Bahá’í is a religion with about seven million followers worldwide, making it one of the youngest religions in the world. The practice was founded in 19th-century Iran by Bahá’u’lláh (born Mírzá Ḥusayn-’Alí Núrí) who preached that another prophet was coming in line with the prophets that already included Moses, Mohammed and Jesus. The religion accepts all other religions as having true and valid faiths, which is partially why it was able to grow so much.
The first temple was built in Ashgabat in modern-day Turkmenistan in 1902, but was handed over to Soviet rule which secularized the temple and closed it. This makes the North American temple known to Bahá’ís as the “Mother Temple of the West”—the oldest surviving Bahá’í temple in the world.
A small group of Bahá’ís existed in Chicago as early as 1900. After one member, Corinne Knight True, visited Turkemenistan and saw the impressive temple there, she wanted to construct a similar paean to their religion back home. The Bahá’ís raised funds for years for the temple. One such story has it that a Chicagoan named Nettie Tobin couldn’t donate any money, so she instead donated a piece of limestone she found at a construction site.
Louis Bourgeois was the architect of this elaborate project. Construction on the gorgeous temple began in 1921, but was halted for nearly two full decades due to the Great Depression and World War II. It was finally completed in 1953, made out of white portland cement, concrete, and clear and white quartz. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois.
Discover this wonder for yourself! The Temple is easily accessible by public transit by taking the Purple Line to the Linden stop. There is a visitors’ center to check out, spacious gardens to explore, and the temple itself is open to the public. It is also very close to the lake, so you can make an entire day trip out of visiting the temple on a perfect warm day.
Plans were announced in 2012 to build new temples throughout the world, including one in Maine. It has yet to be built, so in the meantime make the pilgrimage to Wilmette to see this beautiful symbol for unity and prayer.