place a plant here and there, or a pedestal or an ornament, to lay out, from the first moment, what would be stable and permanent. I cannot remember having heard him once say, 'Take that away', or 'remove' this or that. There was always an air of contentment and gratification radiating from his dear face, so that one longed to follow him to the end of the world. The vision of things to come, arrayed in beauty, was surely always before his eyes, and he followed this vision as a navigator charting his course from the stars in the dark sky of night, undisturbed by any turbulent elements raging around him. From reports I received from time to time on the progress made with the foundation, with excavation of the mountain-side, and with extension of the terrace to east and west in front of the Shrine, it was evident that Shoghi Effendi was eager to see, at last, the burgeoning forth into reality of the long awaited Mausoleum for the Prophet of God to Whom he himself was related.

After about six months most of the material needed to start construction of the arcade, such as threshold stones, bases and socles of the columns and pilasters, all beautifully finished, was ready to be crated and shipped. Never shall I forget the astounding impression I received when, in the marble working-yard, I beheld the Rose Baveno columns, twenty-four of them, lined up like giant soldiers on parade, glimmering in the sunlight of a clear autumn morning in the Italian Alps! Only a few months before, I had seen the huge rough blocks of granite extracted from the bosom of the mountain, and a few men shaping them manually with sledge hammers. Now, like well-cut precious gems carved out from shapeless stones, the slender, towering shafts were proclaiming the perfection of their form and brilliancy to my incredulous eyes. An upsurge of joy filled my whole being, as I thought to myself how, erected in situ, this same sight would bring untold happiness to the heart of Shoghi Effendi and to the innumerable succession of pilgrims who, over the centuries to come, will visit that Holy Spot. I had seen the drawings of the arcade and of the individual columns many times, but the beauty of the conception unfolded itself fully only when I lifted my eyes to view the complete height of the shafts. I saw that they embodied the graceful Vignola conformation, adding great distinction to the whole project.[*]

    * See Appendix VIII.

[page ]

Approval was enthusiastically given and provision made for packing all the material for shipment in mammoth, sturdy wooden boxes, and for conveying the 'giants' to a Tyrrhenian seaport from which they would be shipped to Haifa. The long-awaited hour had come. Some kind of magic had to intervene now to start the spectacular task of moving a building of a very special nature and significance, piece by piece, from one continent to another.

On 1 October 1948, the following cablegram was received from Shoghi Effendi:

"Delighted splendid progress increasingly admire your indefatigable labours. Owing international situation urge start shipment material completed. Cable date shipment. Deepest love. Shoghi Rabbani."

The prospect was challenging. Only a very few ships would venture into mined waters unsafe for normal navigation; moreover, space was lacking, almost unavailable. We had to do much praying, because every avenue seemed blocked. Shipping agents were seeking any possibility but without immediate success. Only faith could have removed the difficulties. If frustration or despair had taken hold of me, even for one brief instant, this whole chain of prodigious events would have been interrupted. Under the most distressing circumstances we never doubted, feeling confident that a propitious solution would soon be at hand. This was the lesson I had learned in working with Shoghi Effendi. A few years later, when I met him in person, I immediately knew the reason why, as I have explained.

A few days later another cablegram came, requesting the name of the steamer. The next day a ship was found and a telegraphic reply was sent to him, informing him that the first shipment would sail on the S.S. Norte, due to arrive in Haifa on 23 November 1948 - a record of incredible speed in accomplishing the work since the April day when Mr. Maxwell had signed the first contract! Over one hundred and fifty tons of cut, carved and polished marble and granite were shipped at this time, including the load of a second ship, the S.S. Campidoglio, which sailed almost in the wake of the first One. The Norte finally reached the port of Haifa on 28 November, with the Campidoglio following a few days later, as a true co-partner and escort in such a prodigious event.

From my own happiness in those days, I could evaluate the extent of Shoghi Effendi's delight and gratification. Later I was told that the arrival of the ship was anticipated and watched with great elation, and when the precious loads had been landed and carted with extreme hardship and many difficulties to the immediate vicinity of the Báb's Shrine, the joy of the beloved Guardian knew no bounds.

It does not lie within the purpose of these recollections to give a detailed schedule of the many contracts signed on the Guardian's behalf for all the material needed to erect the outer shell of the Báb's Sepulchre, over the period of five years, nor to list the names and dates of departure of all the ships needed to convey the material from Europe to the Holy Land. The reader should, however, pause to ponder on the thousands of details involved in such an enterprise, which had to be executed with absolute thoroughness and great speed, notwithstanding the many obstacles arising out of the political situation of post-war Europe, particularly in Italy, plus the uncertainty of circumstances prevailing on land and sea owing to the conflict in the Middle East.[*]

    * See reports by Dr. Giachery and by Mr. Ben D. Weeden in The Bahá'í World vol. XII, pp. 240-6 and pp. 240-52.

[page ]

In reviewing retrospectively the efforts, the aspirations, the hopes and the predicaments with which the beloved Guardian had to contend, and at times struggle, all alone - as only a very few around him were able to give effective assistance - plus the limitation of funds that was a constant restraint to his enthusiasm and desire to accomplish many other things, we cannot but marvel at what, single-handed, he was able to achieve in those nine fleeting years (1948-57) during which he raised to the highest possible degree the prestige, nobility and significance of the Cause he was so lovingly and devotedly championing, establishing all the Institutions envisaged by the Founder of the Faith on a permanent and invulnerable foundation.

We shall temporarily leave the chronology of the building activities and devote some pages to the architectural conception of the structure and the analysis of its component parts in their relation to the birth and flowering of the Báb's Dispensation.

During my first visit to the Holy Land in 1952, Shoghi Effendi related to me that when Abdu'l-Bahá undertook construction of the original Shrine of the Báb in 1900-8, He wanted to have eight doors, but He could not achieve more than five. The Master's wish was finally fulfilled in 1929, when Shoghi Effendi added three rooms. Since the beginning of Shoghi Effendi's noble enterprise, when Mr. Maxwell brought to Rome his drawings of the superstructure and the photograph of the Shrine's model, I had observed that the number eight had a predominant part in the whole project. Without my asking the significance of that number in the structure and the surrounding grounds, Shoghi Effendi one day made reference to a verse of the Qur'an, which he first recited in Arabic and then in English: '... on that day eight shall bear up the throne of thy Lord'.[*] He then explained the sublime station of the Báb,[**] and how he guided Mr. Maxwell to incorporate the spiritual meaning of this Islamic prophecy in the project, to testify to His exalted station, to honour eternally the Martyr-Prophet enshrined in the Sepulchre, and to emphasize how closely the Báb's Revelation was connected with the expectations of the Islamic world. Shoghi Effendi further mentioned that Abdu'l-Bahá, on completing the initial six rooms, had named each of the five doors after one of the followers of the Faith, including those who had been associated with the construction of the Shrine, and that He always referred to the Shrine as the 'Throne of the Lord', and to the Casket of the Báb also as the 'Throne'. Even the Holy Dust was called by Him the 'Throne'.

