Editor's note:This is the first in a periodic series of stories that will feature the Paris France Temple and the LDS Church in France culminating with the dedication of the temple in May.
LE CHESNAY, France — The invited guests walked under words filled with spiritual meaning for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “Sainteté au Seigneur, La Maison Du Seigneur” — “Holiness to the Lord, The House of the Lord.”
They are inscribed over the entrance to the Paris France Temple, newly completed just outside of Paris here in Le Chesnay, a small city that borders Versailles on a site along Boulevard Saint-Antoine, within walking distance of the beautiful gardens of the Château de Versailles.
It is here that the mayor of Le Chesnay, Philippe Brillault, stood Thursday before a crowd of 100 government, church and business leaders to welcome the Mormons and their temple to France — a greeting nearly 19 years after LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley told LDS faithful in France, "The time has come when you deserve to have a temple among you, and we'll look for a place to build one."
The temple, now complete, will soon begin its monthlong public open house, starting with Thursday's meeting of dignitaries featuring the warm remarks by the mayor: "We are happy to welcome you," he said in French. "We will respect you as you respect us, and we will live in harmony."
He was one of several dignitaries that also included the mayors of Versailles and Saint-Cyr-l'Ecole; Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Kathy; Bishop Gérald Caussé of the Presiding Bishopric and his wife, Valérie; and former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, joined by his wife, Ann.
The Caussés raised their family nearby and were longtime church leaders in France before Bishop Caussé's current assignment, and both Elder Andersen and Mitt Romney served LDS missions to France, with Elder Andersen also serving three years as a mission president in Bordeaux. All offered remarks in French to mark the historic occasion, held April 6, the anniversary of the founding of the church in 1830.
The mayor of Le Chesnay noted the importance of the relationship between America and France during World War II, as America helped liberate the country from German aggression. He said that liberation and the development of free trade would ultimately lead to changes in the electric industry in France that then had a direct impact on the development of the temple here.
The site along Boulevard Saint-Antoine became available when Électricité de France, which leased buildings at the site, decided it no longer needed the facility after October 2010. That put the property in play, allowing Brillault and city officials to determine whether to make the site available to the LDS Church.
So began years of education and negotiation that resulted Thursday in the mayor thanking "all the people who changed their mind on the project, starting first with myself," he said in French.
In an interview with the Deseret News weeks before Thursday's event, Bishop Caussé noted the significant work done by the mayor.
"Like any political person, he has to understand what’s happening in his city, and he listened a lot to his people, and the people living in his city, trying to understand," he said.
"I think we were given an opportunity, which was to answer questions and just communicate to him. With the church, when people get to know the church better, they understand who we are and that lifts a lot of concerns."
Elder Andersen, too, thanked the mayor and others who made the construction of the temple possible. He noted how lucky the people here are to live in France, rich in beauty and culture: "We love France. It is part of our life," he said, noting his years in the country and that all four of his children speak the language.
He referenced "The Little Prince," by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, quoting a portion of the following in French: “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
The temple, he said, is considered the house of God and while physically beautiful, constructed by skilled craftsmen with the finest materials, it is what is invisible — "his spirit and influence" — that is so beautiful to those who come here.
The temple features a flower-filled courtyard with a Bertel Thorvaldsen replica Christus statue as its focal point. The grounds will be a place of sanctuary for the largely residential neighborhood, while stained glass and windows etched with lilies will greet those LDS members worthy to enter and do the ordinance work inside this holy place.
Searching for peaceful environs is needed perhaps now more than ever, Mitt Romney said. Like the mayor, he, too, referenced the relationship between France and the United States, with the French aiding during the Revolutionary War, and the United States coming to the aid of France in WWII.
He quoted the national motto of France: Liberté, égalité, fraternité, — Liberty, equality, fraternity — and noted the search for peace can be found at the temple.
"Today we live in a divided world," he said in French. He said that those of different faiths can come together. "It's good to have a place where we are all children of God."
The distinctive architecture of the Paris France Temple is respectful of France and the local community standards, and as such is one of only four LDS temples in the world without a spire. The others are the Laie Hawaii Temple, the Cardston Alberta Temple and the Mesa Arizona Temple.
Said Bishop Caussé: "We spent a lot of time discussing with local authorities and government architects, because it is so close to the monuments. There are a number of constraints that we have, the code, that we have to respect. So there was a limited height and also a lot of things."
But obstacles were overcome and now the public is invited to come see the temple. Following media previews and tours, the open house is April 22 through May 13. A culture celebration featuring 1,000 youths will take place May 20 with the temple dedication scheduled for May 21, Bishop Caussé said.
Contributing: Scott Taylor