As you approach that place, from any direction, you see the building rise above the trees. It is several times taller than the trees. Even though no trees are directly beside it, because of the gardens, it is obvious that the trees in the neighborhood are no competition.
One can drive, or ride the local train and walk from the station. In the imagination of the architect, he had designed a small harbor so a visitor could also approach by boat, but that feature was never built. From the lake side, one can most easily see that the structure is much taller than the surrounding trees. The original builders would never have imagined that fliers into or out of the two city airports would also be able to see the building above the trees, even from the planes that flew direction overhead. The building eventually became a navigational marker from air or water.
Surrounding the structure is a gardened area of several acres. This is divided into nine gardens, each one separated by the other by avenues lined with stately trees. Two of these avenues are paved. Each of these two has a reflective pool in the center. The pool at the main entrance ends in a wall of water falling into a lower pool which is then recirculated. Each of the nine gardens has, in its center, a pool with a fountain. The falling water helps mask surrounding sounds. Each of the nine gardens has its own complimentary yet unique design and flowers. All are lined with an encircling bench for sitting and relaxing (unless you are a small child, then it is an excellent runway!). The gardens have flowers blooming in all three growing seasons.
Birds are often in the air, flying gracefully around. It is also possible to see a rabbit or two, or a turtle in the gardens. Once, even a deer found refuge there. No one had any idea how it made its way through the miles of surrounding metropolitan area!
The gardens serve as transition space, from the every day world, to a separate world. At the end of each avenue, is a small flight of stairs up to a wide platform which the edifice seems to rest on. From here there is a flight of eighteen steps encircling the structure. Walking up the steps, the building seems to become larger and large. Only then does the immense size of the building begin to become truly apparent. The dome rises nearly 200 feet above the original ground level.
Each of the nine sides of the building are identical, with an entrance, but one side is used as the actual entrance with a small interior foyer which acts as temperature control. In that space, also, is a small table with information cards, programs, and small books of prayers for visitor use. Anyone may enter as long as they are respectful. There is elevator access for those in need.
Inside the building is seating for over 1,000 people. In the center, the seats face a simple podium which is used by readers during formal programs. There are often bouquets of flowers behind this podium. Around the nine sides, the seating faces to the center. The interior space is flooded with natural light, because the walls are mostly glass. Not only that, but the ornamented exterior and interior panels are perforated so light can shine through. Visitors may sit and pray or meditate silently for as long as they wish. Periodically, there is a brief, but more formal worship program consisting of individuals reading short selections from various scriptures of the world, often on a theme, and prayers. An a’cappella choir sometimes sings.
There are inscriptions inside the building. At the peak of the top of the dome is a calligraphic rendering of the phrase, a brief prayer, stating: “O Thou Glory of Glories.” Around the ceilings of the nine alcoves surrounding the center are such selections from scripture as:
- “Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.”
- “So powerful is unity’s light that it can illumine the whole earth.”
- “Consort with the followers of all religions with friendliness.”
- “O Son of Being! Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee.”
- “The light of a good character surpasseth the light of the sun.”
These are similar to the statements on the exterior above each door, which most visitors miss:
- “The earth is but one country; and mankind its citizens.”
- “The best beloved of all things in My sight is justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me.”
- “Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner.”
- “I have made death a messenger of joy to thee; wherefore dost thou grieve?”
- “O rich ones on earth! The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My Trust.”
The building is closed at night, with timing that varies with the season. For those who wish for more information, there is a visitor center near the parking lot and main entrance. It is staffed at times similar to those when the central building is open. The website provides specific information and severe weather updates.
Though this is a place of worship, there is no altar, no pulpit, no cross or other symbols inside. There are no rituals or ceremonies for an altar to be necessary, and no pulpit because preaching is forbidden. In fact, in this religion, clergy, or priesthood of any kind, is forbidden. Also forbidden is the solicitation or collection of money.
This house of worship can also be called a temple, but it is not a church, synagogue, or mosque. The formal title for it is: “Dawning Place of the Praise of God.” There are not yet many in the world. At first, one was build on each continent, recently more have been built in various places. Around each of these buildings, wherever they may be, will eventually be other structures for schools, hospitals, universities, hospice, etc. Worship and service are to go hand-in-hand.
These are built by the members of the Bahá’í community as gifts to the world. This specific one is located in Wilmette, IL, on the shore of Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago.