“Every Window, Every Spire ‘Speaks of the Things of God’” Ensign, Mar. 1993, 7
“I went through frozen mud and slush with my feet tied up in rags,” wrote one anonymous Latter-day Saint who attended the icy ground-breaking ceremonies for the Salt Lake Temple on 14 February 1853. “I had on a pair of pants made out of my wife’s skirt—a thin Scotch plaid; also a thin calico shirt and a straw hat. These were all the clothes I had. It was go that way or stay at home. … I was not alone in poverty; … there were many who were fixed as badly as I was.”1 He was one of thousands who arrived at an early hour for the ceremony, scheduled for eleven o’clock that morning.2
What drew him to the Temple Block when he could have stayed home with dry feet? What power did the temple hold for the starving, struggling Saints who had not, at that point, been in their mountain Zion much longer than five years?
The Saints’ understanding of three interlinked concepts helped them have faith to envision spires not yet built even as they stood shivering with their feet in icy slush.
First, the Prophet Joseph Smith had taught them that the “gathering,” or coming out of “Babylon,” was for the express purpose of building temples: “God gathers together His people in the last days, to build unto the Lord a house.” This was to happen in fulfillment of ancient prophecies that “many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.” (Isa. 2:2–3.) The temple was to be “a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation.”3
Second, the Lord promised that faithful Saints would “be endowed with power from on high.” (D&C 38:32.) This spiritual blessing could be transmitted only through ordinances in which covenants were made, thus binding the Saints to God. A spiritual power that cannot be had in any other way comes from covenants. (See D&C 84:19–22.)
Third, the Saints understood that the Lord honored their agency; therefore, they chose to sacrifice. Lectures on Faith, lecture no. 6, states, “Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”4
As the Saints left Nauvoo, they carried the concept of the temple with them in their hearts. Only four days after Brigham Young completed the 1,500-mile trek to Salt Lake Valley in 1847, he walked to a spot between two forks of City Creek and, waving his hand, said, “Here is the [place] for the temple.”5 Wilford Woodruff then drove a stake into the ground to mark the spot. According to tradition, that spot became the center of the completed temple.
In February 1853, to the pioneer congregation huddled in shawls and wraps against the chill, Brigham Young recalled, “I scarcely ever say much about revelations, or visions, but suffice it to say, five years ago last July I was here, and saw in the Spirit the Temple. … I have not inquired what kind of a Temple we should build. Why? Because it was represented before me. I have never looked upon that ground, but the vision of it was there. I see it as plainly as if it was in reality before me.”6
According to Wilford Woodruff, President Young’s address was “a most thrilling speech of about thirty minutes” that was “heard distinctly in all parts of the vast assembly.”7 It is clear that Brigham Young could hardly contain his joy as he began: “We have assembled on one of the most solemn, interesting, joyful, and glorious occasions, that ever has, or will transpire among the children of men, while the earth continues in its present organization, and is occupied for its present purposes; and I congratulate my brethren and sisters that it is our unspeakable privilege to stand here, this day, and minister before the Lord, on an occasion which has caused the tongues and pens of prophets to speak and write for many scores of centuries.”8
Then Heber C. Kimball, First Counselor in the First Presidency, struck the frozen ground “with a pick … and President Young took out the first turf.”9 He closed the meeting with a triumphant blessing of the Saints, to which all assembled responded, “Amen!”10 The congregation then “rushed to the hole to get a chance to throw a little dirt out.”11 Some “one hundred and fifty laborers, I should judge continued the work,” wrote Lorenzo Brown, another participant in the events.12
Two months later, on Wednesday, April 6, Church members gathered again at the Temple Block for the cornerstone-laying services. It was a “lovely day,” noted the Deseret News, and “could not … have been more satisfactory to Saints or Angels.”13
We do not know if the poverty-stricken immigrant with his feet tied in rags was among them, but Lorenzo Brown was back, enjoying the three bands, military companies, and choir. “The crowd was so great it was very difficult to see and hear,” he complained mildly.14 Surely the hush during the dedicatory prayer was sufficiently profound that he could hear Brigham Young declare, “We dedicate this, the South-East Corner Stone of this Temple, to the Most High God. May it remain in peace till it has done its work, and until He who has inspired our hearts to fulfill the prophecies of his holy prophets, that the House of the Lord should be reared in the ‘Tops of the Mountains,’ shall be satisfied.”15
Parley P. Pratt told the Saints on the following day, “It appeared to me that Joseph Smith, and his associate spirits … hovered above us on the brink of that foundation, and with them all the angels and spirits from the other world, that might be permitted, or that were not too busy elsewhere.”16
Shortly after the service, Brigham drew on a slate the outlines of the temple he had seen in vision several years earlier. “There will be three towers on the east, representing the President and his two Counselors,” he explained; “also three similar towers on the west representing the Presiding Bishop and his two Counselors; the towers on east the Melchizedek priesthood, those on the west the Aaronic priesthood.”17
A written description of the temple appeared a year and half later in the Deseret News on 17 August 1854. It became the basis for non-Mormon newspaper accounts of the temple for the next several years. For example, The Illustrated London News repeated the description and included a large woodcut, an artist’s conception based on the description, in 1857.18 Many of these accounts emphasized the tremendous effort before the Saints, some expressing doubt that the Saints could complete the task.