    * Sura LXIX, 'The Inevitable', verse 17, of Rodwell's translation. For Arberry's translation see last footnote * before p.97
    ** Rabb-i-A'la, literally: Lord the Most High.

Shoghi Effendi also mentioned the names of the recipients of this great honour; he himself had named one of the doors of the three additional rooms, early in his ministry, and was naming the remaining two doors after Mr. Maxwell and Ugo Giachery.[*]

    * See Appendix IX for the names of the doors.

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"The Master", he continued, "had designed the inner Shrine so there could be eight doors, and you are one of the eight who have been singled out, and whose name will forever be associated with the eight doors of the Báb's Shrine. Also the Báb is the eighth Manifestation of those religions whose followers still exist. When Sutherland [Mr. Maxwell] designed the Shrine, I told him, 'You must have eight columns on each side.'"

The predominance of the number eight is evident in many other details of the Sepulchre and the grounds around it. The visitor, if he is observant, will see that the ornamental floor are shaped like eight-pointed stars, outstanding decorative motives in the midst of the green lawns of English grass, so dear to the Guardian.

As the columns of Rose Baveno granite proclaim the glory of classic Roman architecture, the majestic ogee arches, seven on each side, bring the flavour of the Orient, reminder of the birthplace of the Martyr-Prophet and the splendour of Islam which flourished for over a millennium along the shores of the Mediterranean. This harmony of epochs and styles, perpetuating the artistic aspects of two spiritual forces that had been at variance through the centuries, is one of the inspired creations of the architect, who enhanced the uniqueness of his design by placing a composite Corinthian capital between each shaft and the base of the arch. Shoghi Effendi, who had guided the architect in the use of Western and Eastern styles, and left to him the artistic details, was delighted with the whole result, as it fulfilled an historical necessity by symbolizing a basic unity, so well expressed in forms more eloquent than words.

The acanthus is a plant which grows all along the temperate shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Ancient Greece adopted the leaf of this prickly plant as an ornamental motive in architecture and particularly in the Corinthian order of capitals. Later the Romans used the same pattern, adding something in the way of efflorescence. Thus the composite style was born. Mr. Maxwell, a master in the art of ornamental design, created for the columns and the pilasters a graceful and stunning capital in which the foliation, the volutes and the florets are vividly portrayed. The acanthus leaf was used again in the small panels on the masonry, between two arches, and generously in the four concave corners of the arcade which will be described later. The small panels, octagonal in shape, give the impression to the casual observer of being an arabesque design, in tune with the ogee arches, but they are actually in the same order and style as the capitals.

In recent years, before his passing, I happened to visit Architect Rocca, in his home in Marina di Carrara. When I reached the house I was greatly surprised to notice that right above the main door of the building was a white marble replica of the Maxwell panel. He must have noticed my bewilderment, for before I could utter a word he said: 'I could not resist; it is so originally beautiful that I had to place one in my home as a memorial to Mr. Maxwell and as a memento of my association with the work on the Shrine of the Báb'. This episode, I thought then, will bear witness, outside the Bahá'í world, to the ingenuity of the architect of the Báb's Sepulchre. Now that Mr. Rocca has entered the unseen world of God, I feel that the panel must have been the cause of great happiness to him, and that, whenever he entered his home, his pride in the significance of being selected by the hand of Providence as one of the side actors of a great drama must have overwhelmed him.

Much could be said of the many exquisite details of the various carvings which ornament the four facades of the arcade, particularly around the arches from base to finial, and in the carved mouldings (as torus, conge and cavetto), where the carvings follow the line of the arches, always terminating with a floral motive, like a jewel clasp for a necklace of precious stones.

The colonnade just described is an equilateral quadrangle in which the corners, instead of meeting at a ninety-degree angle, join in four ample concave recesses, each of which is surmounted by the symbol of the ring-stone 'Greatest Name', placed on an elaborate oval shield. The vivid imagination of Shoghi Effendi has provided at each corner recess a large panel framed by a carved floral festoon. Selections from the Writings of the beloved Báb are to be engraved in these curved corner panels to attest for centuries to come His readiness to sacrifice His life for the redemption of mankind. One evening Shoghi Effendi spoke of the plans he had made to have engraved in these corners 'the passage in Arabic, quoted by Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Iqan: "O Thou Remnant of God! I have sacrificed myself ..."' [9] Then, turning to me, he asked me to get samples of different types of scripts, Kufic and other calligraphy, such as would be harmonious with the 'Greatest Name' in the panel above, and to inquire about the possibility of having an expert in this art of writing come from Egypt to carve inscriptions in the corners, when the way would be open. With the assistance of an Egyptian Bahá'í the books were secured and sent to the Guardian. Each of the four concave corners is flanked at each side by two pilasters of Chiampo, with bases and Corinthian capitals.

    [9] KI p.148 (Brit.ed.) or p.231 (U.S. ed.)

A substantial cornice surmounts the colonnade and the corners, delimiting the arcade below from the stone balustrade above it. Shoghi Effendi, in making reference to this balustrade, always called it the 'first crown of the Shrine'. It is a parapet composed of twenty-seven rectangular panels, seven on each side of the Shrine superstructure, except on the north side. Flanking each panel is a stone post with finials, twenty-eight in all; each post is the height of a man. The panels are monolithic and of flawless marble; each weighs nearly one ton and is framed in bas-relief of green glass mosaic inlaid with scarlet blossoms. Shoghi Effendi explained: 'Green denotes the lineage of the Holy Bab, and scarlet signifies the colour of the blood shed by His martyrdom.' Shoghi Effendi further explained that these panels, interspersed in the crown, would bear passages from the Writings of the Báb in Arabic. (By crown, as already stated, he meant the whole parapet.) In the days when the Shrine was being erected, plastic material was making headway in the building industry in Italy and the contractor wanted to make use of this material because it was so widely used in making mosaics. But because glass mosaic, made by one of the best firms in Venice, had proved its durability in other buildings and was used for all mosaic work in other parts of the Shrine superstructure, I insisted on its use in the balustrade panels. The large central panel on the north side of the parapet, facing the sea, is the twenty-eighth panel of the whole series. It is a masterpiece of beauty, craftsmanship and intricate design. When the entire balustrade was completed, Shoghi Effendi announced this to the Bahá'í world, and referred to that central panel as 'adorned with green mosaic with gilded Greatest Name, the fairest gem set in crown of arcade of Shrine ...'. [10] And it is indeed a gem!

