After almost two years of construction, the new Baton Rouge Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is complete.

Saturday is the last day of a weeklong open house that allows nonmembers the chance to tour Louisiana’s only LDS temple. Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, will rededicate the temple Sunday, Nov. 17.

“There are only 166 temples worldwide,” said Randy Bluth, a former Area Seventy (priesthood office) with the church whose responsibility was overseeing congregations throughout Louisiana and Mississippi. “Temple is really important to us. We believe this will bless this community.”

An inscription above the entrance to the Baton Rouge Temple, and all other temples — “The House of the Lord, Holiness to the Lord” — attests to the sacredness of the building. It’s there that church members in good standing make formal promises and commitments to God. They are where the highest sacraments of the faith occur — the marriage of couples and the “sealing” of families for eternity and baptism (which can be performed on behalf of those who have died), a practice that Latter-day Saints believe was followed in New Testament times but later was lost.

The decision to raze the original temple, which opened in 2000, was made to incorporate new technology and make design tweaks. Among the most visible changes are an improved entryway and raising the tower steeple of the angel Moroni by 10 feet.

“The new temple reflects a more classical architectural style,” said Elder Kevin Duncan. “The footprint is exactly as it was except for where we enclosed the portico. The exterior is all new limestone from Portugal; it has positive pressure to keep out moisture. Some of the interior stone came from Italy; the rugs were woven in China. The Honduran mahogany was milled in the area … we used local subcontractors for a lot of the work.

“We did a lot of research into the Baton Rouge area and incorporated it into the design both inside and out,” he continued.

Specifically, native flora such as crepe myrtles and magnolias are featured in carpets, art-glass widows, upholstered pieces and a large mural painted by artist Linda Curley Christensen in the instruction room.

“It’s her impression of what the creation would have looked like if it had taken place in Louisiana,” added Duncan.

Impressive art, including three originals, hangs throughout the temple. Green, blue, coral and cream-colored art-glass panels are found in the baptistry, waiting, celestial and sealing rooms.

Unlike most religions, regular services don’t take place in the temple but in meeting houses. The temple is reserved for more personal reflection, with each room having a specific purpose.

It begins with baptism, not just of members but also of their ancestors. Proxy baptisms are one of the church’s more well-known creeds. Believing baptism is an essential requirement to enter the Kingdom of God, the proxy baptism protects loved ones who died without the opportunity to receive it. The deceased may choose to accept or reject the baptisms done on their behalf.

“This is why we care so much about family, do so much research into our families,” said member Amy Bascom. “It’s a really sweet experience.”

Once baptized, members can enter the initiatory room where they begin the endowment process that culminates in the celestial room. The second stop is the instruction room, where members learn more about their faith.

“It’s here where we learn and promise to do things for ourselves and those who are no longer here,” said Bascom. “We make covenants with God to guide our lives.”

One of covenants is the sealing ceremony. The temple has two sealing rooms where celestial marriages are performed. Mirrors are strategically hung so that, as they exchange vows, the couple can see their reflections into infinity, a reminder of the LDS Church’s belief that a couple is “sealed” together for all eternity.

From here, members pass through “the veil” into the celestial room. It’s another symbolic nod to Solomon’s temple, where a veil, or curtain, separated the temple from the tabernacle containing the Ark of the Covenant. Only priests could go behind the veil.

This celestial room resembles an elegant parlor, aglow with its crystal chandelier, large art-glass window and calming pastel color palette. Instead of pews, there are couches and chairs where members sit and quietly commune with God.

“It’s all personal in the temple,” concluded Duncan.

Email Pam Bordelon at pbordelon@theadvocate.com.