“Swiss Temple—Prophecy Fulfilled,” Ensign, Oct. 1980, 76–77
On 11 September, the Saints in Europe celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Swiss Temple which is, as President Georg J. Birsfelder, a counselor in the temple presidency, points out, “the first temple in the old world since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.”
In the first year of its existence, endowments were performed for 425 living persons and 368 dead. By 1979, these figures had risen dramatically, with 1,148 people receiving their own endowments and a breathtaking 81,713 proxy endowments being performed annually. An average of a hundred Saints participate in each of the 800 endowment sessions held each year. Of the nineteen languages into which the temple text is translated, the Swiss Temple has capability for eleven.
The existence of the temple fulfills a long-cherished prophecy. When President Joseph F. Smith toured Europe in 1906, he met with the Saints of Bern on 19 August, and said, “I believe that among those who have held this office I am the first to visit our foreign missions. But the time will yet come when the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will have more time to visit the branches of the Church in the different countries where the Gospel is being taught; the time will come … when temples of God dedicated to the holy ordinances of the Gospel … will be built in different countries of the earth.” The Saints remembered that prophecy, not fulfilled for nearly half a century.
It was during President David O. McKay’s administration that the prophecy began to be fulfilled. In July 1952, he assigned Samuel E. Bringhurst responsibility for acquiring, if possible, a piece of land President McKay had previously seen. A former Swiss missionary, President Bringhurst was then president of the Swiss-Austrian mission and would later serve as the Swiss Temple’s first president.
The problem was a complex one since the piece of property was in the possession of five groups of heirs, a total of thirty in all. Furthermore, real estate is so valuable in Switzerland that it is hard to purchase land outright. Usually it can only be exchanged for another piece of income-producing property.
After much effort, all of the heirs agreed to sell, but then, in October, negotiations suddenly stalled. As tension and frustration mounted, President Bringhurst recalls, he felt inspired one sleepless night to stop praying that the Lord would remove the obstacles and to start praying that the Lord’s will be done. The next morning, he had all the district presidents ask the missionaries to fast and pray for a decision. Within twenty-four hours, they had received word that the principal heir had decided not to sell.
By the end of the month, President Bringhurst was considering two alternative temple sites. After praying earnestly for guidance, he and his wife gave the two sites a final inspection. At first, one seemed more desirable, but after inspecting the second choice and leaving, “we turned around, drove back to the site, and as we walked over it, all doubt seemed to leave and we felt certain we were on the site the Lord wished for the first European temple.” President McKay authorized this choice and it was purchased. Some time later, President Bringhurst learned that the first choice site was sliced up for a highway, which would have required them to move the temple from the brow of the hill to a low spot which turned out to be boggy.
President McKay saw the temple in vision and described it in great detail to Church architect Edward O. Anderson, also the architect for the temples in Los Angeles, London, and New Zealand as well as serving on the board of architects that designed the Idaho Falls Temple. Brother Anderson recalls that President McKay’s description “fixed a picture so firmly in my mind that I could draw it.” The finished temple represents the fulfillment of President McKay’s vision.
The temple was dedicated on 11 September 1955. Services were conducted in nine sessions and translated into the different languages of the European Saints. President McKay attended and addressed each session, offering the dedicatory prayer for each.
In the afternoon session on 11 September, held for members from Great Britain, missionaries, and servicemen, President Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said that he had encouraged the Saints as he travelled throughout Europe to prepare their lives and to find the way to the temple. He had told them he knew of their poverty and that some of them would have difficulty going to the temple. “And then I said to them, as they had a look of questioning in their faces, ‘You could walk to the holy temple.’ There was a little laughter.” And then he said, “I am not facetious. You could all walk to the holy temple and it wouldn’t be nearly as far as many of our ancestors walked to go to a place where there was not a temple, but where there was a barren, desert ground on which a temple could be built, and then they worked forty years to build the temple so they might enjoy all these privileges.”
For President McKay, fulfilling President Smith’s prophecy and his own vision, the dedication of the temple seemed especially meaningful. He later remarked that “the veil between those who participated in those exercises and loved ones who had gone before seemed very thin” and called the dedication “a most significant … event in the history of the Church.”
Sources for historical materials include Anna Mae Robison, “The Swiss Temple,” Historic Sites File, Church Hist. Dept.; Dale Z. Kirby, “History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Switzerland” (M.A. thesis, BYU 1971); Georg J. Birsfelder, “25 Years Swiss Temple,” German typescript and English translation, Church Hist. Dept.; and “Dedicatory Addresses at Dedication of Swiss Temple, Zollikofen, Switzerland, September 11, 1955—September 15, 1955,” typescript, Church Hist. Dept.