Pieces of History, Pieces of Light
July 2003

“Pieces of History, Pieces of Light,” Ensign, July 2003, 8–15

Pieces of History, Pieces of Light

During the winter of 1846–47, some 3,500 Latter-day Saints lived in log homes or dugouts at Winter Quarters, a settlement located in Indian Territory on the west side of the Missouri River. Another 2,500 were camped across the river in Iowa. All awaited spring, when they would continue their trek west to Zion.

This winter was one of suffering for the Saints, who were already weakened from their exhausting trek across “mud-slogged” Iowa. Food and supplies were scarce. Shelter was inadequate for many. A lack of fresh vegetables resulted in scurvy. And 500 men were away serving with the Mormon Battalion, leaving many women to care for families alone.

Of this winter President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) wrote, “I have never seen the Latter-day Saints in any situation where they seemed to be passing through greater tribulations or wearing out faster.”1

Today Latter-day Saints feel reverence for this land and for the pioneers who sacrificed so much. Adjacent to the pioneer cemetery—a visual reminder of that sacrifice—stands the Winter Quarters Nebraska Temple. It is a holy place, built on hallowed ground.

Stained glass by Tom Holdman has been used artistically to emphasize the sacredness of this place. For example, beneath the golden statue of the angel Moroni are six panels of vibrant stained glass. The top three panels depict the heavens (see p. 11). Each panel contains a mariner’s compass. In the center of each compass are stars and the moon, representing the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms. The glowing rays of the sun make up the outer ring of each compass, representing the celestial kingdom. The bottom three panels depict a river, rolling hills, and wildflowers.

Bordering all six panels is a design made of rectangles and diamonds. The rectangular pattern is the log cabin quilt pattern; it reminds us of the pioneers who built Winter Quarters. The diamond pattern is reminiscent of the art of the Omaha Indian tribe, upon whose land Winter Quarters was built.

Throughout the temple, the stained glass features the “true vine” (see John 15:1) and “living water” (see John 4:10). This is as it should be. This temple is the house of the Lord, where Latter-day Saints make eternal covenants. We “come unto Christ” (Moro. 10:30), for He is “the life and the light of the world” (D&C 11:28).

Within the walls of the Winter Quarters temple, built upon this historic site and filled with symbolic stained glass, we worship our Savior, surrounded by pieces of history and pieces of light.


  1. Wilford Woodruff Journals, 17–21 Nov. 1846, Family and Church History Department Archives.

Stained glass by Tom Holdman; photographs by Floyd and Tom Holdman, except as noted; temple photographs in this article, exterior as well as interior images, may not be duplicated or copied

Above: The Winter Quarters Nebraska Temple. Right: The tree of life as illustrated in the celestial room.

Workers cut each piece of glass according to a predesigned pattern.

Right, top: Detail of a sego lily and “the fountain of living waters” (1 Ne. 11:25). Right, bottom: Window forming part of the wall between the foyer and baptistry. (Photograph © 2001 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.) Far right: Panels showing the expanse of the heavens, including the North Star and Big Dipper as they appeared on 6 April 1830, the day the Church was organized.

Pieces of cut glass are arranged to match the designed pattern.

Right: This depiction of the odometer used by the pioneers is among 12 pioneer scenes illustrated on windows in the waiting area on the second floor (below).

Slender, grooved strips of lead are used to join pieces of glass.

Right, top: Detail of olive branch window. Right, bottom: Detail of stained glass showing goldenrod, sego lilies, and other flowers found along the Mormon Trail. Far right: The temple’s baptismal font.

Lead strips are soldered together to create a solid piece of stained glass.