    [10] CF p.80

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(there are 11 photos between pages 86-87 in the book)

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The central part of this panel is a large disk like a shining midday sun, with white and golden rays, holding within a nine-pointed star of green marble a bronze fire-gilded 'Greatest Name' in Arabic in bas-relief, visible from near and far. At the two extremities of this panel, on the left and right of the disk, there is a letter 'B', with carved foliage and flowers interspersed, reminder of the acanthus motive, and each facing the other thus: '(reversed "B") B'.

Because of the delicacy of the carving, and the possible fragility of the mosaics, the shipment of these panels presented a special problem. Generally, all the carved marble was shipped from Italy to Haifa in sturdy wooden boxes of local alpine fir. When I went to Pietrasanta to approve this shipment of panels, I felt that the average packing would not be sufficient and that a second outer box would be necessary. This required an added expense which I submitted by cable to the Guardian for his approval. When the affirmative answer came, arrangements were made to purchase the additional lumber required, and in a few days the whole two hundred tons of marble were shipped. The ship which took the marble cargo stopped on the way at another port to load bags of black soot, used to make paints, a load which was unwisely placed on top of our wooden cases of marble. The sea journey to Haifa was rough, and the cargo must have shifted so that when the ship reached Haifa it was found that the majority of the bags had split open, the soot spreading all over the wooden cases. The extra packing had saved the marble from any damage, although the black dust had, in many instances, penetrated the outer boxes. The shipment, of course, was covered by insurance against this and other types of damage, but the delay in beginning again the reproduction of all the damaged marble would not have permitted completion of the arcade in time, as so ardently wished by Shoghi Effendi, for the one hundredth anniversary of the Martyrdom of the beloved Bab. This episode is one other of the many elements of wonder connected with the erection of the Shrine.

To complete the description of the parapet of the arcade, I shall here add some details concerning the crowning panels of the four concave corners.

Immediately above the cornice on which the balustrade rests, the oval corner shield, wreathed by a garland of laurel leaves, is surmounted by sun-rays and additional floral carvings tapering to a sharp point, and rising over nine feet above the cornice. In the centre of the shield there is an oval panel of green marble called 'Ugo Vert' - from the name of the owner of the quarry, Count Ugo d'Ivrea of Gressoney[*] - on which is set, in special fire-gilded bronze, the symbol of the 'Greatest Name' used in the Bahá'í ringstone. This symbol was used by the Guardian on his own personal stationery, and is also frescoed on one wall of the room occupied by Bahá'u'lláh in the Bahji Mansion, in the corner where He usually sat.

    * In Piedmont, Italy.

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The ensemble of panel and pointed shield is dramatic and dignified, sustained by two large plain panels, one at each side, and held together by carved large acanthus leaves which give the impression of wings lifting the whole into that infinity of beauty and glory which surrounds the Holy Shrine. The contract for the marble needed for this part of the structure had been signed in Rome on 7 September 1949, almost one year after the beginning of the erection of the arcade. This first unit of the Shrine, the arcade with its balustrade, was completed by the end of May 1950.

As the ninth of July approached - the first centenary of the Báb's Martyrdom - the Guardian, overwhelmed by the Shrine's magnificence and exquisite beauty, was filled with infinite joy. His message to the Bahá'í world [11] reflected his joy at this achievement, and announced the timeliness of erecting the octagonal unit of the superstructure of the Sepulchre, leading to the completion of the domed embellishment of the precious Shrine erected by Abdu'l-Bahá. On that historic occasion, G.A. Borgese of Italy, then Professor of Italian Literature at the University of Chicago, a warm friend and admirer of the Bahá'í Faith, was invited to deliver an address at the public meeting held in the Temple Foundation Hall, to an audience of some five hundred persons. [12]

    [11] See MBW pp.5-7
    [12] See BW vol. XII pp.226-30

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Reference has been made, in the preceding text, to 'fire-gilded bronze'. This is a time-honoured method of covering copper bronze or silver with a layer of gold. A durable gilding was required for the Arabic lettering of the 'Greatest Name' symbols, and it was therefore decided to use this method still practised by some skilled goldsmiths in Florence, because it is much more lasting than any other process in use today.

[page 89]


Shoghi Effendi's original plan was to build only the arcade of the Shrine, waiting then for better conditions - both political and economic - to continue the erection of the whole Shrine at a later date. This view had been communicated to me by Mr. Maxwell during his visit to Rome, in 1948. It was for this reason that the contract for construction of the whole edifice was not stipulated at the very beginning of the undertaking. This was confirmed to me by the Guardian himself when I met him in Haifa early in 1952. However, as the work for the erection of the arcade progressed, and the beauty of the edifice unfolded - 'far beyond belief', as he stated - the perennial and consuming flame of achievement which burned in his bosom moved him to reconsider his earlier plan, and, trusting fully in divine assistance, he decided to undertake there and then the construction of the remaining superstructure, leading to the final erection of the gilded dome.

Those who were close to Shoghi Effendi in that period well remember how much concerned he was with securing the necessary funds to carry on the construction work. Appeals were made to the friends, particularly to those of the United States of America. Because of favourable developments in the new State of Israel he was able to announce, on 21 March 1951, that they 'impel me to take the major step in the development of the swiftly progressing, irresistibly advancing enterprise transcending in sacredness any collective undertaking launched in the course of the history of the hundred-year-old Faith'. And he renewed his 'fervent plea' for financial support, 'however great the sacrifice involved, however heavy the burdens, however distracting the successive crises of the present critical hour'. [13]

    [13] MBW p.9

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In some instances the friends provided financial loans that would ensure the continuity of the work, and which were later repaid.

