(CNN) - Italy's first ever Mormon temple opened on Monday, just a few miles up the road from the Vatican, in the Eternal City of Rome.
While the building's spires don't reach the heights of St. Peter's 450-foot-high dome, the Pope's new neighbors hope their temple will also become a place of pilgrimage for spiritual seekers.
Elder Ronald Rasband, one of 12 men known as Apostles who govern the Mormon Church, says the choice of Rome is based on its history as the center of Christianity.
"The early apostles served and lived and were martyred here in Rome," he told CNN, "so this is the place that our prophet (President Russell M. Nelson) felt the temple in Italy should be."
Rasband says Mormon leaders discussed their plans with the Vatican and that the two churches often work together on social issues.
"We are friends with the Catholic Church," Rasband said. "I have been part of an official delegation to go to the Vatican and meet with cardinals and others about not only this project and not only our church in Italy but relative to the interrelationship we have with our friends, the Catholics, all over the world, whether it has to do with humanitarian work, refugee work or freedom of religion in the public square."
The 40,000-square-foot building is made of Italian marble and granite. While the church won't reveal any costs, no expense has been spared in this house of God, with sparkling Swarovski crystal and Murano glass chandeliers set in 24-carat gold adorning its rooms.
Mormon temples are used mainly for baptisms and marriages, and only members of the faith in good standing may enter their inner rooms.
Showers and locker rooms are also provided in the building, where members must change into white garments and slippers before the ceremonies.
At the heart of a Mormon temple is a small pool, a full-immersion baptismal font, where Mormons baptize their dead ancestors by proxy in a ceremony central to their belief that families are bound together for all eternity and that only the baptized can enter the Kingdom of God.
Once the temple has been dedicated in March, non-Mormon visitors will only be allowed into its outside spaces and visitors' center.
An American beginning
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon church is officially called, was founded in New York in 1830 by Joseph Smith, who claimed to have received a revelation from God.
There are some 16 million Mormons worldwide, according to the church's statistics, with more Mormons now living outside the United States than inside it.
The US currently has some 6.5 million members, while Mormons in South America number 4 million. Europe accounts for 500,000 of the church's members, some 6,000 of whom are in Italy.
The Italian temple is the 162nd Mormon temple in the world and the 12th in Europe.
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