Nearly five years after breaking ground at 1739 Vine Street, the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Mormon Temple is ready to open its grandiose doors to good-standing church members, becoming the first temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Pennsylvania.
On Monday morning, members of the media toured the temple and a received a lesson in the teachings of the LDS church. Church elder Larry Wilson took the group on a two-hour-long tour of the 61,466-square-foot temple, which stands in stark contrast to the simple meeting house across the street that is open to the public.
"The Meeting house is fairly plain compared to the temple," Wilson said. "We seek to build our temples from the finest materials. They're built to stand forever."
The first thing one may notice as soon as the doors shut behind them is how eerily quiet the space is, despite being right next to the Vine Street Expressway. That's because the temple, which is only open to church members in good standing, is designed to be a "haven for people to leave behind the world, get their bearings, and draw closer to God," explains Wilson.
From a large courtyard, members of the church can walk through the front doors of the temple and enter the main foyer. From this point forward, only church members in good standing can proceed into the temple by presenting their member card to the front desk. Guests of the members can stay in the waiting rooms on both sides of the desk.
It's in this room where the ode to Philadelphia's history begins, notes Wilson. There are multiple motifs to the city found throughout the temple. To the right of the desk, for example, is a small seating area with a painting of the founding fathers signing the U.S. Constitution in Independence Hall in 1783. Like all of the artwork in the temple, this painting was commissioned by an LDS artist.
"It's an unusual painting for an LDS temple," says Wilson, "But we think it's a wonderful fitting for a temple in Philadelphia."
The room where baptisms take place is located down a corridor to the left of the foyer. Here, church members can be baptized in the heated pool as representatives for their deceased ancestors. Baptisms for living church members take place in the meeting house across the street.
Again, the Philadelphia motifs continue. The wood-top railing surrounding the baptismal font was influenced by the stair railing in the Franklin Institute. It also features a motif of the mountain laurel blossom, Pennsylvania's state flower.
The baptismal font is held up by 12 oxen, which represent the dozen animals that held up the Molten Sea, a large baptismal basin built by Solomon in Jerusalem.
The mural in the background is one of the only depictions of the church's founder Joseph Smith in any LDS temple, says Wilson. The piece of art shows Smith being baptized in the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.
Each rising level of the temple features elevated finishes and architectural detailing, which reflects the church's belief that members continually become "closer to God." The Celestial Room on the third level is considered one of the most stunning and sacred spaces of the temple and reflects the change in finishes.
A church member visiting from Connecticut wiped tears away as Wilson explained the room's significance while standing under the massive, Swarovski crystal chandelier designed by Schonbek of New York City.
"The Celestial room is the maximum environment for contemplation and prayer," he explains.
Church members can come to this extravagant and extremely quiet room for minutes to hours, says Wilson. In fact, all members usually speak in whispers while in the Temple.
The room is flanked by Corinthian columns—Doric and Ionic architectural styles are also found throughout the temple. The millwork was designed by Fetzer Millwork Company of Salt Lake City, Utah and is minimal and inspired by Philadelphia architectural sources, including Independence Hall and Christ Church.
Says Wilson, "As beautiful as it is now, you should see at night."
The final and fourth floor of the temple features four sealing rooms, where marriage ceremonies and "sealing ceremonies" take place. The Mormon church considers sealing the "culminating ordinance," in which couples and families kneel in the center of the room with their hands on top of each other and are so-called sealed together.
All of the exterior art glass, including that found in this sealing room, was designed by Perkins + Will features white panels with beige and blue accents. The windows in the sealing room and the celestial room both include a radiating arch with scallops and roundels surrounding a sunburst.
The temple begins tours for the public on August 10 through September 9 except on Sundays, when the temple is closed.
It will be formally dedicated on Sunday, September 18.