At that time Italy was starting to recover from a disastrous war economy; the burden of reparation indemnities to be paid by that nation to the Allied Powers was staggering, and any activity that would bring ready foreign currency to the Italian treasury was not only welcome, but courted. As Shoghi Effendi agreed to make all payments in U.S. dollars, we had a strong bargaining advantage on our side. Although teaching the Faith was not allowed in Italy, and the believers - including myself and my wife - were regularly and systematically harassed by the police, the procurement of the marble and all other building material for export to Haifa was highly coveted, even though scarcity of the materials, as already explained, raised many difficulties at every turn. Shoghi Effendi during his ministry had to take many decisions, some of vital and supreme importance, and in my judgement one of the most remarkable was his decision to continue the Shrine's construction when he did. Labour in Italy was obtainable then at a very reasonable cost; the eagerness of the people to recoup their personal and national economy transformed them into eager, willing and persevering workers. A delay of even one year in the completion of the building would have increased considerably its cost, and the workmanship would not have been of the same excellent and high quality that it was then.

Clear proof of this became evident four years later, when I was called upon again by the Guardian to secure the marble and the material for erection of the International Archives on Mt. Carmel, concerning which an account will be given later on.

In an article which I wrote for The Bahá'í World, volume XII,[*] I stated in detail the great engineering work needed to raise the superstructure of the Shrine without touching or endangering the original edifice built by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Right above the roof of that original building, supported by eight huge piers cast in steel reinforced concrete reaching to bedrock of the mountain below the foundation of the Shrine, an eight-pointed star, also of steel reinforced concrete, was cast in one day to make the solid foundation on which the superstructure rests. Heavy steel pipes, eight in number, resting on the meeting-points of the two superimposed quadrangles which form the star, sustain the clerestory above the octagon, and the dome. The casting of the star, two metres deep and half metre wide, had to be done in One day - an almost impossible feat because of the lack of proper machinery and the limitation of labour - in order to have the huge polygon dry evenly and prevent future cracks in the mass of the concrete. It is to be understood that the cyclopean steel structure had been carefully prepared over a number of weeks, but the execution and completion of the concrete-pouring in one day, under the then prevailing condition and the many difficulties arising constantly, was a feat that will remain outstanding in the annals of engineering in the Near East.

    * Pp. 240-6. See also photographs of construction, pp. 46-7

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The octagon, as the name denotes, is the eight-sided part of the Shrine which rises immediately above the arcade, and is located in the centre of the large platform which resulted from the casting of the concrete star already mentioned. The number eight has a new significance in this construction, which has to support at every corner a pinnacle, very much like a minaret. The pinnacles function also as anchors for the wrought-iron railing that rises above the roof of the octagon. This whole structure is of classic simplicity, with the motive of bas-relief pilasters on each side of the corners, rising slender and stately to the top of the walls, and joining with a large band of carved floral decoration that terminates in a gracefully moulded cornice. Each side of the octagon has three windows, a large one at the centre, with a smaller one at each side. Again the oriental motive embodied in the arches of the colonnade is repeated in the ogee shape of the windows and in the ornamental moulding which runs along the contour of each. The iron frames for each window are divided in panels, twelve for the large windows, and three for the small ones, holding stained glass. This touch adds to the mysterious beauty of the sacred edifice.

The side of the octagon situated on the south of the building, instead of having a large window, has a door (with a grill and a glass panel), and provides the only access to the inside of the superstructure of the Shrine. Shoghi Effendi named this door after the late Hand of the Cause, Mr. Leroy Ioas, for his valuable assistance in the erection of the holy edifice from the time of his arrival in Haifa in the spring of 1952.[*]

    * See memorial article, The Bahá'í World, vol. XIV.

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Shoghi Effendi felt it was irreverent for anyone to walk above the tomb of the Báb, and only for technical reasons was it tolerated during the actual construction; but he warned us many times that the hallowed nature of the edifice would never permit one to perambulate over the sacred remains of a Prophet of God. And yet, of course, it has been and will be necessary at times to reach other sections of the superstructure for maintenance and needed repairs. For a long time after the completion of the Shrine, a small wooden bridge was left between the south side of the terrace around the octagon and the mountain; now I believe the connection from the outside is achieved with a very tall ladder.

Mr. Maxwell, when working on the project of the Shrine, had made provision for a staircase to be built in the south-east corner room. Nothing was done about the stairs during the construction of the arcade or of the other sections of the Shrine, because the three rooms added by Shoghi Effendi were being used to house the relics which formed part of the archives started by him. It was not until 1955 that the erection of the new International Archives building was commenced, and it was barely completed at the time of the Guardian's passing in November 1957. Another two years were needed for the completion of innumerable details, before the precious contents could be moved from the old archives quarters to the new building. I saw the plan for the staircase several times during and after the visit of Mr. Maxwell to Italy, but no action could have been taken during the construction of the superstructure, because all precedence had to be given to the completion of the arcade within the dates of the centenaries of the Martyrdom of the Báb, in July 1950, and the Birth of the Mission of Bahá'u'lláh, in 1953.

The whole edifice displays a great variety of architectural and artistic gems, products of the inventiveness and refined taste of Mr. Maxwell; Shoghi Effendi highly valued and admired every expression of such taste, which manifested itself in the ornamental details abounding throughout the edifice. Nearly every stone shows the gracefulness of the Maxwell artistic talent; in some instances the delicacy of the design is like a beautiful piece of embroidery or hand-made jewelry. It would require much space and time to enter into the details of all the motifs which beautify every frieze, festoon, moulding, garland, arabesque, finial, leaf, flower, rosette and chaplet, with which the appearance of every component piece of marble, or granite, or iron-work, or glass, is enriched. In my judgement, one of the very best pieces of ornamentation in the entire project is the iron-wrought balustrade which rises above the octagon and encircles the clerestory, on each side of the octagonal terrace, between the eight pinnacles or 'minarets' whose architectural ornamentation is embodied also in the design of the balustrade itself Before deciding on the final design, Mr. Maxwell had made many sketches to develop the main motif, each of which is a little gem of artistry in tempera, revealing over and over his boundless love for beauty and precision.

The balustrade railing is of wrought-iron, executed mostly by hand, its decorative elements all made by skilled artists who shaped the red-hot iron with a hammer. Every section, of which there are eight, is supported by heavy iron rods at either end, and is divided into nine parts, each supported by strong horizontal iron bars and the railing. Each terminal vertical rod is encrusted with acanthus leaves and terminates in a similar single leaf bent backwards, and a volute inwards, holding at its centre a six-petal rosette, all being connected with the railing. Each part is almost square and contains the enlarged contour of a flower, suggestive of a lotus blossom opening and, of course, also of the East. The whole design is so original and artistic in conception that one marvels at the perfect blending of styles of the Orient and the Occident.

