ROME, Italy — A new Mormon resident arrived Saturday morning here in the Eternal City, one that stands more than 13 feet tall, weighs 450 pounds and is positioned 150 feet above the ground.
But more than his extreme measurements, this Rome newcomer — the golden Angel Moroni statue now placed atop the LDS Church’s still-under-construction Rome Italy Temple — underscores the presence and progress of that edifice.
A worker prepares the Angel Moroni statue to be lifted atop the LDS Church's Rome Italy Temple on Saturday, March 25, 2017. | Scott Taylor, Deseret News
An invited contingent of about 150 people — local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, construction supervisors and their families, and a handful of Rome and national media representatives — witnessed a crane lifting the iconic statue to its lofty perch.
The Fiberglass statue depicts Moroni, an ancient prophet of the Book of Mormon, which LDS members esteem as scripture, along with the Bible. His blowing of a trumpet symbolizes the spreading of the gospel and the announcing of the Second Coming of the Savior Jesus Christ.
“It’s a great emotion, a feeling of gratitude that I’ve been feeling today,” said Silvia Rodio, who lives a five-hour drive from the Rome temple in the southern city of Bari with her two children and husband, Francesco Rodio, who is president of the Puglia Italy Stake. Five hours may seem long, but it's a far cry from the 14 hours it takes to drive from Bari and the Puglia northwest to the Bern Switzerland Temple, the closest temple option for the Latter-day Saints in Italy.
“We’ll soon have more of an opportunity to attend the temple and to receive more often the blessings of the temple,” she said.
The Angel Moroni statue awaits to be placed atop the LDS Church's Rome Italy Temple, before the placement process begins on Saturday, March 25, 2017. | Scott Taylor, Deseret News
People gathered for photos around the vertical-standing statue in the hour-plus before it was fitted to be lifted by a crane to the top of the temple's taller, eastern spire. Scaffolding surrounded that spire, allowing a half-dozen construction workers to connect a long, thick copper cable extending from the bottom of the statue to the lightning rod grounding the temple and then unhook the statue from the cable used for the crane.
Once the statue was dropped into place, the workers celebrated with upraised arms while the crowd of onlookers broke into a lengthy round of applause.
The placing of the Angel Moroni statue is not considered by the LDS Church as an official event of a temple; rather, official dates are recorded for a temple’s announcement, groundbreaking, public open house and dedication.
However, the placement process and equipment used create a visual spectacle, to say nothing of the massive, gold-leafed statue itself. And the statue placement is similar to the “topping off” of a new building, when the setting of the final, highest beam is accompanied by the placement of an evergreen tree. In the temple’s case, the statue placement represents a finish to structural and most exterior work — but with plenty of interior work still to be finished and no official completion date set.
The two-spired, three-story and 40,000-square-foot temple is located at Via di Settebagni, 376 — northeast of central Rome and just inside the Grande Raccordo Anulare beltway that circles Italy’s capital city. Already blanketing the exterior is the Bianco Sardo granite façade, with the stone quarried and fabricated in Italy.
A panoramic rending of the Rome Italy Temple and accompanying buildings, which will provide the LDS Church's first church-constructed meetinghouse in Rome, a visitors' center, a family history center and patron housing. | mormonnewsroom.org, Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
It's the largest and most prominent structure on the 15-acre church-owned plot and joined by other buildings, including Rome’s first LDS-constructed meetinghouse, a family history center, patron house, and a visitors’ center that will house digitally reproduced marble replicas of Bertel Thorvaldsen’s renown sculptures of Christus and the Twelve Apostles. Crafted in the early 19th century, the original works, reside at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark.
LDS temples differ from meetinghouses, with temple worship, instruction and religious rites therein only allowed for church members in good standing.
LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced the proposed Rome Italy Temple in the faith’s October 2008 general conference. Those in the Conference Center responded with a long and prolonged gasp — to even think of a Mormon temple in the city that envelopes the Vatican and helped give name to the Roman Catholic Church.
While the Catholic faith is both the official state religion of Italy and understandably the predominant religion, it isn’t the only one.
Elder Massimo De Feo, who became the LDS Church’s first Italian General Authority Seventy when he was called and sustained in last April’s general conference, says Rome is home to not only the Vatican’s landmark St. Peter’s Basilica, but also the Great Synagogue of Rome and the Mosque of Rome, the latter the largest mosque located outside of the Islamic world.
“And so it’s a very nice architectural, spiritual addition to the cosmopolitan city already,” said Elder De Feo of the Rome Temple in a recent interview with the Deseret News. “The temple will add even more to the city.”
Rome’s then-mayor, Gianni Alemanno, said as much when he visited the temple construction site in 2013, early on in the project.
“For us, every religious center that is created within the perimeter of our city gives even more value to it as the center of Catholicism, because it shows that there is an openness, a tolerance, and a shared understanding of the value of human life and the family,” he said.
“And this, for us, is important, even from a social standpoint. In fact, we are convinced that people that believe in these values can give a positive contribution to the life of our city.”
Yet it’s more than just building a Mormon temple in a Catholic stronghold. Instead, it is the most significant LDS edifice — even topping the BYU Jerusalem Center with an up-close look at the Old City, the Temple Mount and the nearby Mount of Olives. Rome holds a place in Christian history and missionary work, with the Christian persecutions, martyrdoms of apostles and beliefs that occurred there.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the LDS Church's First Presidency, and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, pause during their July 2016 tour of the Rome Italy Temple construction site. | Simon D. Jones, Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
“For Christianity, Rome has always had an important part in history,” said President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the LDS Church’s First Presidency during a July 2016 visit to the temple site.
“In its early days, the Apostle Paul taught in Rome. Later, Rome became the center of the Roman Catholic Church. Even during the Reformation, Rome’s influence was significant. Now during the time of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ, a temple of the Lord is nearing completion in Rome.”
John Alley, the site director for the Rome Italy Temple, echoed similar sentiments after Saturday’s event.
“It’s a great day for all Christians," he said. "It represents a coming together to worship Christ. It’s all about coming unto Christ.
Rome Italy Temple: announcement, site, renderings
Mormon Newsroom, the LDS Church's site for media resources, prepared this video for use at the October 23, 2010, groundbreaking ceremonies for the Rome Italy Temple. The video also includes LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson's announcement of the temple during the faith's October 2008 general conference.