“How long have statues of the angel Moroni appeared atop Latter-day Saint temples?” Ensign, July 1994, 66–67
Answered by Val D. Greenwood, director of special services and temple facilities, Church Temple Department.
Many members of the Church have become accustomed to seeing a golden statue depicting the angel Moroni on the tallest spires of latter-day temples. The gilded statues are so commonplace today that many people may not know that most temples built before 1980 had no statues of Moroni.
The first Latter-day Saint temple with a statue of an angel atop its spire was the Nauvoo Temple. That figure, unlike those we are familiar with today, was a smaller weather vane in the shape of a flying angel in a horizontal position. The angel, which was not then identified as the angel Moroni, was intended to represent the angel described in the book of Revelation as flying “in the midst of heaven” (Rev. 14:6).
The Salt Lake Temple, dedicated in 1893, was the second temple to be adorned with a statue of an angel. The earliest architectural sketches of the temple show that a statue representing a flying angel was considered. Before the angel was sculpted, however, Church authorities accepted the suggestion of a young sculptor, Cyrus E. Dallin, who was engaged for the project to sculpt the angel in an upright position. That statue—twelve feet, five and a half inches tall—also depicted the angel described in Revelation 14 and was formally identified as the angel Moroni (see Improvement Era, April 1968, p. 6).
The third temple to have a statue of the angel Moroni on its spire was the Los Angeles Temple, dedicated in 1956. The Washington Temple, dedicated in 1974, was fourth with a statue, followed by the Seattle Temple in 1980.
Nearly every temple dedicated since 1980 has been graced by a statue of the angel Moroni. A statue of the angel Moroni was added to the Idaho Falls Temple in the early 1980s, approximately forty years after its dedication. Only fifteen of the Church’s forty-five currently completed temples do not have a statue of the angel Moroni.
Yet the Church has no policy regarding the use of statues of the angel Moroni atop temples. The general practice is to use the statue, but there are reasons it may be absent. In certain geographic locations, building codes or use permits restrict use of the statue. The Sydney Australia Temple, for example, originally had no statue because of building restrictions. The statue was added later after permission to do so was granted.
In some areas, a statue may give more ornamentation than desired. In other areas, the statue is absent because a wrong impression may arise from its presence (such as in areas where statues on church buildings are understood to represent objects of worship). Limits imposed by the architectural design of some temples may be another reason; such is the case with the temple to be completed in Vernal, Utah, by converting the old Uintah Stake Tabernacle.
As the heavenly messenger who revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith the location of the golden plates of the Book of Mormon, Moroni has become a symbol of the Restoration and of the gospel being preached “unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6).