by Sue Austreng
An autumn journey to Santiago, Chile may be remembered as the spiritual journey of a lifetime for Vern and Lea Iverson, of Elk River.
The Iversons applied and were invited along with 5,000 other people from around the world to travel to the bustling South American city to attend the Oct. 13-18 dedication ceremony of the Baha’i house of worship. The Chilean temple, built at the foot of the Andes mountains, is the last remaining continental house of worship in the world. (The North American Baha’i temple is located near Chicago, Illinois.)
“This was so exciting. It was such a privilege for us to be able to go,” said Lea, who described the Baha’i faith she and Vern practice as one of unity and acceptance, celebrating diversity and embracing people of all race and ethnicity, of all status, background and culture.
Vern agreed, and said, “The Baha’is in the world are trying to build a community regardless of race, nationality or culture. They are disinterested in differences, but are interested in the diversity that unites us.”
The Baha’i temple in Chile resembles a blooming flower, its exterior designed with the veining of leaves and its skin glowing and translucent.
“It really is living and breathing, letting light in, letting light out,” Vern said.
Lea added that with nine sides and nine doors through which to enter, the domed structure embodies the number nine, a number used by the Baha’i as a symbol of unity.
The purpose of the temple, Lea said, is to provide a place for prayers, contemplation and glorification to God.
“The concept of the house of worship took form from the veining of leaves, the intricate Japanese basket and folds of robes from paintings of long ago,” Lea said. “The architecture is so unique and every surface seems to move with flowing lines and curved edges. It’s a very peaceful place.”
The temple and the acres surrounding it are open to people of all faith and to people of no faith, Lea said, and described the landscape on which the temple stands as one of gently curving walkways, flowering plants and bushes of all shapes and colors and a variety of reflecting ponds, all to provide a place of peace and tranquility, an escape from the bustling activity and chaotic sound of Santiago, with its population of more than 7 million people.
The property where Santiago’s Baha’i temple is located was chosen by the indigenous people of Bolivia, Peru, Chile and the Amazon more than 50 years ago. Built and paid for by the Baha’is, the design for the temple was chosen from more than 185 designs collected and reviewed over the past 15 years. Construction began in 2011 and was completed this fall.
To date, the temple has been visited by more than 25,000 people since its October inauguration.
“It’s so quiet and serene. Truly a sanctuary, and open to all,” Lea said.