In the forty-year saga that followed, there was challenge enough, but no faltering. The Saints who gathered from the countries of Europe to their new Zion built up its villages and hamlets, its irrigation systems and gardens, but they held to their ideal of a temple and the hope of one day kneeling at its altars. They had already covenanted at the waters of baptism; the hunger to make covenants that would bring exaltation to themselves and their dead steadied their patient hands and provided a spiritual reality that competed successfully with the harsh material realities of the Great Basin.
Church architect Truman Angell, realizing his technical limitations, was sent in July 1856 on an “architectural mission” to England in an effort to make Brigham’s vision a reality. During his absence, work slowed at the temple site until his return in May 1857. Later, Angell expressed his sincere modesty and resolve in this assignment: “I must say I feel a good deal worn out, but if [President Young] and my brethren feel to sustain a poor worm of the dust like me to be Architect of the Church, let me strive to serve them and not disgrace myself. … May the Lord help me so to do.”19
Only two months after Angell’s return, the Saints assembled in Big Cottonwood Canyon, where they learned that U.S. President James Buchanan, reacting hastily to the biased report of disgruntled federal officials who had deserted their posts, had dispatched a military force of twenty-five hundred men to restore order and forcibly install a new governor to replace Brigham Young. Delaying tactics slowed the army until it had to winter at Fort Bridger, Wyoming. But when spring came, the threat of military action resumed. In late March 1858, Brigham Young ordered the thirty thousand Saints in Salt Lake City and points north to move south. Imagine their sorrow at what they found necessary to do next. Brigham Young had the entire temple foundation covered with dirt so the area would resemble a freshly plowed field. A group of public works laborers hid the cut stone.
Fortunately, the confrontation with the U. S. Army was resolved diplomatically. The Saints agreed to be “pardoned,” and the army agreed to establish its camp thirty-five miles southwest of Salt Lake City. However, in the event the army did not keep its promises and tried to occupy the city and defile the ground consecrated for the temple, the Saints were ready to burn their own homes to the ground.
The army kept the terms of the settlement, and two months later, in July 1858, the Saints returned to their homes. But the uneasy truce prevented work on the temple for the next two years, until Brigham Young directed the foundation to be uncovered in the spring of 1860. It took two more years to uncover the foundation. Then, a second major tragedy seemed to hit the temple project. Large cracks were found in the foundation walls. It was clear that the foundation would never support the temple President Young envisioned. Thus, the Saints began the arduous task of removing the original stones down to the bottom layer, to be replaced by better quality stones cut to fit without mortar. By 1862 the last stones were removed. It wasn’t until 1867—nine years after the foundation had been covered with dirt and twenty years after the temple site had been selected—that the temple walls rose above the ground for the first time!
Initially, both adobe and sandstone had been discussed for the temple’s walls; but apparently the cracks in the foundation stones convinced President Young to use granite for the main structure. The best stone available was located in Little Cottonwood Canyon, some twenty miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
As a young boy, President Joseph Fielding Smith spent his summers in Little Cottonwood Canyon. He recalled watching the men preparing “the great granite blocks … for delivery to the temple.” He noted, “I can remember the days of the ox teams and how they tugged with their heavy loads, and how at intervals down the canyon road rough-cut blocks had skidded from the wagons and were lost.”20
While some laborers at the quarry were supported through the Church’s Public Works Department, other workers supplied their own housing and donated their time. A Danish immigrant, John Nielsen, recalled, “I contributed one dollar each month for a long time toward paying the men who were working in the Temple Square, cutting rock for the walls of the Temple. I also worked some in the rock quarry up in the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. While doing this I boarded myself, furnished my own bedding, and donated my work.”21
Another Saint who sacrificed much during this period was John Rowe Moyle, an excellent stonemason from England. It was Brother Moyle’s custom to work on his farm in Alpine, Utah, only on Friday night and all day Saturday. Then each Monday morning he walked from home back to Salt Lake City to work until Friday on the temple. Following an accident, Brother Moyle’s leg was removed in an excruciating operation. While recovering, he made himself a wooden peg leg and walked around his farm on the stump until he was able to stand the pain. Eventually, he walked to Salt Lake City—a distance of more than twenty miles—to begin his labors at the temple again.
According to a story told by his family, John Moyle “climbed up the scaffolding on the east side of the Temple and carved ‘Holiness to the Lord,’ as his contribution to the Temple building.”22
Labor on the temple slowed again at the end of 1868, when work on the transcontinental railroad took precedence—linking west and east for the first time. However, the delay was worth the effort, since branches of the main line were then created, with tracks being laid between the quarry and the temple site in 1873. This allowed the huge stones to be delivered by steam engine.
In 1876 workmen set up a “small portable [steam] engine” at the temple site to power a derrick used to place stones on the walls. Brigham Young, less than a year from his death, wrote proudly to a son who was studying at the University of Michigan, “For the first time in the history of building temples to the Lord, so far as I am acquainted, we are now laying the rock by the help of the steam engine, and the speed and ease with which it does its work is very encouraging.”23
Driven by a sense of urgency perhaps related to premonitions brought on by his final illness, Brigham Young earlier had expanded temple work. A site for another Utah temple was dedicated on 9 November 1871.24 Though a much smaller project, the temple at St. George was another example of Brigham Young’s desire to fill the earth with temples. Truman O. Angell25 was the architect of the St. George Temple; when completed, it was similar in size to the Nauvoo Temple. President Young presided at limited dedication services on 1 January 1877 and then, on his way home, stopped at Manti, Utah, where he dedicated a site for another temple on 25 April. Within three weeks, he did the same at Logan, Utah.26
A few weeks later, just three months before his death, he wrote to Hawaiian Mission president William E. Pack: “The present year is one that thus far has been unparalleled in the history of the Church. … Within a period of less than six months, one Temple has been completed and dedicated, and the site for two others consecrated to the Lord our God and the work of construction commenced thereon, whilst another (the one in this City) is being pushed forward with greater zeal and energy than has before been manifested since its commencement.”27
The completion of the St. George Temple also reconfirmed the hope and desires of the Saints for finishing the “Great Temple” in the Salt Lake Valley. Lucy B. Young, a wife of Brigham Young, was called to serve in the St. George Temple to administer to the living and the dead. An official Church periodical stated, “How many times the sick and suffering have come … to [the] temple, and at once Sister Young would be called to take the afflicted one under immediate charge.” One sister who had not walked for a dozen years “was brought, and under the cheering faith of Sister Young she went through the day’s ordinance and was perfectly healed of her affliction.”28 Spiritual experiences such as this, coupled with their desire to fulfill biblical prophecy, impelled the Saints to complete the Salt Lake Temple.
At Brigham Young’s death, the temple walls were about forty feet in height. But then, in the 1880s, work on the temple was threatened when the LDS temples became pawns in a legal contest between the federal government and the Church as governmental pressures on the Saints to abandon plural marriage intensified. Brigham Young, though no stranger to this conflict, was spared direct engagement in it. John Taylor, the next President, died in 1887 while in hiding to avoid federal marshals. To the fourth President, Wilford Woodruff, fell the task of dealing with federal receivers of confiscated Church property, who had every intention of seizing the temples.
It was a cruel dilemma for the eighty-year-old prophet. By 1888, the Logan and Manti temples had also been completed, allowing Latter-day Saints in increasing numbers to enjoy the blessings of temple covenants. Later, Wilford Woodruff stated, “I want to see the Salt Lake Temple finished, and [as] poor as I am I will donate $500.00 towards this work. The Lord also wants it completed, and I ask you brethren to try and collect enough for this purpose.”29
During the year following Wilford Woodruff’s ordination as President of the Church, the temple walls rose to 160 feet, and President Woodruff made final decisions on heating, electrical power, and other physical facilities. But the pressure from the government was unrelenting.
At long last, the risk to the temples evaporated when President Woodruff issued the Manifesto in September 1890 and the Saints sustained it in October general conference. Immediately thereafter, President Woodruff redoubled his efforts to bring the Salt Lake Temple to completion.
