The dedication of the Baha’i House of Worship taking place in Santiago, Chile, signifies a historic conclusion to a century-long process of raising up continental Baha’i Houses of Worship around the world.
A House of Worship is a pivotal institution of Baha’i community life, ordained by Baha’u’llah as a sacred structure open to all and referred to as “Mashriqu’l-Adhkar”, which translates to “Dawning Place of the Mention of God.”
The first Baha’i House of Worship was completed in 1908 in the city of Ishqabad in Russian Turkistan (now Ashgabat, Turkmenistan). The Mashriqu'l-Adhkar complex included the central Temple, a travellers’ hospice, schools, medical and other facilities. After being expropriated by the Soviet authorities, the House of Worship was seriously damaged in an earthquake and eventually demolished in 1963.
During the twentieth century, as the Baha’i community grew and spread globally, plans to build one House of Worship on each continent gradually began to unfold. These buildings became known as continental “Mother Temples”.
The first of these in Wilmette, USA, just north of Chicago, took some four decades to complete, opening in 1953. This beautiful, inventive building required the pioneering of new technology to bring the vision of its architect to fruition.
Continental Houses of Worship in Kampala, Uganda, and Sydney, Australia, were both inaugurated in 1961. Another near Frankfurt, Germany, was dedicated in 1964. The “Mother Temple of Latin America” in Panama City, opened eight years later, and the “Mother Temple of the Pacific Islands” was completed in Apia, Samoa in 1984. These elegant buildings appear to blend naturally into their surrounding landscapes, encircled by beautiful gardens of rare and native plants, which enhance the beauty of the sites and their atmosphere of spirituality.
The House of Worship for the Indian subcontinent in New Delhi, India, was completed in 1986. Inspired by the ancient symbol of the lotus flower, this monumental edifice has since become one of the world’s most visited buildings, winning numerous architectural awards.
The very design of a Bahá’í House of Worship, inviting everyone equally within its embrace, symbolizes the oneness of humankind. It is open to all people for silent prayer and meditation, as well as for regular devotional programs that consist of readings from the Sacred Writings of the world’s religions. There are no rituals or ceremonies, no pulpits or sermons, nor is there collection of money. In essence, these Houses of Worship are a gift from the Baha’i community to humanity, funded entirely by the voluntary financial contributions of individual Baha’is all over the world.
Although a Baha’i Temple is a universal place of worship, its purpose is not solely to provide a place for prayer and meditation. Rather, Houses of Worship are conceived of as institutions that will contribute to the social and economic progress of the populations for whom they are sanctuaries of peace and reflection. They are expressions of the deep connection between worship and service. Around each House of Worship, essential dependencies will in time emerge, dedicated to social, humanitarian, educational, and scientific pursuits.
With the opening of the “Mother Temple of South America” in Santiago, the Baha’i community’s process of constructing Houses of Worship at the continental level is completed. The process of building national and local Houses of Worship has now begun in several locations across the world where a vibrant Baha’i community life, characterized by worship and service, has emerged.
In 2012, the Universal House of Justice drew attention to the day in 1912 when ‘Abdu’l-Baha, with his own hands, broke the ground for the Mother Temple of the West:
"'Abdu'l-Baha, standing before an audience several hundred strong, lifted a workman's axe and pierced the turf covering the Temple site at Grosse Pointe, north of Chicago. Those invited to break the ground with Him on that spring day came from diverse backgrounds-Norwegian, Indian, French, Japanese, Persian, indigenous American, to name but a few. It was as if the House of Worship, yet unbuilt, was fulfilling the wishes of the Master, expressed on the eve of the ceremony, for every such edifice: 'that humanity might find a place of meeting' and 'that the proclamation of the oneness of mankind shall go forth from its open courts of holiness'."
(Baha’i World News Service)