For the first time in 64 years, The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) is opening the doors to its flagship place of worship – The Hamilton New Zealand Temple.
Reporter Te Aorewa Rolleston got a first look inside.
From atop a broad hill, the clean white exterior of the grand temple towers over the village of Temple View.
I’d driven through the village several times, and something about that temple always captured my eye.
As one of the elders of the church says the temple was the centre of their community.
“We live in the light of the temple,” the elder says.
“When you go through the temple, what you will see are beautiful pictures of the saviour, he is at the very centre of all that we do.”
Around 4000 followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – more commonly known outside the church as Mormons – volunteered to construct the temple.
At 47.5m tall and 4,204 square metres in area, it sits placidly surrounded by the village of Temple View, which itself is like something out of a simulation – pristine, clean-cut streets and lawns but barely a soul to be seen on a quiet weekday visit.
The Church hasn’t opened the temple to the public and non-followers since it’s completion in 1958.
Once a temple is built, it is dedicated and becomes sacred. Those of the faith who meet the requirements, can enter, while others cannot.
After conducting renovations inside since 2018, including seismic strengthening and upgrades, this year people of all faiths were given an opportunity to take a tour of the grand structure.
It’s a once in a lifetime experience.
Upon reaching the entrance to the temple, several volunteers offered to help put plastic white coverings on visitors’ feet to protect the plush carpets. Cameras are not allowed.
There’s an eerie calmness in the foyer of the building as we move past an unoccupied reception into a hallway where racks of white jumpsuits hung in perfect rows.
“We are of the belief that we are all the same, and we are all equal,” an Elder says.
It was these pieces of clothing which each member of the church changed into upon entering the temple.
We are guided into the Baptistery room, it is a parlour-like area, with a small round pool, the Baptismal Font, serving as the focal point. It is held up by seven sculptured oxen to symbolise the seven prophets from the Bible.
The font is not a place for the living but instead for the dead, where followers of the church can offer prayers and messages to those who have passed on.
Those of the faith say their ancestors are central to their beliefs and existence as there is an eternal connection that each member forms with their family.
Another captivating place is the sealing room, it’s a pristinely furnished room with lavish furniture and a plain cushioned section in the centre where couples kneel and make their commitments to one another.
It is where “a man and a woman” are sealed in an eternal bond, through marriage.
“Marriage can be for eternity” the church says.
But above all, it is the Celestial Room which resonates the most.
Furnished and orderly like a high-end hotel but without the bustle it’s a quiet place of reflection and, for those of the faith, prayer. It enfolds its occupants in tranquillity beneath chandeliers and amid floral vases and gold leaf.
We sat in that room for a few minutes in complete silence. One begins to ponder about life, adversity, friendships, family, experiences and hopes all at once, whether you’re religious or not.
Until September 17, The Church is hosting tours of the Temple, at which they expect to welcome thousands.
On October 16, The Temple will be re-dedicated and the sacred veil will be placed over the structure once again.