The Saints continued to sacrifice in many ways in order that the work might continue. Around 1890, John Hafen and Lorus Pratt, two Utah landscape artists, approached George Q. Cannon, First Counselor in the First Presidency, about the possibility of the Church supporting their art study in Europe. In exchange, they agreed to labor in beautifying Church buildings upon their return. The First Presidency sent them, along with several others who had shown artistic promise, on “art missions” to Paris, France. The Brethren did not want them only to beautify Church buildings upon their return, but to paint murals in the temple endowment rooms to enhance the experience of the participants. Covenants and sacrifice were once again intertwined as the men left families and friends in the familiar valleys of Utah to the urbane life of an unknown and foreign France. Using sacred and increasingly limited funds, Church leaders sent these men to improve their talents to add to the special building in Salt Lake.
One of those art missionaries who willingly left the comforts of home was John Fairbanks. He arose at 4:00 A.M. on Monday, 24 June 1890, in preparation for the long journey to Europe. “At 6 o’clock I kissed our three youngest—Claud (the baby), Ortho, and Leroy while they slept. Then my wife, and bid her good bye.” Brother Fairbanks noted with some remorse: “She was very much affected by the parting, but part we must. The rest of our children beginning with the youngest Ervon, Vernon, Nettie, and Leo walked to the depot with me. When the train came I bid them good bye [and] got on the train leaving the darlings standing on the platform with sorrowful faces and tears standing in their eyes.”
The train sped south from Salt Lake Valley to Provo, where Fairbanks met Lorus Pratt. At Springville, Utah, the next stop, the third missionary, John Hafen, was waiting “with tears in [his] eyes.” The “dry jokes of Brother Pratt soon brought a smile and our look of sorrow soon disappeared.”30
But such sacrifices were not sufficient to cover the serious deficits in funds needed to pay for the final stages of the temple’s construction. The economic costs of the U.S. government’s war against the Church cannot accurately be measured, but something like fifteen thousand male heads of polygamous households had been jailed for up to three years or forced to pay fines of up to two thousand dollars. Their farms and businesses had suffered.
Even after the federal receivers relaxed their grip on Church property, money was in short supply. The national recession in 1891 and depression of 1893, combined with the effects of the confiscation of Church property under the Edmunds and Edmunds-Tucker acts, and consequently the Church’s burden of paying rent on its own property, intensified the financial difficulties of the Church collectively and the members individually. Then the entire nation slid into the “Cleveland” depression that hit in 1893 and lasted until 1899. In the next four years, six hundred banks and perhaps fifteen thousand businesses failed. Utah reeled economically.
Yet with undaunted faith, President Woodruff requested sufficient funds from the Saints to finish the temple. Among those who sacrificed to meet that request was a young boy who had found employment on a nearby farm where, after several long hours of work, he was paid twenty-five cents. “I clutched the coin and ran home,” he recalled. He immediately sought out his father. “Pa, look what I have!” he announced. “The next time you go to Provo,” he continued, “I can get a new pair of Levis with this money.”
The father reminded his son of President Woodruff’s request. “President Wilford Woodruff needs ten cents of this quarter for the Salt Lake Temple. Here, I’ll give you fifteen cents for the coin, and we’ll go together to give the dime to our bishop, who will send it to Salt Lake City,” the father gently suggested.31
With funds donated by many faithful Saints, the stonework was finished to the point that the last stone—the capstone—could be placed on the temple. Truly, constructing this temple had become a labor of faith and fierce endurance in the teeth of adversity.
It was with a sense of celebration, then, that the Saints gathered on 6 April 1892, thirty-nine years from the time the cornerstones were laid, to rejoice together in the laying of the capstone. President Woodruff, who had pounded in the marking stake forty-five years earlier, wrote impressively in his diary that it was “the greatest day the Latter-day Saints ever saw in these mountains.”32
The city, already crowded for the semiannual conference, received thousands more who came for this historic event. Fifty thousand jammed the Temple Block, while thousands more watched from adjoining rooftops, windows, and even power poles. Many more thronged the streets.