While the balustrade railing was being made, I went several times to visit the blacksmith shop where the work was done, in a small township between Spezia and Carrara, not too far from the place where the marble was being worked. The owner, a dedicated and skilful man who loved his trade, had many workers under him, but among them was an artisan who seemed to be especially gifted. By taking a piece of red-hot iron, with a few hammer strokes he would produce an artistic object, a leaf or a flower. I became very fond of this man who, alone, did all the decorative iron-work for the Shrine of the Báb, as well as the lamp-posts, and some of the gates for both Mt. Carmel and Bahji. He had a tenacity and endurance without equal, coupled with keen intelligence and the skill to produce beauty. His interpretation of Mr. Maxwell's designs is an example of the gift this man possessed.

Every piece of iron-work which came from that shop was required first to be covered with two layers of anti-rust paint, applied either by brush or by dipping, and then with a layer of special graphite-black varnish. Shoghi Effendi was very eager to see the balustrade finished, and when the huge wooden cases, each one with two sections inside, arrived in Haifa towards the end of February 1952, he had them immediately opened and the contents placed in view on the terrace before the custodian's house, near the Eastern Pilgrim House. I happened to arrive in Haifa two or three days later, and the Guardian spoke of the ornamental iron balustrade with admiration, praising the workmanship with much satisfaction and joy. To him, the arrival of new material for the construction of the Shrine was a cause of deep pleasure, because he was able to see the things he had long before visualized in his mind. He then gave instructions that the balustrade should be painted a dark green, and that its sections should be set up at the earliest possible moment in their places on the Shrine structure.

Shoghi Effendi had already experimented with the gilding of certain parts of the main gate to the Shrine gardens and the gates of the Monument gardens, and in his mind he had decided to have most of the decorative elements on the balustrade, such as leaves and flowers, also gilded. There was at the time in the city of Haifa a very skilled gilder, Mr. Klophatz, who had already done some of the work I have just mentioned, under the directives of Mr. Maxwell. He was called by the Guardian and they spent some hours selecting to advantage all the parts which were to be gilded.

This same artist first painted the particular spots to be gilded with a deep yellow varnish so that Shoghi Effendi could see the effect and how the iron would look after the gold leaf had been applied. By so doing, elements of error were practically eliminated. The Guardian asked me to check the progress of the work and to use my judgement in choosing additional parts to be gilded, in order to enrich its appearance. This was the system used by Shoghi Effendi for all the iron-work distributed on Mt. Carmel and at Bahji, for the gates, large and small, and the lamp-posts. This artist, who had come many years before to the Promised Land from Germany, possessed a good education and much talent. He deeply admired the Teachings, some of which he had read, and he greatly enjoyed working under Shoghi Effendi's direction. His respect for him was touching, as no other man would have worked so long, in such trying conditions for only the compensation he received, but he had become devoted to Shoghi Effendi and admired what he represented. The process of gilding must be done where there is not the slightest air current. The artist therefore worked on location under a heavy tent, closed in (for many hours) on all sides, with the sun raising the inside temperature mercilessly. All eight sections of the balustrade were gilded in this fashion, from a scaffolding and within a tent which enclosed a whole length of balustrade, from pinnacle to pinnacle. It took many weeks. When the work was finished, and placed on view, the pride and happiness of the Guardian could not be described. It was a memorable day when the first balustrade railing, weighing nearly a ton, was raised by hand to be set in position. A dozen sturdy men were required to handle this assignment. The beauty of the handwork, the strength of its structure and the imposing part it played in the appearance of the Shrine, had electrified these men. I was present on that occasion, and can well remember the feeling of elation and satisfaction of the whole crew when the first balustrade was properly placed. Great happiness, many congratulations and much laughter accompanied the completion of this task. The other seven sections followed with the same spirit of collaboration and rejoicing.

The eight pinnacles, one at each corner of the octagon, which support the iron balustrades, are indeed original in conception. If we consider some of the famous mosques of the Islamic world, we can readily understand their decorative function and the character these pinnacles bring to the Shrine. The Báb was a Siyyid, entitled to be remembered in the same manner as the Prophet Muhammad and the Imams. Speaking one evening of the importance of the minarets in Islamic architecture, Shoghi Effendi said: "The mosque of Medina has seven minarets, the one of Sultan Ahmad in Constantinople has six, but the Qur'an mentions eight." Furthermore, the eight slender minaret-like spires symbolize the bearers of the 'throne of God'.[*]

    * In the Qur'an, Sura LXIX, 'The Inevitable', verse 17, it is said: "And the angels shall be on its sides, and over them on that day eight shall bear up the throne of thy Lord." From Rodwell's translation. Arberry translates this verse: "... and the angels shall stand upon its borders, and upon that day eight shall carry above them the throne of thy Lord."

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There are three component elements in each pinnacle. The lower part, based on the roof of the octagon, is one half of the total height of the pinnacle, and is formed by the graved ensemble of fourteen acanthus leaves - seven on each side of the central point which coincides with the corner of the octagon. This part rises, its leaves at different levels, to the tip which bends outward. The two central leaves, the tallest of all, support a carved cluster of flowers, reminiscent of the motif at each of the four concave corners of the arcade. The next section is a fluted cylinder ending in a slightly wider circular platform, on which rests the cone-shaped finial. The lower and the middle sections consist of one solid block of marble, the cone terminal being a separate piece, connected with the middle section by a sturdy copper dowel. The middle section and the cone represent together the upper half of the pinnacle's height. The reader would be interested to know that all abutting elements of the building, such as bases, columns, capitals and finial, are conjoined by copper dowel-pins, an ancient method widely used by the Romans in the erection of their majestic buildings and temples.

When the first pinnacle was in place, Shoghi Effendi instructed that the very tip of it be gilded, and this was done for all eight of them. When the sun shines, or the night reflectors cast their powerful light on them, they look like mighty candles alight-an eternal homage to the Báb, the Torch-bearer of Bahá'u'lláh's Dispensation.

