LE CHESNAY, France — No tower, no steeple, no signature Angel Moroni statue atop the LDS Church’s new Paris France Temple?
Non, c’est français.
(No, it’s French.)
As the by-invitation-only sessions of the Paris France Temple open house begin this week, some of the Mormon faithful viewing images and videos will only notice what isn’t there — a few traditional, expected elements of most temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
And by focusing on what isn’t there, they’ll miss appreciating the unique features of the church’s first temple in France.
That includes the floral patterns in breathtaking art-glass windows and furnishings in French classical and Art Nouveau styles, the beautifully landscaped gardens and courtyards of the temple grounds and the architectural design that blends well with the historical monuments and sights of host city Le Chesnay and the neighboring Palace of Versailles, a 10-minute walk from the temple.
“It is a moment unforgettable for us to finally see after all these years a house of the Lord firmly planted in this beautiful, beautiful location, next to the Versailles Chateau,” said Elder Neil L. Andersen of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of several LDS general authorities attending early open house events.
“The French people appreciate beautiful architecture,” said Bishop Gérald Caussé, the LDS Church’s presiding bishop and France native who lived with his wife, Valérie, soon after their marriage on Rue des Missionnaires (Street of the Missionaries) not far from where the Paris temple would be built.
“I think there is a recognition around Le Chesnay, from all the people here, that it is a very beautiful building, that it is very respectful of the (surroundings), that it blends very well with the French culture. Very often I hear, ‘It’s French!’
“But at the same time,” he added, “they recognize it is a special building, unlike any others that they have seen before. So, there’s a blend of the French culture but also a very special, spiritual feeling that the people have.”
Announced in October 2011 and started with its groundbreaking in August 2012, the 44,175-square-foot Paris France Temple will be available for a public open house from April 22 through May 13, excluding Sundays.
After its dedication Sunday, May 21, it will become the church’s 156th operating temple, serving the 38,000 LDS members in France, where there are 100 congregations, 10 stakes and two missions.
Previously, the LDS temples most accessible to church members residing in France were in Frankfurt, Germany; The Hague, Netherlands; and Bern, Switzerland.
No steeple or statue
The Paris France Temple will be the fourth Mormon temple without a steeple or tower, along with the early 20th-century threesome of the Cardston Alberta, Laie Hawaii and Mesa Arizona temples.
And it will join five additional temples without the iconic, gold-plated Angel Moroni statue overhead. Those five include the Hamilton New Zealand and Oakland California temples along with the St. George, Logan and Manti temples in Utah.
The two design teams — one based in Paris, the other in Salt Lake City — worked together to meet local codes and conditions, including height limitations and other requirements, such as exterior stone and appearance.
“We spent a lot of time discussing with local authorities and government architects because it is so close to the monuments,” Bishop Caussé said. “There are a number of constraints that we have, the code that we have to respect. But in the end, it is only good because it makes for a temple that everybody accepts and recognizes as theirs.”
Exterior and grounds
The temple’s exterior is Portuguese limestone, similar of the limestone exteriors common to the region and sharing in part the sense of nobility and grandeur with Versailles and surrounding areas. The sloped roof is in compliance with local code, with the steeper-sloped roofs featuring slate stone shingles.
The temple’s main entry point from the Boulevard Saint Antoine features a two-story relief stone arch, with numerous windows flanking it. The public entrance to the temple grounds, courtyards and plazas is a little to the east of the temple entrance.
From that public entrance, visitors can access on one side a small family history center featuring a handful of stations where individuals can use touch-screen displays or desktop-like units to search family history information.
On the other side of the public entrance is the visitor center, which features a stunning, life-size stained-glass window of the Savior, surrounded by Easter lilies with arms reaching out and a kind, loving countenance.
Tom Holdman, whose Holdman Studios in Utah did the cutting and crafting of more than 30,000 pieces of glass for the temple’s art-glass windows, was visiting the temple complex during Friday’s media sessions. He said the large, arch-shaped window was not originally part of the glass-art plan for the Paris project, but he felt strongly to produce the piece, with an acquaintance willing to purchase it if the LDS Church wouldn’t consider it.
But the church did, and the piece is just inside the visitor center entrance.
Visible from both outside and inside the temple, the glass-art windows offer natural-light illuminations inside and feature floral-pattern motifs based on local plants and floral designs from Claude Monet’s work.
Once inside the grounds, visitors are treated to terraced courtyards and plazas, including a marble replica of Thorvaldsen’s Christus statue, crafted in Rome, Italy and placed on the middle plaza.
The landscaping draws inspiration from French gardens, including the Palace of Versailles. The grounds boast 80 trees, nearly 600 shrubs, another nearly 1,250 hedges and a dozen-plus climbing plants and flowers native to France. Added in are 1,400-plus bulbous plants.
Pathways lead to the ancillary buildings' patron housing, a residence for the temple president and housing for temple missionaries.
The interior is based on the French Art Nouveau décor and design, from the colors and furnishings to the handrails, door hardware and fixtures.
The eye is often drawn to the blues, greens and whites of the stained-glass windows, which Holdman designed to create a feeling of a French garden full of cornflowers, lilacs, hollyhocks and several different types of lilies. The stained glass is first painted by hand, then fired under extreme heat, which leads to the enameled surface.
Flooring throughout is Crema Marfil and Branco Classico marble from Portugal, with the area rugs for the temple reception area and bride and celestial rooms designed and manufactured in China and carpeting from California. The brides' room area rug is hand-tufted wool, featuring the Martagon lily in its floral pattern.
Lighting features throughout are custom-designed 24-karat gold-plated and sterling silver chandeliers and sconces custom-made in China in the classic French designs used throughout the temple.
An interior centerpiece is the Grand Hall, featuring a spiraling marble staircase, French-style railings, an inlaid stone mosaic floor in floral motifs and a colorful glass dome.
Highlighting the “A” endowment or instruction room are murals painted by David Koch of Richmond, Utah, showing the cliffs of the Normandy coastline and French countryside. The instruction rooms also include arched stained-glass windows with cornflowers, while plaster ceiling medallions are of the Martagon lilies.
The stained-glass windows of the temple’s two-story celestial room face Boulevard Saint Antoine and depict ascending hollyhock designs, as do the carpet’s hand-carved designs by Utah’s Greg Johnson. The French-style chandelier in that room boasts some 15,000 pieces of Austrian Swarovski crystal.
The temple includes two sealing rooms, with Madonna lilies ascending in vine-like patterns along stained-glass windows. The panelized walls of the sealing rooms were painted by local craftsmen.
The baptistery, on the lower floor, includes a backlit stained-glass skylight and windows, with Martagon, Madonna and water lilies as the featured flowers. The fiberglass oxen were manufactured in the United States and finished with bronze dust in France.
Furniture throughout the temple is American cherry wood, manufactured in Italy, the United States, China and India. Several original paintings grace the temple walls, including works by Elspeth Young, Glenda Gleave, Nicholas Coleman and Mary Sauer.