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Near the shores of Lake Michigan, nestled in the town of Wilmette, Illinois, sits a beautiful structure. Intertwined ornamental designs, carved onto its glimmering white exterior, tell stories about the unity of religion. While driving on the quaint cobblestone streets surrounding this breathtaking piece of art and architecture, you’ll catch a glimpse of a sign that reads: “Baha’i House of Worship – All Are Welcome.”
This Baha’i House of Worship, located near Chicago in the U.S., serves as a beacon, both a literal and figurative expression of the spiritual tenets of the Baha’i Faith. Its architecture, engraved ornamental symbols, and artistic landscaping provide evidences of the Baha’i Faith’s teachings. The writings adorning its interior walls and exterior entryways, and the tranquil and inviting sacred space of the Temple and its surrounding gardens contribute in providing glimpses into the principles of the Faith.
In designing the Baha’i House of Worship—the only one on the North American continent—architect Louis Bourgeois created a lovely and unique domed structure, which pays homage to the Baha’i belief in the connectedness of all things and the unity of religion. Mr. Bourgeois said:
…there are combinations of mathematical lines, symbolizing those of the universe, and in their intricate merging of circle into circle, and circle within circle, we visualize the merging of all religions into one.
In order to bring his unique designs to fruition, Bourgeois consulted with a concrete expert named John Earley. To create the beautiful white surface that the architecture envisioned, Earley’s solution involved crushed quartz combined with white cement. The result is a stunning white building, a vision of purity and peace.
The nine pillars of the Baha’i House of Worship in Illinois display engraved symbols of the major world religions—such as the cross, the star and crescent, the star of David, and the nine-pointed star that represents the Baha’i Faith. The number nine represents the number of perfection, the highest single digit, and the culmination of God’s message. All of the interlacing symbols of the world’s religions emphasize the Baha’i Faith’s teachings, including progressive revelation and the oneness of religion. Specifically, Baha’is believe that God has sent divine messengers to humanity throughout time. All of these prophets of God—for example, Abraham, Zoroaster, Jesus Christ, Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah—teach the same basic underlying message of love and compassion, as well as providing spiritual and social guidance pertinent to that time period.
The landscaping surrounding the temple is as much a part of the meditative atmosphere as the building itself, and the plants and flowers of varied colors and fragrances tell of the Baha’i belief in unity in diversity. The reflecting pools are reminiscent of the East, while the nine circular gardens and fountains exhibit Western influence. The grounds of the Temple offer peaceful spots for meditation and reflection.
Around its central hall, the Baha’i Temple in Wilmette displays samples from the writings of Baha’u’llah. There are nine entrances to the Temple, and thus, there are nine verses on the facade of the House of Worship, as well as nine verses inside the building above the alcoves. Here are a few examples of Baha’u’llah’s writings seen throughout the Temple, which emphasize the principles of the unity of humanity and the unity of religion:
The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 250.
Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. – Ibid., p. 95.
The Baha’i temple is open to all people, regardless of race, gender, nationality, or religious affiliation. Any soul may enter the gardens or the building itself to pray, meditate, and enjoy the beauty of nature and art, as this lovely spot is a gift to humanity for all to appreciate. The serenity of the gardens, the gentle breezes off Lake Michigan, and the glistening Temple itself delight the physical and the spiritual senses.
Are you looking for a place to pray and meditate? Is your family interested in traveling to the Chicago area and checking out a beautiful specimen of art and architecture? Are you seeking a quiet place to ponder the meaning of life? The Baha’i House of Worship welcomes you, whatever the reason for your visit.
Find out more about the Mother Temple of the West on their website.