[page 97


The most impressive part of the history of the Báb's drama is manifested in this portion of the Shrine. In it are permanently embodied the memories of His meteoric Dispensation. The graceful drum rises eleven metres from the level of the octagon's roof. It is built upon a circular steel-reinforced concrete ring, supported by eight mighty steel pipes which rest on the great concrete star, already mentioned. To procure these Manesmann pipes was not a simple matter. No steel factory in Italy was making them; yet to obtain them from another steel-producing country was also out of the question, as both England and Germany were occupied with their own reconstruction after the war and would have taken possibly a year or more to supply them. On the other hand, the sudden cabled request from Shoghi Effendi implied urgent need; any delay in finding and shipping the pipes would have considerably retarded construction. I well remember the days of feverish search in many directions and quarters; but faith and prayers helped us again. Somehow, in a neglected collection of building material in Milan, we found eight pipes - no more and no less - which had been ordered from Germany before the war for a certain project and never used; the length and diameter were exactly what we needed! Other difficulties, including obtaining the necessary export licence, left us breathless and weary, but we were filled with joy when we learned of the relief and happiness brought to the beloved Guardian.

The clerestory is a perfect cylinder, intersected by eighteen lancet windows which rise vertically for almost the entire height of the stonework. At the base of each window, there is a large block of carved marble jutting out from the surface of the cylinder. A similar arrangement is carried out for the top of the window, where the headstone, similarly carved, joins with the large decorative fascia of superimposed ogee finial which reach the brim of the dome.

The eighteen lancet windows represent and memorialize the Báb's Letters of the Living. In a cablegram sent in July 1950, and already mentioned,[*] the Guardian made an appeal to 'repay part of the infinite debt of gratitude owed its martyrs ...' [14] Although the Shrine is dedicated to the Báb, these windows offer a memorial to His heroic disciples, most of whom won the martyr's crown. the windows rise majestically in their simplicity and beauty. They were erected during September 1952. I was in Haifa at the time with Professor Rocca, the architect for the marble work in Italy, and we both marvelled at the unfoldment of this exquisite conception of the architect of the Shrine.

    * See Footnote 11 immediately before page 89
    [14] MBW p.6

The head-mason and his crew were enchanted; they handled the heavy blocks of marble as if they were precious gems to be set in a necklace. Theirs was a deep pride at being connected with the execution of this great plan. One could sense the humility and awe which held these workers spellbound while they busied themselves with their tasks.

Daily and for long, I contemplated the blossoming of the windows and could not help thinking back to the days when those saintly souls, the Letters of the Living, were in this world, ready to give their lives for the Holy Báb's Cause, setting an example for thousands of other human beings, who, intoxicated with the love of God, would later march singing to their own martyrdom. I tried to remember their names, but that of Tahirih, the Lady from Qazvin, came first to my mind. The pure, the beautiful advocate of womanhood, the serene poetess, whose oratory moved so deeply all to whom she spoke, a chosen Letter of the Báb, the courageous champion of Badasht! Now a window will recall to the whole world her courage as the first woman apostle of any Dispensation.

It was Shoghi Effendi's idea to incorporate in the Shrine of the Martyr-Prophet these memorials to His apostles: windows, the perennial bearers of light, gateways from darkness to luminous glory, eyes from the realm of the spirit open upon the world of existence. Speaking one evening of these windows, Shoghi Effendi said: 'The Letters of the Living are the channels through which the light passes.' This similitude was to me highly convincing and deeply moving.

It was also his wish, nobly carried out by Mr. Maxwell, that the windows should have iron frames, divided into ten squares and two semicircular panels, each one bearing stained glass with floral decoration in brilliant colours, chiefly red, green and violet. In the mornings and afternoons, when the sunlight comes from the east or from the west, it strikes some of the windows on one side, and its beams travel across the drum to the windows on the opposite side, illuminating in all their glory the beauty and grace of the flower garlands. In recent years arrangements have been made to illumine at night the windows from inside, and when the whole Sepulchre is aglow with the light from powerful reflectors, the windows shine in their colourful splendour.

This is true also of the octagon windows, the glass of which bears a sober but at the same time highly decorative, geometrical pattern which tones with the simplicity of the marble architecture. The stained glass was produced by a firm in Turin, Italy, after other firms in Florence, in Spain and Belgium had been investigated. The Guardian wished to have a first-class atelier do the work, one which was capable of interpreting in its execution the delicacy and perfection of Mr. Maxwell's drawing. When the Turin firm was finally chosen, samples of coloured glass were sent to Shoghi Effendi to select the exact colours. At the same time the original Maxwell design was enlarged to the correct size by Professor Angelo Monti, a Florentine artist who specialized in stained glass. The owner of the firm, Signor Cristiano Jorger, a well-known and expert glass-maker, then executed the work with much skill and great artistic ability. By the end of 1952 the drum was completed, leaving only the dome to be erected to finish the Shrine.

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The evenings spent at table with the Guardian can never be forgotten. The memories of the hours filled with the joy of his presence and with his enlightening and captivating conversation, which covered a variety of subjects, are the most precious possession of my mature years. How often now, as in a dream, I go back to review in my mind every detail of his discourses and compare his views and predictions with the realities of present-day events.

At that particular time, the erection of the Shrine of the Báb was of paramount importance in his mind; it was a subject which he favoured most and he expressed his ideas with deep conviction and much expectation. It was the early spring of 1952. The octagon had been completed, the ornamental iron railing placed in position, and the drum begun. His favourite conversation was then the crown and the dome, for which the architectural plans had been so beautifully made by Mr. Maxwell, incorporating some details suggested by Shoghi Effendi, and to which Mr. Maxwell attached much significance. Unfortunately, at the end of March, Mr. Maxwell left this world, and his guiding hand in the technical field came to an abrupt end. It was a very great sorrow for Shoghi Effendi, as he had lost not only his prized architect but a father, a friend and a counsellor as well. From then on, the Guardian alone had to reach many decisions of a technical nature, even though the engineering details were looked after by Professor Neumann of the Haifa Technion.

The reader may remember the 'rendition' in colour of the Shrine of the Báb made by Mr. Maxwell,[*] and presented at the celebration of the first centenary of the Báb's Declaration. It was published some four years before the beginning of the Shrine's construction, as the Guardian wanted to make the believers the world over aware of the imminent realization of this plan so long overdue.