Lorenzo Snow, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve, reminded the congregation that the first Hosanna Shout had been given in the heavens “when all the sons of God shouted for joy.”33 He exultantly urged the people, “We want every man and every woman to shout these words to the very extent of their voice, so that every house in this city may tremble, the people in every portion of this city may hear it and it may reach to the eternal worlds.”34
At the climactic moment, Church Architect Joseph Don Carlos Young shouted from the top of the temple to President Woodruff, “The capstone is now ready to be laid!”35 The 85-year-old prophet “stepped to the front of the platform, in full sight of the assembled multitude in whose midst a solemn stillness reigned.”36 With uplifted hands, he exclaimed, “Attention, all ye house of Israel and all ye nations of the earth. We will now lay the top stone of the Temple of our God, the foundation of which was laid and dedicated by the Prophet, Seer and Revelator Brigham Young.”37 He pressed the switch, “a catch was released, and the top-most stone of the Temple fell into position.”38
Then, under Elder Snow’s guidance, the Saints cried, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! to God and the Lamb! Amen! Amen! Amen!” This heartfelt thanksgiving praise was repeated three times with increasing force as the participants waved white handkerchiefs in the air on the shouts of “Hosanna” and “Amen.”
John Lingren, a member of the Church, thrilled to the emotion of the moment. “The eyes of thousands were moistened with tears. … The ground seemed to tremble with the volume of the sound which sent forth its echoes to the surrounding hills.”39 Mary H. Nutting, a non-Mormon schoolteacher living in Utah, reported to friends back east that it “gave a peculiar sensation to hear the mighty shout! It made one realize very strongly that Mormonism is yet a great force, that it is by no means ‘dying out.’”40
The congregation of thousands followed the clarion sound of the Tabernacle Choir in unitedly singing one of the Church’s most soul-stirring hymns, “The Spirit of God,” first sung at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple fifty-six years earlier and sung at the dedication of every temple since that time. “When the great song, ‘The Spirit of God Like A Fire is Burning’ was sung by the united audience,” wrote Charles Savage, Utah photographer and choir member, “a feeling different thrilled through me from any one I ever experienced. The hosannah shout was something long to be remembered and one I never expect to hear again during my life.”41
Francis M. Lyman, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, proposed that those present “pledge themselves, collectively and individually, to furnish, as fast as it may be needed, all the money that may be required to complete the temple at the earliest time possible, so that the dedication may take place on April 6th, 1893.”42 John Dean, a temple construction laborer, reported that the result was “a deafening shout of ‘ayes’ from the assembled host” as they raised their right hands.43
After the capstone-laying ceremony, many remained to see the unveiling of the statue of the angel Moroni. The statue, designed by Utah-born sculptor Cyrus Dallin, was made of hammered copper covered with 22-karat gold leaf. Before nightfall, the massive figure was lowered into position on the stone ball of the 210-foot-high central east spire.
In the year that followed, carpenters, painters, plasterers, and other skilled craftsmen worked unstintingly to complete the interior of the temple. The inside of the temple was adorned with fine wood and plaster ornamental carvings, beautiful murals and paintings, mirrors, elegant curtains and draperies, the best carpets and furniture available, fine light fixtures, chandeliers, and specially ordered stained-glass art windows. All things were made ready for the dedication ceremonies, which were to begin on 6 April 1893. In an effort to complete the temple on time, workers labored even on holidays. On Thanksgiving Day 1892, “nearly all the men were at work as usual,” one worker noted.44
As the physical preparations began to wind down, there began a renewed spiritual readying. In March 1893, the First Presidency issued an epistle calling for tender soul-searching and self-purification:
“The near approach of the date for the dedication of the Temple of our God moves us to express with some degree of fullness our feelings … to the end that in entering into that holy building we may all be found acceptable ourselves … and that the building … may also be acceptable unto the Lord. …
“We feel now that a time for reconciliation has come; that before entering into the Temple to present ourselves before the Lord in solemn assembly, we shall divest ourselves of every harsh and unkind feeling against each other; that not only our bickerings shall cease, but that the cause of them shall be removed, and every sentiment that prompted and has maintained them shall be dispelled; that we shall confess our sins one to another, and ask forgiveness one of another; that we shall plead with the Lord for the spirit of repentance … so that in humbling ourselves before Him and seeking forgiveness from each other, we shall yield that charity and generosity to those who crave our forgiveness that we ask for and expect from Heaven. …
“Asking God’s blessing upon you all in your endeavor to carry out this counsel, and desirous of seeing it take the form of a united effort on the part of the whole people, we suggest that Saturday, March 25th, 1893, be set apart as a day of fasting and prayer.”45
Some Saints began arriving in the city weeks before April 1893 general conference. Lucy Flake and her husband started their trip from Arizona to Utah on 8 March 1893. “We went by team,” she noted in her journal, “as we hadn’t the money to go on train.” The group “consisted of William, myself, Sister Lanning, Joel and John, Henry and Emma Tanner and two of their children,” she wrote. The journey by wagon was “a cold hard trip, through snow and mud.”46 At Beaver, Utah, the Flake family finally boarded a train. “William and I took our first train ride together,” Lucy recalled. “We went with a large company of our friends and relatives from Beaver City to Salt Lake. We were joined at every station by others who were going to the Dedication.”47
The evening before the first dedication service, President Woodruff conducted nonmember guests through the building on a first-of-its-kind tour. This act was a step in reconciliation by Church leaders anxious to rebuild harmony with non-Mormon neighbors after decades of hostility. Even federally appointed Utah Territorial Supreme Court justice Charles S. Zane, a longtime critic of the Church, was impressed by the quality of design, decorations, and craftsmanship. “The building is furnished opulently,” he noted in his journal after attending the open house.48 (See pages 22–27 of this issue.)
