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(MormonNewsroom.org Photo)

GILBERT, Ariz. -- Gilbert members of the local Latter-Day Saints church will soon have a temple they can call their own.

It's been under construction for over five years, but starting this weekend, visitors and residents alike can get a tour of the new Gilbert Arizona Temple near Greenfield and Pecos roads.

The tours are available to people from all walks of life, not just those of the Mormon faith.

"Starting on Saturday, the temple will be open to public house tours," said LDS Elder William Walker. "We expect to have hundreds of thousands of people come over the next month after that."

The open house tours will continue through Saturday, Feb. 15.

Walker said that the 85,000 square foot temple features several wedding rooms, a baptistry and a celestial room, where church members can quietly pray and reflect on their faith. That room also has a chandelier that is 18 feet long.

Architecture inside the church includes not only several murals depicting Jesus' life but also several paintings of Arizona landscapes. Walker said temples usually include depictions of the area in which they are located.

The church considers the temple the "House of the Lord" and a sacred place where LDS members learn about their relationship with God and the purpose of life. Religious ceremonies, such as eternal marriage and vicarious baptisms for the dead, are done inside. Members must be dressed in white clothing during the services to symbolize purity, cleanliness and setting aside things from the outside world.

After Feb. 15, the temple will be only open to Mormons in good standing who show a special card at the entrance.

The five-story temple is 82 1/2 feet tall, making it not only the tallest building in Gilbert but one of the tallest buildings in the East Valley. The spire reaches 195 feet with a statue of the angel Moroni at the top.

The Gilbert Arizona Temple is the 142nd operating temple in the world and the largest one that the church has built in 17 years.

Walker said the Temple is badly needed in Gilbert.

"This is in the center of the concentration of Latter Day-Saints living in Arizona," said Walker. "There's a very large concentration of Latter-Day Saints in this area south of Mesa."

According to Walker, about 400,000 LDS members are in Arizona, and this is the state's fourth temple. The others are in Mesa, Snowflake and Gila Valley, and there are more to come. A fifth temple is under construction in northwest Phoenix, and the church has announced that a sixth one will be built in Tucson.

When asked how much it cost the church to build the temple, Walker would only say "a lot." The church does not disclose any financial information regarding the costs.

To make reservations for a tour of the Temple, go to Gilbert Mormon Temple.

Bob McClay, Reporter

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