Baha’i Temple: a transcendental ‘gift’ to Chile and South America

1128_12SANTIAGO — On the outskirts of Santiago, in the foothills of the Andes, an extraordinary event took place Thursday—the long-anticipated public dedication of the Baha’i House of Worship for South America and the last remaining continental Baha’i Temple to be constructed.

Some 500 guests from Chile, including senior figures from the government and civil society, as well as representatives from South, Central, and North America and the Caribbean, and further afield, gathered for the first of a series of opening ceremonies this coming weekend that will bring more than 5,000 Baha’is from 110 countries beneath the House of Worship’s soaring dome.

Opening the dedication ceremony, Felipe Duhart—secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Chile—said that the desire of the Baha’is is that “the House of Worship will become the heart and nerve centre for this whole community,” and “a refuge for prayer.”

This role the House of Worship has as a “transcendental space that looks for unity and respect for all religious backgrounds” was emphasised by the representative of the President of Chile, Minister Secretary General Nicolás Eyzaguirre.1128_06

“It is a Temple which makes our landscape a more beautiful one,” he added. “It will become an icon and it will remind us how important it is to find the unity between the city and nature.”

The Temple is located outside of Santiago in Peñalolen, a commune whose name in the local language means “reunion of brothers.” As the site for the final continental Baha’i House of Worship, there could be no better name, and no better location.

“Today we see the beauty of its creation, together with all the divine and human forces that have made it possible,” Mr. Orrego said.


Minister Secretary General Nicolás Eyzaguirre, representative of the President of Chile, addresses visitors at the welcome reception.

“Santiago will be different from now on because of this beautiful temple that has been given to us…It doesn’t matter what religion we belong to, what creed we profess, our cities are full of the thirst for silence and to transcend.”

The assembled guests—many of them attired in traditional costume—ascended the steps up the mountainside for the first devotional programme to be held in the House of Worship, in which welcoming remarks were made by the representative of the Universal House of Justice, Mrs. Antonella Demonte, and prayers and holy scriptures were recited and sung by a 60-strong choir made up of singers from Chile and Baha’i communities from the rest of the world.

One prayer for unity was sung in the indigenous Mapuche language of Chile by Berta Blanco, who was among the first of her people to join the Baha’i community more than 40 years ago.

“I think the Temple is going to bring a lot of changes for my family, for my community, for my people, for the tradition I come from,” she said.

Representatives from Chile’s diverse religious communities also welcomed the establishment of the Temple in their city.

Father Georges Abed of the Syrian Orthodox church has lived and worked in Santiago for some 26 years. He described the House of Worship as “a great gift for the society here, because it helps opens their minds and see the brotherhood of their citizens in the city.”

Rabbi Daniel Zang, representing the Jewish community, said, “It’s part of our worship to pray together, that all mankind can come together and ask God for peace and brotherhood.”

Today, the power of the Temple to unite humanity in all of its varied cultures and colours—as well its unique position between the city and the mountains—was on full display.

Where spirit and form fuse: reflections on the architecture of the Chile Temple

SANTIAGO — Siamak Hariri is visibly moved as he surveys the Baha’i House of Worship here that has taken his Toronto-based architectural team, and hundreds of other contributors from all around the world, some 14 years to bring to completion.

(NOTE: the dedication ceremonies for the Chilean House of Worship are being carried live on the Baha’i World News Service beginning at 9 a.m. Central Time:

“You have a sense of what it will be because you’ve been so intimately involved in every detail,” he says, “but it’s so much more than our imaginations could have predicted.”

The architect has returned to Santiago to see the building for the first time in its finished state and is clearly delighted by the results which he says could not have been foreseen, despite the years of highly detailed design and preparation.

“We looked at it on the computer a million times,” he says, “but the effect of it – the way that the light is captured in the glass, how it comes through and just touches the marble – that was one of our biggest worries. Would that in fact happen? It was a theory, we tested it, and we hoped that it would. But now that we see it, it’s way beyond what we could have imagined.”

The House of Worship, according to the architecture website ArchDaily, “defies rational thought and veers into the realm of the emotional.”