Finally, the culmination of forty years of effort and sacrifice climaxed when President Woodruff entered the temple the morning of 6 April 1893. “The Temple Block gates opened at 8:30, and the street was packed long before that hour,” one priesthood leader noted. Two hours were required “to admit, one by one, the 2200 people” into the large upper assembly hall of the temple.49
Thomas Griggs, a member of the Tabernacle Choir, arrived at the south gate at 8:20, but the line was so long that “it was 9:55 A.M. when I was 10 feet from the [gate],” he wrote. “Wind, dust and a little rain had come and it was very uncomfortable, to be ended by the door keeper announcing … ‘No more can be admitted.’ … Being well known as a member of the choir [I was] … soon at the south west entrance and hurriedly passed through.”50
The focus of the service was the prayer of dedication offered by the aged prophet, “kneeling on a plush covered stool provided for the purpose” and reading the prayer he had prepared that would be read in each successive service of the forty-one sessions.51
Brigham Young Academy student Amy Brown recalled: “It was one of the most thrilling spiritual experiences of my life. … [President Woodruff] stood there before the people with hair and beard as white as snow, the essence of purity, gentleness, and faithfulness, he reminded me of the prophets of old.”52
For President Woodruff, the occasion was the fulfillment of a dream. He confided in his journal, “Near[ly] fifty years ago while in the city of Boston I had a vision of going with the Saints to the Rocky Mountains building a temple and I dedicated it.”53
During the dedication sessions the Saints experienced an outpouring of the Spirit in the temple. The “spirit of God filled the house,” noted a participant.54 Susa Young Gates, who served as official stenographer for the dedication services, recalled: “The early days of April in the year 1893 were heavy with storm and gloom. A leaden sky stretched over the earth; every day the rain beat down upon it, and the storm-winds swept over it with terrific force. Yet the brightness and the glory of those days far outshone the gloom.”55 (See pages 28–31 of this issue.)
Annie Cannon Wells, an editorial contributor to the Woman’s Exponent in Salt Lake City, wrote, “I am only one of thousands who have watched the rearing of those walls and seemed to be a part of them, so much have our thoughts dwelt upon and longed for the day of completion. … This dedication is to the Saints the greatest event for many years. How long we have watched the building of the Temple and as stone has been laid upon stone our faith and prayers have been offered for the safe and perfect completion of the building and now that it is so handsomely completed well may we feel proud and happy.”56
For many of the Saints, the temple dedication provided a spiritual seal for their efforts to gather with the people of God in the Rocky Mountains. It also confirmed the Lord’s acceptance of the covenants they had made with him and the sacrifices entailed in fulfilling the vision of modern and ancient prophets that a temple would be “established in the tops of the mountains” in the last days.
Another Church leader, Elder J. Golden Kimball, expressed the theme of united effort and sacrifice when he spoke in general conference in 1915. He said of the Salt Lake Temple, “Every stone in it is a sermon to me. It tells of suffering, it tells of sacrifice, it preaches—every rock in it, preaches a discourse. When it was dedicated, it seemed to me that it was the greatest sermon that has ever been preached since the Sermon on the Mount. … Every window, every steeple, everything about the Temple speaks of the things of God, and gives evidence of the faith of the people who built it.”57
The nameless man, shivering in pants made of his wife’s plaid skirt, who attended the 1853 Valentine’s Day ground-breaking ceremony so many years ago, was part of that sermon.
