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It's Solomon's Temple, complete with helipad

    The temple in Sao Paulo
    The temple in Sao Paulo

    A vast replica of Solomon's Temple opened this week in Sao Paulo, with the capacity to seat 10,000 followers of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

    The temple, which engulfs an entire city block and cost about £176 million to build, has polarised opinion, particularly among the Jewish community from which it borrows much of its most eye-catching symbolism.

    The temple was built using stone from Israel and contains a number of conspicuous menorahs and an altar imitating the Ark of the Covenant.

    Bishop Edir Macedo, who founded the Universal Church 35 years ago and masterminded the new temple, has a flowing beard and wears a yarmulke. A helicopter landing pad on the 11-storey complex will allow Mr Macedo to drop in for sermons.

    Alongside the temple is a garden of olive trees similar to the garden of Gethsemane, and the flag of Israel flies nearby, next to those of the Universal Church, Brazil and the United States, among dozens of other countries.

    The Brazilian sociologist Ricardo Bitun told Folha de Sao Paulo that the Judaica was part of a "Jewish tendency" shown by the Universal Church, which uses symbols and rituals from ancient religions to confer authority and credibility.

    However, the Israeli Rabbi Chaim Richman, director of the international department of the Temple Institute, said the new church "hijacked the concept of the Holy Temple" and was a "total bastardisation of its sanctity".

    Ricardo Berkiensztat, vice president of the Jewish Federation of Sao Paulo, described the achievement of architect Rogerio Araujo as "wonderful" but told the Brazilian site Diario365: "For Jews the only really sacred temple could be the one in Jerusalem".

    Rabbi Michel Schlesinger, of the Sao Paulo Israelite Congregation, said the building should be seen in a positive light.

    "I look kindly on anything which uses the model of the temple to try to get closer to God," he said.

    The new building, which was due to open on Thursday, with the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, as guest of honour, is part of a surge in enthusiasm for evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Brazil.

    Recent census figures show that 22 per cent of the population is now evangelical Christian.

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