  • An interior view of the House of Worship. “The way that the light is captured in the glass, how it comes through and just touches the marble…it’s way… »

It is a masterpiece of state-of-the-art engineering which at once has the presence of an ancient monument and the appearance of a natural form that has sprung organically from its environs.

“The temple appears otherworldly,” wrote renowned Canadian author Noah Richler in the design magazine Azure, “yet of the mountainside and belonging to it.”

Now, as final preparations are made for the House of Worship’s dedication ceremonies, the light-suffused building already possesses an ineffable spirit which will intensify in time as prayers, the reading of sacred scriptures and songs of worship resound through its auditorium.

Mr. Hariri says that his team consciously knew the power a building can have to affect the soul, but the challenge to evoke such a sense was a profound one.

“How do you make a single room that is a material structure but has a spiritual effect? It’s a tough assignment.”

At the outset, it was decided that inspiration for the structure would not come from other buildings.

“We were not going to look at architecture,” he says. “New civilization and new expression means that we could not take too much from what is around us right now.”

Rather, the team went in search of a “feeling”, hoping that visitors to the Temple would have the sense that they were gazing up at the heavens or turning towards the light, just as a plant moves to face the sun.

“I think that you try for it but you cannot predict the deep emotional impact,” Mr Hariri says. “We were very deliberate in aiming for that ethereal glow, the softness, the upward spiraling. But it has gone way beyond that.”

“For example, we were hoping for that kind of rawness of the surface concrete against the shimmering quality of the glass. But this is really magic, because of all the effects of light and material, and movement against those materials.”

Innovation and creativity

It was in 2002 that the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Chile invited design proposals from architects for the last of the continental Baha’i Houses of Worship. Specifically it was to be “a nine-sided domed structure with nine entrances to symbolically welcome people from all directions of the earth for prayer and meditation.”

But Mr. Hariri – whose firm Hariri Pontarini Architects entered the competition – says the brief was also open enough to leave room for innovation and creativity.

Inspiration for elements of the design were found in, among other things, the veins of a leaf, the interwoven threads of Japanese baskets, and the depiction of the softness of robes in oil paintings.

A multidisciplinary team, from engineers to musicians, worked with the architects to conceive the structure. Three-dimensional modelling software called CATIA, used in aerospace engineering and rarely in architecture, was adopted to map out the design.

“Thirteen years ago this was breathtakingly hard,” says Mr Hariri. “We were the only ones in Canada who were working in CATIA.”

Writing at the time, Lisa Rochon – architecture critic for Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail described the “structural ambitions of the project” as “formidable.”

Yet a building that at many points in its development seemed impossible to achieve, particularly in a location prone to earthquakes, has been magnificently realized. In its finished form, nine identical wing-like panels of translucent cast glass curve around to form the temple’s dome. Natural light passes through the glass and floods the white marble interior while at night, light emanates softly from within the structure.

To retain the luminescent quality of glass, while having the strength of stone, a team of artists, engineers, and architects had to create a material that was fit for purpose, structurally and visually. With the help of celebrated glass artist Jeff Goodman, known for his ornate blown glass chandeliers, a new approach to casting glass was tested in more than 200 different forms before being finalized.

“Its innovative cast-glass skin is a victory for the architects, engineers, fabricators, and contractors who sweated every detail to make sure it could withstand the rigors of its mountainside location,” Deborah Soonian Glenn wrote for the American monthly, Architectural Record.

The innovations in technology and design are combined with traditional Chilean craftsmanship and materials. Every fixture, the seating and the lighting, has been treated with the same, loving attention to detail.

“We were trying to get a candlelit, monastic feeling,” says Mr. Hariri. “And it’s even better than we imagined.”

Designing for future generations

Standing now at the House of Worship for the first time since its completion, the architect, reflective and deeply moved, is thinking of the generations of visitors who will enter beneath its dome in centuries to come, seeking out its atmosphere of peace and tranquility, and finding in its message of hope and unity the inspiration to devote themselves to service to the community.

“It’s the culmination of a few years of work for us, but it’s going to be there for a long time,” he reflects.

“Deep down I am thinking of my children and my grandchildren, and all of the millions of souls that this building might touch. I can imagine them in the temple.”

