The Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center: Teaching the gospel in direct sight of the temple

With the Rome Italy Temple now dedicated and operational, the adjacent Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center becomes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ premier open-to-the-public facility in that country.

The temple opened to visitors for five weeks, from the Jan. 14 start of media and special-guest tours through the three-week public open house that concluded in mid-February. Following its March 10-12 dedication services, the temple is accessible now only to Latter-day Saints with temple recommends.

Even with attention given the temple the past several months, the visitors’ center played a key role as a gathering place— from the initial news conference to the March 11 gathering of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and resulting iconic photos.

The temple and the visitors’ center are just two elements of the 15-acre religious and cultural complex situated in northeast Rome, joined by a multifunctional stake center, family history center and housing for temple patrons.

The Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center offers a multimedia experience — from the centuries-old style of artwork featuring marble statues and stained-glass panels to the most modern video displays and interactive graphics. With the center free to the public and open daily, guided tours are available with plenty of space available for learning, conversation and quiet reflection.

‘The face of the Church’

Temple visitors’ centers “are a public face of the Church,” said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “and we try to put them in places where people can see them.”

The Rome facility joins the Church’s other “public face” in Italy — the members and the missionaries collectively there.

“It’s not always possible, but we put a temple visitors’ center in places where our members or our missionaries can bring people to see the face of the Church without attending a meeting or being able to go inside the temple,” said Elder Uchtdorf, who chairs the Church’s Missionary Executive Council.

“We hope the visitors’ center is always in direct view of the temple, if possible, so when we as members or missionaries take visitors there, we can sit together there and talk about Christ, about His teachings of the gospel, and then have quiet spaces where we can sit down and speak with them and bear testimony in a simple, natural and normal way.”

The Christus statue is seen in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors' Center with the Rome Italy Temple in the background through the rotunda windows on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019.
The Christus statue is seen in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center with the Rome Italy Temple in the background through the rotunda windows on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019. Credit: Ravell Call, Deseret News, Deseret News

He added: “It’s a very natural and normal way to explain the gospel principles and teachings in the direct sight of the temple.”

‘The ultimate home-field advantage’

While some may wonder why the Church’s temple visitors’ centers are overseen by its Missionary Department, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve offers a simple answer.

“It is all one work, and we make artificial distinctions between proclaiming the gospel and temple work,” said Elder Bednar, who chairs the Temple and Family History Executive Council. “The gospel is all about ordinances performed by proper priesthood authority.”

A temple setting is the best place to introduce people to the principles of the restored gospel, he added. For example, one could both highlight the saving ordinance of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and explain the reason for baptism for the dead.

Statues of Christ and the Apostles are displayed in the Rome Temple Visitor's Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Rome, Italy on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019.
Statues of Christ and the Apostles are displayed in the Rome Temple Visitor’s Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Rome, Italy on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019. Credit: Ravell Call, Deseret News, Deseret News

“So, missionary work and the ordinance work in temples is all the same work,” Elder Bednar said. “Teaching the gospel at the temple is the ultimate home-field advantage. It shows how all things are gathered into one.”

In recent years, some of the visitors’ centers overseen by the Missionary Department have gone through changes. Several centers dealing with historical sites were turned over to the Church History Department, others have been changed in purpose or have been closed.

“We take seriously our responsibility to use these visitors’ centers to teach about the temple — that’s the focus,” said Elder Brent H. Nielson, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department.

He added that temple visitors’ centers will continue to be “a place for people to come and be taught, rather than numerous displays which might otherwise be a distraction to the main purpose of the Savior and temples.”

Stained glass and statues

Upon entering the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center, one is greeted by stunning stained glass, a five-panel art-glass piece stretching from floor to ceiling by Tom and Gayle Holdman leading a team of 25 artists.

Thomas Holdman's stained glass mural is on display in the Visitors' Center for the Rome Temple in Rome, Italy, on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018.
Thomas Holdman’s stained glass mural is on display in the Visitors’ Center for the Rome Temple in Rome, Italy, on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, Deseret News

While the work appears to be a single scene of Christ and his Twelve Apostles, closer inspection reveals more than 100 visual references to the Savior’s mortal time on earth and symbols from each of his New Testament parables.

Walking around the art-glass work to the opposite side reveals the oft-photographed collection of marble statues of the Christus and Twelve Apostles. The rotunda’s full-length windows allow a view from the statues toward the temple and from the temple to the statues.

While many of the Church’s other temple visitors’ centers have a similar replica of the Christus statue, the Rome facility features all 13 replicas of Thorvaldsen’s original works — with Paul replacing Judas Iscariot among the Twelve Apostles — as found in the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Elder Nielson calls the Rome collection of the 13 statues “unique” compared to other temple visitors’ centers “because it not only shows the Savior, but it shows His Twelve Apostles, and it shows that He actually organized a church. He called Twelve Apostles, and today, in the modern-day Church, we have 12 Apostles.”

Volunteers Vanna and Benedicto Parisi look at statues of Christ and the Apostles in the Rome Temple Visitor's Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Rome, Italy on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019.
Volunteers Vanna and Benedicto Parisi look at statues of Christ and the Apostles in the Rome Temple Visitor’s Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Rome, Italy on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019. Credit: Ravell Call, Deseret News, Deseret News

Topping off the rotunda setting is a sweeping, curving mural above the statues, with rays of sunlight highlighting the Christus. Painted by Joseph Brickey, it features olive and cypress trees in a Italian countryside setting and 12 different types of lambs, symbolizing the 12 tribes of the house of Israel.

Additional features

As with other similar centers, the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center provides information and presentations on Jesus Christ and His gospel, the eternal nature of families, the purpose of temples and how to use prayer to turn to God and communicate with Him.

Separate rooms and quiet places are also available for reflection and for missionaries to teach visitors or investigators.

One small theater — Elder Nielson calls it “the storms of life” theater — shows videos of individuals who have faced trials in their lives and how they’ve dealt with those difficulties.

“Under the Christus statue, it says ‘Come Unto Me,’ from Matthew 11 — ‘all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,’ ” he said, completing verse 28. “The depictions being shown here are Italian families that have the types of struggles that all of us have. And it will tell their stories of how coming to Christ helped them overcome those challenges.”

A model sized replication of the Rome Temple is visible in the Visitors' Center in Rome, Italy, on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018.
A model sized replication of the Rome Temple is visible in the Visitors’ Center in Rome, Italy, on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, Deseret News

Also on display is a large model or replica of the Rome temple, with part of the exterior walls cut away to show interior rooms, settings and features. Similar temple models are in temple visitors’ centers in Salt Lake City, Paris and Washington, D.C.

Visitors can view the Rome replica in front of them and see through a window the actual temple in identical position, getting a sense of what is inside the exterior walls.

A special map of Italy sits at the top of the stairs, reminiscent of a similar map of France in the Paris temple visitors’ center. Each map prominently displays all meetinghouse locations throughout the country.

Calling it an “important visual” for visitors who may think the Church’s sole location in Italy is the multi-facility temple complex, Elder Nielson added, “we have a temple here in Rome, but the map shows we have chapels all across Italy.”

Also upstairs is a family history center, with more and more temple visitors’ centers being coupled with designated areas for visitors to learn about family history in a hands-on manner.

“After one sees the temple, understands who Christ is and understands His restored gospel, then one’s heart begins to turn to the fathers,” said Elder Nielson. “They can walk upstairs and find ancestors and figure out how to take them to the temple.”