This article is based on Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Every Stone a Sermon: The Magnificent Story of the Construction and Dedication of the Salt Lake Temple (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1992). Several additional accounts and reminiscences have been added. Spelling and punctuation have been standardized in some quotations.
A summer storm gradually moves across the Salt Lake Valley on the evening of 28 July 1847. Brigham Young, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve, along with Wilford Woodruff, of the Quorum of the Twelve, and several other Church leaders, walks toward a fork in City Creek. At a particular spot, Brigham Young stops. He looks around at the barren valley, then pushes his cane into the ground and says, “Brethren, … here we will build a temple of our God!” Quickly, Wilford Woodruff finds a piece of dead wood and a rock and pounds a stake into the ground to mark the spot Brigham has identified as the temple site.
Thus begins an hour-long motion picture, The Mountain of the Lord—the story of the construction and dedication of the Salt Lake Temple. Scenes from the soon-to-be-released film are featured in this issue.
The film is based on the journals of Wilford Woodruff. The plot focuses on a reporter from New York who comes to Salt Lake City to cover the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple and interviews Wilford Woodruff, now the President of the Church. President Woodruff, telling him the story of the construction of the temple, eventually shares the story of his wife’s death and explains to the reporter the reasons why Latter-day Saints build temples.
Produced under the direction of the First Presidency, The Mountain of the Lord was written and produced by the LDS Motion Picture Studio, a division of the Audiovisual Department of the Church. The film features outstanding visual and special effects. Most of the filming took place in Lehi, Utah, where a full-scale set resembling the temple site was constructed. Scenes were also filmed at the granite stone quarry in Little Cottonwood Canyon, in the west deserts of Utah, and at the Salt Lake Temple, where traffic was detoured so that the street and area surrounding the east end of the temple could be covered with dirt, to resemble the area as it appeared during the construction of the temple.
“This is not just a brick-and-mortar story of construction,” says Peter Johnson, producer and director of The Mountain of the Lord, “but a story based on our abiding faith in the Resurrection and in the eternal family.”
The Mountain of the Lord will be aired via satellite between April 1993 general conference sessions. It will also be available on video.
The first stones, weighing from 2,500 to 5,600 pounds, were brought by teams and wagons from the quarry in Little Cottonwood Canyon, some twenty miles southeast of Salt Lake City, to the temple site. Oftentimes, the workers took as many as four days to haul one huge block from the quarry to the temple in Salt Lake City. Annie Wells Cannon “remember[ed] the sight of the great stones … being hauled along the streets by two yoke of oxen and we would all stand for them to pass with a feeling of awe and reverence.”1 The smaller stones were hauled on wagons, but the larger stones were hung under them. Many of the wagons broke down while transporting the stones, and the road to Salt Lake City was often littered with old wagons during the summer seasons.
Some aspects of the work of building the temple were dangerous. Five laborers lost their lives in work-related accidents during the temple’s forty years of construction: Archibald Bowman (1855), Sam Kaealoi (1878), William Henry Pullan (1881), Samuel Ensign (1885), and Robert Ford (1890).
Wilford Woodruff asked Utah-born Cyrus Dallin to make the statue representing the angel Moroni for the temple, but Dallin declined. He was not a Latter-day Saint and felt someone else should be given the opportunity. Undeterred, President Woodruff asked him to reconsider and to consult with his mother in Springville, Utah. Jane Dallin, a Latter-day Saint, believed her son should accept the commission. When Cyrus said that his unbelief in angels persuaded him away from the project, his mother countered, “Every time you return home and take me in your arms you call me your ‘angel mother.’”1 He accepted the commission and began a study of the scriptures in an effort to interpret the character of the angel. He felt that John’s vision in the Book of Revelation gave him the necessary feeling for the demeanor of the angel. (See Rev. 14:6.)
To understand the nature of the mammoth efforts required for the limited number of nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint laborers to build the Salt Lake Temple, we may study the following timeline. Note the timespan required to build other temples in Utah during that time period, as well as the time required to build the Tabernacle and the Assembly Hall, also located on Temple Square.
