Temple in Nauvoo

“Temple in Nauvoo,” Friend, Sept. 1993, 47


Temple in Nauvoo

(Information and quotes for this article are from the Institute Manual, Church History in the Fulness of Times, pages 240–262, 302–307.)

Let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people (D&C 124:40).

Although the Saints had built the Kirtland Temple and then had to leave it, they demonstrated the same dedication and joy when they built another temple in Nauvoo, as commanded by the Lord. (See D&C 124:31.) Relief Society sisters each gave one penny a week and sewed and cooked for the temple workers. Men gave “time-tithing” by working on the temple one day of every ten. Many Saints sacrificed much to provide the estimated $1,000,000 to build the temple. Joseph Toronto gave Brigham Young twenty-five hundred dollars in gold, saying that “he wanted to give himself and all he had to the upbuilding of the church and kingdom of God.”

The building was made of limestone from a quarry on the outskirts of the city. Blocks of stone from four to six feet (1.2 m to 1.8 m) in diameter were roughly cut out of the quarry, then hauled to the temple site, where they were polished and placed. White pine for the temple was floated down the Black River and the Mississippi River from the “pineries”—Church-owned logging camps and sawmills in Wisconsin.

When the temple construction began in March 1841, the people were filled with the hope that at last they had found a place where they could live in peace. But four years later the temple was not yet finished, Joseph Smith was dead, and the Saints were building wagons and gathering supplies to once more leave their homes and land to find a place where they could worship in peace. Even so, they worked very hard to complete the temple.

People outside the Church did not understand. They questioned why a people would spend so much time building the large, beautiful building if they were moving. But the Saints knew very well what they were doing. They worked extra hard because more than anything else, they wanted to receive their temple ordinances before they moved west.

The temple capstone was laid on May 24, 1845, but the interior was still unfinished. The Saints were so eager to receive the ordinances that rooms were dedicated as they were completed so that temple work could be started. The October 1845 general conference, with about 5,000 people attending, was held in the still-not-completed temple.

The members were thrilled to be able to worship inside a building instead of outside in the grove. At that meeting, President Brigham Young dedicated as much as was completed of the temple “as a monument of the saints’ liberality, fidelity, and faith.” In his prayer he said, “Lord, we dedicate this house and ourselves, to thee.” And he proclaimed the motto of the temple to be “Holiness to the Lord.”

The attic of the temple was dedicated for ordinance work on November 30, 1845. Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball began giving endowments to faithful Saints on the evening of December 10, and so many people were eager to receive them that the work did not end until three o’clock the next morning.

When enemies of the Church saw this increase in temple activity, they renewed their determination to drive the Mormons away. They obtained a warrant for the arrest of Brigham Young and eight other Apostles. On December 23, government officials went to the temple to arrest Brigham Young. Knowing that they were coming, Brigham knelt and asked for guidance and protection so that he could “live to prove advantageous to the Saints.”

Soon afterward he noticed William Miller in the hall. He proposed a plan to Brother Miller who was about the same height as President Young.

Brother Miller put on President Young’s cloak and left the temple in his carriage. The waiting marshals thought that he was Brigham Young and arrested him. They took him to the Mansion House, where friends and relatives of Brigham went along with the masquerade. Miller was then taken to Carthage and held until someone who knew Brigham told them that they had the I wrong man. In the meantime Brigham Young and the others had gone safely into hiding.

As the time to leave Nauvoo drew near, the Brethren redoubled their efforts to endow as many Saints as possible in the temple. Brigham Young wrote, “Such has been the anxiety manifested by the saints to receive the ordinances (of the Temple), and such the anxiety on our part to administer to them, that I have given myself up entirely to the work of the Lord in the Temple night and day, not taking more than four hours sleep, upon an average, per day, and going home but once a week.”

But it was not just the Apostles who were working hard. Many faithful Saints gave freely of their time by washing the temple clothing each night so that the temple work could continue the next morning.

The Brethren planned to stop the ordinance work on February 3, 1846, before leaving for the west the next day. President Young left the temple to make final preparations to leave Nauvoo, but upon seeing a large crowd gathered to receive their endowments, he returned. This delayed his departure for another two weeks, but it meant that 5,615 Saints were endowed before they left Nauvoo.

Even as the Saints began to leave, however, work on the temple continued. Finally, on April 30, 1846, a special nighttime dedicatory service was held for the finished building. The following day a public service was held in which Orson Hyde, one of the Apostles, dedicated the building to the Lord. By the end of the year, however, most of the Saints were gone and the building stood unused.

The beautiful limestone Temple was a dramatic sight, standing on the brow of a hill, its tower rising 158 feet (48.2 m) to a golden angel weather vane. However, the beauty was not to last. In 1848 an arsonist started a fire that destroyed the interior, and two years later a tornado knocked down three of the walls. The remaining wall was purposely leveled in 1865 because of the danger of its falling.

Today visitors to Nauvoo can see the depression that once housed the foundation for the temple, one of the sunstones that were on the outside walls, a model of the temple, and a few other remnants. That is all that remains, but it is enough to remind those who visit of the sacrifice the early Saints made in order to obtain the ordinances of the temple.

Construction of the Nauvoo Temple by Gary E. Smith

The Burning of the Nauvoo Temple by C. C. A. Christensen

Nauvoo Temple Rendering by Steven T. Baird