Baha'i Temple Dedication
Santiago Chile

The Bahá’í House of Worship for South America in Santiago, Chile, the last of the continental houses of worship to be constructed after those of North America (Wilmette, Illinois), Europe (Frankfurt), Africa (Kampala), Australasia (Sydney), Central America (Panama), Asia (New Delhi), and the Pacific Islands (Apia, Samoa), was dedicated on 13-16 October 2016 in a ceremony and associated conference of high spiritual significance and artistic beauty. Five thousand Baha’is, 3,000 from Latin America and 2,000 from the rest of the world, gathered for the occasion.

I was privileged to be one of those attending, and to make a short intervention on behalf of the Swiss Baha’i community. This was the fourth dedication that I have attended, after those of Wilmette (1953), Panama (1972) and Samoa (1984). The conference was held in the Movistar Arena in downtown Santiago, while the dedication ceremonies were at the temple, a dramatic building in Peñalolén, with the Andes rising behind on one side and the city of Santiago spread out below on the other. Friday and Saturday morning were devoted to plenary sessions, while on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, groups of 500 went to the temple for a short ceremony with prayers, beautiful choir music, and a rare opportunity to view portraits of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb, while the remainder followed artistic activities and videos from across South America and around the world at the arena.

Santiago Temple

As with all Bahá’í Houses of Worship, the Santiago temple has a dome and nine entrances, but this one is composed of nine translucent “wings” spiralling to the centre, enclosing a volume about 30 metres in each dimension, making what is truly a “temple of light”. Glass, stone, bronze and wood are combined in exquisite beauty and attention to detail. The gardens and pools also spiral around the temple, recently planted with native shrubs that will take some years to reach maturity. We were asked not to take pictures in or around the temple during the dedication ceremonies, so I only have pictures taken from the visitors’ area below.


The participants arrived for registration on Thursday 13 October, which was also the day of the public dedication ceremony with government officials, other dignitaries and representatives of civil society. In the evening I attended a briefing for participants in the parallel activities.

Movistar Arena . arrival . registration
Conference site at Movistar Arena; entrance gate; registration

visiting and meeting old friends . visiting and meeting old friends . me with Christine Palene from New Caledonia
Visiting and meeting old friends; me with Christine Palene from New Caledonia


In the opening session Friday morning, the special representative of the Universal House of Justice read the message from the Universal House of Justice to the conference. There was a play about community life, and the history of the Baha'i Faith in South America starting with "Three White Roses" about Leonora Holsapple, Martha Root and May Maxwell, and the history through music. Hooper Dunbar, a long-time pioneer to Latin America and former member of the Universal House of Justice also spoke. The talks were interspersed with music and dance in Latin American rhythms, so pictures cannot capture the true spirit of the event, which demonstrated the richness of South American culture, including many indigenous groups.

play on community life . Three White Roses . Hooper Dunbar
Play on community life; history of the Baha'i Faith in South America "Three White Roses"; Hooper Dunbar

audience . audience . Indigenous music and dance

music and dance . music and dance . music and dance
Music and dance

Friday afternoon featured indigenous peoples, with a representative of the government appreciating the work of the Bahá’ís, quotations on the importance of the indigenous peoples, experiences of some of the indigenous believers, and music and dance, including a unity dance with many tribes together.

 Indigenous music and dance . Indigenous music and dance . Indigenous music and dance
Indigenous music and dance

visiting outside, finding friends . visiting outside, finding friends . with friends from New Caledonia
Visiting outside between sessions, finding friends; with some old friends from New Caledonia

visiting outside, finding friends . The Andes behing Santiago . The Andes behing Santiago
Outside the arena; the Andes behind Santiago

Saturday morning featured a presentation by the architect of the temple, Siamak Hariri, who told how the concept of the temple evolved, the technical challenges in its construction and the long and difficult effort to find an appropriate site near Santiago. I had met Siamak in 2008, when he visited friends in Geneva where he studied. It was then that I discovered that a painting by Mark Tobey, “Lovers of Light”, had inspired him to create a temple of light. Mark painted it in Basel in 1960, and it is in my own collection, making a special tie between Switzerland and the Santiago temple.

Siamak Hariri . Siamak Hariri . Siamak Hariri . Siamak Hariri
Siamak Hariri, the architect, explained the history of Bahá'í Houses of Worship and how he conceived of a "temple of light"

Siamak Hariri and Tobey painting . Mark Tobey's "Lovers of Light"
The inspiration came partly from Mark Tobey's painting "Lovers of Light" in my own collection


While some were at the temple for the dedication ceremony, the remainder followed parallel activities at the arena. There were musical presentations, videos of socio-economic development projects, messages from other Bahá’í communities around the world, and a true feeling of unity and celebration among all present. I was due to make a short live introduction to a beautiful video about homefront pioneering in Switzerland, but in the middle of my presentation I was advised that there were technical problems that made in impossible to show the video and I had to summarize its main messages.

musical group from South Africa . South American dance . audience
Musical group from South Africa; South American dance; audience



When it was our turn to attend a dedication ceremony at the temple, we were 500 taken by bus to the temple site. We waited in a reception tent for our group to gather and for the previous group to leave the temple, admiring the site with its extensive view over Santiago below, and the green backdrop of the Andes behind. Then we climbed the stairs to the temple and entered quietly into such a beautiful building for the first time. We were welcomed briefly by the Representative of the Universal House of Justice. The choir on the balcony sang some quotations from the Baha’i writings, and other were read and chanted. Then we slowly filed out, passing and paying our respects to the portraits of Bahá’u’lláh and The Báb that had exceptionally been brought from the Bahá’í World Centre for this unique occasion.

busses to the temple . view of Santiago . view of Santiago
Buses to the temple; view of Santiago

reception tent . reception tent . reception tent decorations with flowers
Waiting in the reception tent; decorations with flowers

view of the temple from the reception area . view of the temple from the reception area . view of the temple from the reception area
View of the temple from the reception area

climbing the stairs to the temple . climbing the stairs to the temple
Climbing the stairs to the temple

The House of Worship is a unique architectural gem. The nine wings have an internal metal structure covered on the outside with translucent panels of  highly resistant glass recycled from the manufacture of laboratory apparatus, and on the inside with translucent white alabaster. Glass between the wings and below around the auditorium and balcony provides views of the gardens, the Andes and the city below. Light enters during the day, and radiates out at night. The temple can accommodate about 600. The doors and fittings are bronze and the balcony is covered in dark wood.


The closing plenary featured a talk by Dr. Farzam Arbab, who spent many years in South America starting in Colombia in 1969 before serving at the International Teaching Centre and for 20 years on the Universal House of Justice at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel. There were also Bahá’í songs by leading artists of South America that had everyone on their feet and some dancing in the aisles.

closing plenary . closing plenary choir . closing plenary
The closing plenary opened with music

closing plenary songs . closing plenary songs . closing plenary songs
Closing plenary songs

closing plenary audience . closing plenary audience . closing plenary audience
Closing plenary audience

Dr. Farzam Arbab . NSA of Chile closing message . closing music
Dr, Farzam Arbab; closing message from the NSA of Chile; the conference ended in music

audience . audience . audience waving lights
Everyone was on their feet, full of emotion, with clapping and dancing in the aisles, and waving lights in the darkness

going home
Going home

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Last updated 22 October 2016

Photographs copyright © Arthur Lyon Dahl 2016