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By Angel Phelps
Olives, ovals, and open arms. Shapes, letters, and colors. Symbols have been used throughout history in sacred religious ceremonies and texts. These symbols that are so often found in scripture, are also depicted in the art found in the Rome, Italy Temple and its accompanying Visitors’ Center. The masterpieces displayed here have been created by Christian artists in the hopes of inspiring visitors to re-evaluate and deepen their own understanding and appreciation for the life of the Savior. But why is so much symbolism necessary? Just as the law of Moses was, “A shadow of good things to come…,” (Hebrews 10:1) the rich symbolism of the art shown here in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center is meant to stand as a humble reminder to viewers of the Lord Jesus Christ who will surely come again. This article will explain a few of these symbols to give readers a taste of what a guided tour of the Visitors’ Center might look like.
In scripture, olives stand as a symbol for many things. The house of scattered Israel is often, “Compared like unto an olive tree…,” (1 Nephi 10:12) to explain the prophecies of its eventual gathering before the second coming of Christ (see Rom. 11:17, Rev. 11:4, and Jacob 5). The mural in the Christus Room contains twelve olive trees to represent the twelve tribes of Israel as well as the original twelve apostles.
Olives are also a symbol of the Atonement–the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the sins and suffering of the world. Before His crucifixion, Christ and his apostles, “went out into the mount of Olives,” (Matt. 26:30) where many saints believe Christ began performing the Atonement before finishing it as He died on the cross. The artistic use of olives and olive leaves is found in the intricate stained glass windows and paintings in the Rome, Italy Temple and Visitors’ Center. It stands as a simple reminder of the priceless sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us all.
Ovals are also a common theme in the architecture of the Temple. Floor patterns, staircases, and even the shape of the temple itself are patterned in an oval form. In a venn-diagram, when two circles come together, the space where they overlap is in the general shape of an oval. The oval shape was chosen in the construction of the temple because it symbolizes the coming together of the two spheres of Heaven and Earth. The sacred space of the Temple is believed by saints to be a connection between The Lord and His children, and that God’s “presence shall be there….” (D&C 97:16)
The famous Christus statue in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center stands with open arms. Carved on the pedestal where the Savior stands are His words, “Venite a me,” the Italian translation for, “Come unto me.” (Matthew 11:28) The statue’s nail-pierced hands spread wide, ready for an embrace, remind us of the love Jesus Christ has for each of us, and that He is always ready and willing to accept all who come unto him.
After a tour of the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center, we hope visitors will leave with a new perspective of the world around them, and a stronger belief that, “of him, and through him, and to him are all things.” (Romans 11:36) And that the next time they see things like olives, ovals, or open arms, they can be reminded of the loving plan that God has for each of them. Schedule a virtual or physical tour through the homepage of this website for a glimpse of good things to come…” (Hebrews 10:1)