BY TOM SHERIDAN, RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS REPORTER
Happy birthday to the Baha'i Temple. The North Shore landmark is 85 this year.
Well, sort of.
The dedication stone of the magnificent house of worship was laid in 1912, but doors didn't open until 1953. The years between built more than a structure; they built up the foundations of a faith.
Seen from Sheridan Road, the Wilmette architectural treasure also announces the presence of the Baha'i religion, a worldwide faith with more than 5 million members, 110,000 in the United States.
In Evanston, not far from the house of worship, is the Baha'i National Center, the administrative center of the religion's U.S. contingent. The center's Loralie McClure said there are about 1,800 Chicago area Baha'is.
But it is the sparkling dome of the temple that is most familiar. The glistening stone looks like marble but is actually quartz-embedded concrete. It had to be repaired in 1990 when water and erosion dulled its brilliance.
The dedication stone, part of the 1912 ground-breaking by Abdu'l-Baha, son of Baha'u'llah, known as the prophet-founder of the Baha'i faith, never was used in the actual construction. However, it is enshrined in the temple.
The nine-sided, bell-shaped temple was designed by Louis Bourgeois. Actual construction began in 1920 and continued off and on until completion decades later. Today, the five-story dome, wrapped in ornate swirls, covers an auditorium that can seat nearly 1,200. The architecturally significant building is listed in the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places.
The Baha'i faith, an independent religion formed in 1844 in Persia, is diverse ethnically and racially. It teaches world peace and the development of humanity's spiritual nature through a continuing process of divine revelation. Despite such beliefs, however, Baha'is have faced persecution. It was mainly evident in Muslim Iran where, as a minority religion, Baha'is faced execution. Though the killings have slackened, say Baha'i officials, antagonism continues.
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