“I have never experienced this with a building before,” he says, “not on the first day.”

Live Broadcast of Dedication of Chilean Temple

1122_00The historic dedication of the new Bahá’í House of Worship of Chile will be broadcast live from Santiago next week. The House of Worship is the last continental house of worship to be erected, and it has attracted media attention worldwide.

The National Spiritual Assembly of Chile has made arrangements for the live broadcast of certain portions of the highly anticipated dedication of the House of Worship in Santiago, October 13-161122_01 .  

This presents a unique opportunity for the world community to gather together or individually to partake of the spirit of the proceedings on this historic occasion. 

Through an array of artistic presentations that draw on the rich cultural heritage of the peoples of Latin America, the dedication program will contemplate themes pertinent to the inception and unfoldment of the Bahá’í Faith in Latin America, the response of its peoples to the Message of Bahá’u’lláh, and the spiritual significance of this last continental Mashriqu’l-Adhkár.  The entire program, including the conference, will be made available for viewing in English, Spanish, and Portuguese on the newly launched website for the House of Worship in 1122_02Chile.  

The Bahá’í World News Service will also broadcast the public dedication ceremony on October 13.

Note: Please refer to A World Time Zone map to learn when the broadcasts will occur in your area.

Passage of H. Res 220

The United States House of Representatives unanimously passed House Resolution 220 (H.Res.220) on September 21, “Condemning the Government of Iran’s state-sponsored persecution of its Bahá’í minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights.”

Similar to it632_01_img_9367_1s companion bill, Senate Resolution 148, which passed on December 17, 2015, this resolution “Calls on the Government of Iran to release the 7 imprisoned Bahá’í leaders, the 12 imprisoned Bahá’í educators, and all other prisoners held on account of their religion.”

Additionally, it “Urges the President and the Secretary of State to utilize existing authorities … to impose sanctions on officials of the government of Iran and other individuals directly responsible for serious human rights abuses, including abuses against the Bahá’í community.”

“The passage of this demonstrates yet again the strong bipartisan support these resolutions have historically garnered, with the final number of cosponsors rising to 152 – 90 Democrats and 62 Republicans,” said a spokesperson for the Bahá’í Office of Public Information.

News of the passage of the resolution was broadcast directly into Iran twice on September 22 on Voice of America’s Persian news service. It also broadcast, on the same day, a three minute interview of our Persian language spokesperson in the U.S., Dr. Farhad Sabetan, which included a discussion of the resolution and a reaction to the speech given at the U.N. earlier in the day by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.

“We were particularly pleased that the passage of the resolution and the highlighting of the situation of the friends in Iran could be juxtaposed with the remarks of President Rouhani, who had painted a benign picture of Iran’s domestic human rights situation earlier in the day at the U.N.,” the public information spokesperson said.

While H. Res. 220 passed without objection, no member of the Alabama congressional delegation cosponsored the resolution.  The resolution was introduced in the House on April 23, 2015.  The 7 Bahá’í leaders have been imprisoned since the Spring 2008, and were not permitted to have a trial until 2010.

The seven were charged with, among other things, espionage, propaganda against the Islamic republic, the establishment of an illegal administration – charges that were all rejected completely and categorically by the defendants.

Their crime, though, is nothing more than being members of the Bahá’í Faith, a religion which has been the focus of a systematic, government-sponsored persecution in Iran since the 1979 revolution.

For more information on the status of the Bahá’í leaders, visit the Baha’i World News Service.

Chile House of Worship Opening!

A new website for the Baha’i House of Worship in Santiago, Chile, has been opened (,) in advance of the Temple’s inauguration in Octoberchile-how. The beauty of the Temple’s design, which the architect, Siamak Hariri, has described as “embodied light“, is captured in the imagery and graphics throughout the site.

The new website highlights the central theme that underlies the purpose of Baha’i Houses of Worship: the union of worship and service. It also provides brief descriptions of how this theme is finding expression in activities that connect the Temple to the community that surrounds it.

This Temple will serve the entire South American continent, and is the last of the continental Baha’i Houses of Worship to be built. Several of the first national and local Baha’i Temples are now in the process of being built in countries around the world.