    * See Footnote [*] immediately before page 68

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Now that the erection of the Shrine was a reality, the urgency of completing it at the earliest possible moment, in the perfect likeness of Mr. Maxwell's projected design, fired Shoghi Effendi's imagination and enthusiasm. The placing of the dome was for him the culmination of that glorious enterprise. Erection of the third crown, which surrounds the dome, was the visible expression of the regality of the 'Queen of Carmel'. I have said the third crown, because Shoghi Effendi considered this one the last of a series of crowns, embodied in tiers in the whole structure, just as in a mitre. The first, the balustrade of the arcade; the second, the pinnacles and the iron parapet of the octagon; the third and final one, the regal crown, the emblem of celestial sovereignty. Around the base of the dome there is a wide brim of marble, which meets the upper part of the drum. Immediately above the brim is an encircling garland with uprights in two alternating dimensions, the tallest being over two metres high, and the whole comprising thirty-six beautifully carved stalks with foliage and full blooms. The brim itself, so original in conception because it is not horizontal but bends down at about a thirty-five degree angle, represented a real challenge for both the marble workers and the builders. It is not made by solid blocks of marble carved to shape. That would have been too heavy for the nature of the structure. Instead, it consists of two slabs of stone, upper and lower, anchored together and to the drum by reinforced concrete - a marvel of engineering, considering the complete lack of the proper mechanical contrivances available at that time.

The construction of the dome itself was indeed a great challenge, because no heavy blocks of stone could be used such as those in the cupolas of the Pantheon and the Basilica of St. Peter, in Rome - two structures erected by the same method fifteen hundred years apart! As stated before, the entire superstructure of the Báb's Shrine is based not on the granitic depth of Mt. Carmel, but on reinforced concrete stilts capable of supporting only a limited weight. When Mr. Maxwell designed the dome, he was well aware that such weight limitations had to play an important part in carrying out the structural work. Well before the erection of the octagon began, the dome and its covering were two of the most important problems to be solved. There was the architectural drawing of the dome, but no indication of the material to be used in its construction, and for its covering Shoghi Effendi desired an integument of a gilded material.

At the very beginning of the project, when Mr. Maxwell came to Rome in 1948, the Guardian sent verbal instructions to begin the search for a suitable and lasting material for the outer finish of the dome. Many possibilities were then examined, and after Mr. Maxwell's departure the opinion of experts was secured to crystallize the choice upon materials which were available and offered the durability required. One by one, after some consideration, such materials as gilded copper laminae, mosaic, and vitreous coating were rejected, leaving the possibility of using faience or terracotta tiles. The latter seemed the more appropriate because imbrication [*] for the dome's covering was an essential requirement on the part of the architect, and could be carried out only by using tiles of a shape which could be properly manufactured and manipulated. When it was definitely agreed, with Shoghi Effendi's approval, to use tiles, the difficult part of the task began, as until then the whole matter had remained in the domain of theoretic investigation.

    * A method of placing tiles with overlapping edges to prevent infiltration of moisture from rain or snow.

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Italy is a country where throughout the centuries the erection of domed chapels, churches, and cathedrals had been of primary importance. Consequently a subsidiary industry had developed for the fabrication of tiles specially designed to supply the ever-increasing demand. Before the Second World War, the centre of production of such tiles was in the Campania region, on the Tyrrhenian Sea, between Naples and Salerno, and particularly around Vietri. During the Salerno landing, which devastated that region with all its fury, these tile factories were destroyed. When, in the late months of 1948, the investigation for the Shrine started, it was impossible to locate one factory in operation capable of undertaking the work. The few factories which had started production, including some in other regions of Italy, were manufacturing rough tiles of red clay, and were unwilling or perhaps unable to undertake such highly skilled work. Searches were also made in the island of Sicily, and in Spain and Portugal during the two ensuing years, with the same negative results. But the hand of Providence unexpectedly opened the way for realization of the important goal. Early in September 1951, the Fourth European Teaching Conference and the Second European Summer School took place in Scheveningen, in the Netherlands. There I had the opportunity to look for a factory capable of producing the type of tiles needed, for Holland is well known throughout the world for its faience work. After securing a list of the best known and most reliable factories, I spent two days visiting each firm. The affair proved to be disheartening because our inquiries were either received with incredulity or were declined for technical reasons. In the afternoon of the second day, however, after having already travelled throughout the Netherlands, I reached a small factory, the last one named on the list, which was located on the outskirts of the city of Utrecht, south of the Ijssel Sea, on a canal which later proved to be of some assistance. A preliminary conversation with one employee was continued with the director of the plant, who proved to be a well-spoken, competent, responsive and eager person. He was a chemical engineer by profession, a member of the nobility, and had taken on the management of this modest factory at the end of the war, and he was struggling to make it successful. His name was Junker Robert de Brauw. After my two days of wandering around the Netherlands and receiving only negative answers, it was like finding a ray of light on a dark sea of uncertainty. From the very beginning of our conversation he won my confidence and trust, and relieved me of all my anxiety. His statement: 'We have only made flat gilded tiles for a vertical suspension' - and he named a project just completed in another country - 'but we are willing to try' was the most decisive point in his favour. The trust placed in him and his firm was repaid by skill, eagerness and whole-hearted collaboration. That night I returned to Scheveningen with my heart singing with praise and gratitude to the Almighty, and shared this joy with my dear wife who was the only person who knew of this mission. Next morning, another visit to Junker de Brauw consolidated our understanding and opened the way to start the meticulous and lengthy researches and preparatory work. The approval of Shoghi Effendi soon came, with his blessing. Thus began another chapter of this wondrous story.

That Mr. de Brauw had been trained as a chemist was a great asset to our project, because three of the four problems in the production of the Shrine's tiles were of a chemical nature: namely, the composition of the tiles, the golden coating, and the glazing. The fourth issue consisted of several material aspects which physics and engineering were to solve and in which Mr. de Brauw was also very proficient. At no expense to the Faith, six months of research work were spent choosing the proper ingredients for composition of the tiles. Various samples were sent from time to time to Haifa to be tested at the Technion by Professor Neumann, for resistance to high solar and to frigid temperatures, moisture, air salinity, expansion and shrinkage, desert winds, and sand blasting, until the proper and most durable combination was found. Another object of a lengthy study was the size and shape of the tiles, but of this we shall speak later on.

Professor Neumann was to develop all the engineering details of the dome itself, which had to be light in weight but strong enough to bear the load of the tiles, the marble carvings which are the decorative and integumental parts of the dome itself, and the lantern which tops the whole structure of the Shrine.