July 28: Salt Lake Temple—site identified
Feb. 14: Salt Lake Temple—ground-breaking ceremony held
Apr. 6: Salt Lake Temple—cornerstones laid
July 23: Salt Lake Temple—foundation completed
June: Salt Lake Temple—first basement floor stones laid
May: Salt Lake Temple—foundation covered to resemble a plowed field
Salt Lake Temple—foundation uncovered
Salt Lake Temple—portions of foundation replaced
July 26: Tabernacle—cornerstone laid
Salt Lake Temple—walls appeared above ground for first time
Oct. 6: Tabernacle—first meeting held in nearly completed building
Nov. 9: St. George (Utah) Temple—site dedicated
Apr. 4: Salt Lake Temple—first train brings stones from quarry
Oct. 9: Tabernacle is dedicated; Salt Lake Temple—walls reach nearly 18 feet
Salt Lake Temple—walls reach nearly 40 feet
Apr. 6: St. George Temple is dedicated
Apr. 25: Manti (Utah) Temple—site dedicated
May 18: Logan (Utah) Temple—site dedicated
Aug. 29: Brigham Young dies
Sept. 21: Assembly Hall—foundation started
Sept. 28: Assembly Hall—cornerstones laid
Salt Lake Temple—walls reach nearly 60 feet
Oct. 10: John Taylor is sustained as Church President
Jan. 8: Assembly Hall is dedicated; Salt Lake Temple—walls reach nearly 80 feet
May 17: Logan Temple is dedicated
July 25: John Taylor dies
May 17: Manti Temple is dedicated
Salt Lake Temple—walls reach 160 feet
Apr. 7: Wilford Woodruff is sustained as Church President
Apr. 6: Salt Lake Temple—capstone laid
Apr. 6: Salt Lake Temple is dedicated
At the temple’s 1893 dedication, the following dimensions were published:
Length of the building: 186.5 feet
Width of the building: 99 feet
Height of central east tower (including spire): 222.5 feet
Height of central west tower (including spire): 219 feet
Height of side east towers (including spire): 200 feet
Height of side west towers (including spire): 194 feet
Height of walls: 167.5 feet
Thickness of walls at bottom : 9 feet
Thickness of walls at top: 6 feet
Thickness of buttresses: 7 feet
The footing wall was 16 feet thick and 8 feet deep. The building in 1893 covered an area of 21,850 square feet. The temple’s east facade includes stones of emblematical design and significance. From the ground level ascending upward are the earth stones, moon stones, sun stones, star stones, and Saturn stones. The earth, moon, and sun motifs represent the “three degrees of glory,” the telestial, terrestrial, and celestial kingdoms of heaven. (See 1 Cor. 15:40–42; D&C 76:50–112.) Another feature of the east facade is the statue of the angel Moroni, which features Moroni blowing his trumpet to herald the proclamation of the “everlasting gospel” to the nations of the earth. (See Rev. 14:6.)
Other motifs include the cloud stones, which suggest the presence of God as used in the Old and New Testaments (See 1 Kgs. 8:10–11; Matt. 17:5), and the dedicatory inscription, consisting of a surface a little more than 20 feet by 6 feet on which are deeply cut and heavily gilded letters. The inscription reads:
HOLINESS TO THE LORD
The House of the Lord, built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Commenced April 6, 1853
Completed April 6, 1893
Just below the dedicatory inscription is found the all-seeing eye, a symbol of God’s omnipresent nature and divine protection. (See Ps. 33:18; Prov. 15:3). The alpha-omega inscription on the keystone (Rev. 1:8) is an affirmation of Jesus Christ’s eternal existence; and the clasped-hand motif, representing the giving of the hand of fellowship, falls below the all-seeing-eye motif. The west facade of the temple, in place of the dedicatory inscription, contains the seven stars of the northern constellation Ursa Major, otherwise known as the Big Dipper, with the pointers ranging nearly toward the North Star. The symbolic meaning of this motif is that “the lost may find themselves by the priesthood.” (Deseret News, 17 Aug. 1854.)
Around the entire temple, the fifty moon stones display the cycle of a lunar month: new, first-quarter, full, and last-quarter moons for the year 1878. The four great doorways, two at each end, are 8 feet wide and just over 16 feet high. The doors themselves are 12 feet high, and each single door is 4 feet wide. The hardware attachments are of special design and are made of cast bronze. The doorknob bears in relief the beehive, and above it in a curved line are the words “Holiness to the Lord.” (Zech. 14:20–21.) The escutcheon or ornamental plate around the doorknob presents in relief the clasped hands within a wreath of olive twigs, an arch with keystone, and the dates “1853–1893.”
These representations on and in the temple were meant to reinforce the spiritual teachings revealed in the ordinances performed in the temple. President George A. Smith wrote, “Every one conveys a moral lesson, and all point to the celestial world.”1