When Dr. Neumann stopped in Rome, after a visit to northern Europe, I had the opportunity to discuss with him the plans he had devised to build a cupola that would be light and strong. He spoke then of a recent method of spraying cement mixed with fine sand and water upon a mould - sometimes consisting of an inflated balloon - which was used in Europe in its rapid reconstruction of buildings ravaged by the war. The process is called 'guniting'. He said, 'It will be as light and strong as an eggshell, and capable of holding tiles and stones, with a margin of weight capacity to spare.' The problem, however, was to decide upon the size and shape of the tiles to cover the dome, which did not yet exist. We did have theoretical measurements from the architect's drawings - according to which all the marble work was being prepared in Pietrasanta - but a risky decision was needed to determine the thickness of the tiles and the mortar to be applied upon the rough surface of the 'gunited' dome-shell. After many trials, Junker de Brauw acceded to my suggestion to build in the factory yard a replica of one-eighteenth of the dome out of wood, that all tests and experiments could be carried out as if the dome actually existed. This was a great help, and hastened the initiation of tile production. Having finally established every detail - with samples on hand approved by the engineer - a contract was signed in Utrecht in September 1952, for production of the twelve thousand tiles needed to cover the two hundred and fifty square metres of the dome's surface. Once more I wish to render a tribute of gratitude to Junker de Brauw, and his collaborators, who spared no effort or expense during the preliminary experimental period, to choose the proper ingredients such as Rhine kaolin and sand, and patiently to design and produce many samples of the fifty and more sizes and shapes of the tiles. They also undertook the production, packing and shipment of the whole supply with keen interest and enthusiasm. My personal relationship with Junker de Brauw became one of warm friendship, and his wise and skilful personal intervention in solving many of the technical problems in the manufacture and production of the tiles was evidence of the reverence and respect he had acquired for the purposes and aims of the Bahá'í Faith.

To the casual observer of the dome as it is now, all tiles look the same in shape and size, but the form of the dome - as designed by the architect - actually combines a cylinder, a sphere and a cone, thus presenting changes of the curved surface from the lower part by the brim to the base of the lantern at the top. This conception required, as already mentioned, more than fifty sizes and shapes of tiles which, during the experimenting, were individually designed, and by repeated trial and error were produced in clay, until perfection was achieved. Looking back, I can see clearly only what a great role the prayers of Shoghi Effendi had in this accomplishment and how the divine assistance flowed abundantly to remove every difficulty.

Junker de Brauw, because of his high connection with the government, was able to secure the pure gold needed to cover, by a chemical reduction process, each tile with a thin layer of gold.

A system of packing in paper and double cardboard boxes, which was tested against breakage by throwing sample boxes from the height of a third floor, resulted in the delivery of the tiles at the port of Haifa without one tile either broken or damaged. Moreover, loading and shipping costs were considerably reduced because the factory was on the canal.

When in early May 1953, the time came to cast the concrete cupola, a circular wooden shuttering - some forty-five feet in diameter - was erected inside the upper opening of the clerestory or drum; then reinforced steel was woven onto it and sprayed with concrete, which dried in eight days. By 11 May, the cement dome had been completed. This was the cause of much rejoicing for Shoghi Effendi as, after five years of labour, the completion of the Holy Edifice was near at hand. A few days earlier, on 29 April, the beloved Guardian, followed by Mr. Leroy Ioas, Hand of the Cause of God, and Dr. Lutfu'llah Hakim, member of the International Council,[*] climbed the scaffolding up to the base of the dome, and reverently placed a small silver box, containing a fragment of plaster from the ceiling of the Báb's prison cell in the Castle of Mah-Ku, beneath one of the gilded tiles in the first row.[**]

    * Later, he became a member of the first Universal House of Justice.
    ** These few tiles were affixed at the base of the dome for the celebration of the Ninth Day of Ridvan (29 April), prior to the casting of the cupola.

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Those who were present related to me later that it was a deeply moving experience to see the Guardian mounting the ladder straight up to the dome, standing there with a luminous joyful countenance while performing that pious and historic act. He then walked around the base of the dome, came down the ladder, circumambulated the roof of the arcade, walked around the gardens for some time and then entered the Shrine for prayer and praise.

Completion of the dome followed in two months with feverish speed: the placing of the eighteen marble ribs and of the floral ornamentations between the ribs; the erection of the base of the lantern with its columns of Rose Baveno granite; the fixing of the 'bell' of the lantern and finial - the latter of Chiampo marble; and finally the placement of all the golden tiles. All this truly set a record in ability and swiftness, under the guiding hand of Mr. Leroy Ioas, who had supervised the construction since spring 1952, including both clerestory and dome.

In a cablegram addressed to the National Spiritual Assemblies of the Bahá'í world on 19 August 1953, Shoghi Effendi announced the end of all the structural work on the Shrine, including the placing of the gilded tiles; and he foresaw the completion of the Holy Edifice in the following month, to coincide with the New Delhi Intercontinental Teaching Conference which concluded the 'world-wide festivities of the Holy Year commemorating the centenary of the birth of the Mission of Bahá'u'lláh'.[15]

    [15] MBW p.50

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At this Conference, 7-15 October 1953, a message from Shoghi Effendi confirmed the consummation of that noble enterprise initiated over sixty years before, and requested that a 'befitting memorial gathering pay tribute' to the Shrine's immortal architect, Mr. William Sutherland Maxwell. Shoghi Effendi honoured also, by mentioning their names, this writer and Mr. Leroy Ioas, for their parts in the construction of the Shrine.[16] The same message contained the most beautiful and poetic description of the Holy Shrine, expressing Shoghi Effendi's pride and marvel in the following words:

"... Queen of Carmel enthroned on God's Mountain, crowned in glowing gold, robed in shimmering white, girdled in emerald green, enchanting every eye from air, sea, plain and hill."

    [16] See BW, vol. XII, p. 239

In February 1954, a personal memento from Shoghi Effendi was brought to me in Rome by an American pilgrim, Mr. Frank Baker, the husband of the late Hand of the Cause, Mrs. Dorothy Beecher Baker, who had lost her life in an aeroplane disaster in the skies over Italy, one month before. This memento, an invaluable recompense for the efforts made to assist him in the completion of this epic enterprise, consisted of a large sepia-coloured photograph of the Shrine of the Báb, taken from the west - the first photo of the kind I had ever seen since the completion of the building. On the back, penned by the loving hand of Shoghi Effendi, was written:

[shown in the book in the handwriting of the Guardian]

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"To dear Ugo in loving appreciation of his historic services to the Shrine of the Báb"

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