“Blessed Peace,” chapter 44 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)
Chapter 44: “Blessed Peace”
The days leading up to the dedication of the Salt Lake temple were full of energy and commotion. Work on the temple was still in progress on the day before the doors were scheduled to open. The city streets, meanwhile, were thronged with visitors arriving hourly by train, buggy, and horseback.1 Church leaders had decided to hold two dedication sessions a day until every Church member who wanted to participate could attend. Now tens of thousands of Saints were planning to come to Salt Lake City that spring to see the house of the Lord with their own eyes.2
The day before the first dedicatory session, Church leaders gave a tour of the temple to local and national reporters as well as dignitaries who were not members of the Church. Many of the guests praised the temple’s craftsmanship, from its elegant spiral staircases to its delicately tiled flooring. Even the Church’s staunchest critics were amazed.
“The interior was a revelation of beauty,” wrote one reporter from the Salt Lake Tribune, “so much so that the visitors stopped and stood still involuntarily, totally engrossed in their surroundings.”3
The next morning, April 6, 1893, dawned bright but chilly. Over two thousand Saints with recommends for the first dedicatory session began lining up outside the temple gates hours before the meeting was scheduled to begin. After the temple doors opened and the Saints started filing in, the weather grew colder and a stiff breeze began to blow. Soon, frigid rain fell and the breeze became a howling wind, blasting the Saints who huddled patiently in line.4
Just as the Kirtland temple could not seat everyone who wanted to attend its dedication, the Salt Lake temple’s spacious assembly room was too small to accommodate everyone in the line. Even after the doors closed, crowds of Saints remained near the temple. Around ten o’clock, when the session was set to begin, the wind picked up once again, sending gravel and debris flying. To some, the devil himself seemed to be raging against the Saints and the temple they had built.5
Yet those who stood outside the building saw a sign that reminded them of an earlier manifestation of God’s watchful care. Lifting their eyes to heaven, they glimpsed a large flock of seagulls pirouetting in the sky, circling the temple spires in the midst of the storm.6
Inside the temple, Susa Gates sat down at the recorder’s table at the east end of the assembly room. As one of the official reporters of the dedicatory services, Susa would be taking shorthand minutes of the meeting. Even though she was just weeks away from giving birth, she planned to attend and report on every one of the dozens of scheduled sessions.7
Hundreds of electric lights, arranged in five hanging chandeliers, illuminated the room with dazzling brilliance. The hall had a seating capacity of twenty-two hundred and occupied the entire floor. Among the people in the room were Susa’s husband, Jacob, and her mother, Lucy Young. Chairs trimmed in red velvet filled the main seating area, and rows of elevated pulpits for Church leaders stood at the eastern and western ends of the room. Every available seat was filled, and some people were standing.8
Soon the three hundred members of the Tabernacle Choir stood, the men dressed in dark suits and the women in white. Their voices rang out as they sang “Let All Israel Join and Sing,” a hymn by Joseph Daynes, the choir’s organist.9
President Wilford Woodruff then arose to address the Saints. “I have looked forward to this day for the last fifty years of my life,” he said. As a young man, he had seen a vision of himself dedicating a magnificent temple in the mountains of the West. More recently, he had dreamed that Brigham Young had given him a set of keys for the Salt Lake temple.
“You go and unlock that temple,” Brigham had said, “and let the people into it—all who want salvation.”10
After recounting these visions to the Saints, Wilford knelt on a cushioned stool to read the dedicatory prayer. Speaking in a strong, clear voice, he pleaded with God to apply the Savior’s atoning blood and forgive the Saints of their sins. “Grant that the blessings which we seek may be bestowed upon us, even a hundredfold,” he prayed, “inasmuch as we seek with purity of heart and fullness of purpose to do Thy will and glorify Thy name.”
For over thirty minutes, Wilford offered thanks and gave praise to God. He presented the building to the Lord, asking Him to watch over and protect it. He prayed for the priesthood quorums, the Relief Society, the missionaries, and the youth and children of the Church. He prayed for the rulers of nations and for the poor, afflicted, and oppressed. And he asked that all people might have their hearts softened and be free to accept the restored gospel.
Before closing, he asked the Lord to fortify the faith of the Saints. “Strengthen us by the memories of the glorious deliverances of the past, by the remembrance of the sacred covenants that Thou hast made with us,” he prayed, “so that, when evil overshadows us, when trouble encompasses us, when we pass through the valley of humiliation, we may not falter, may not doubt, but in the strength of Thy holy name may accomplish all Thy righteous purposes.”11
Following the prayer, Lorenzo Snow, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve, led the congregation in a jubilant Hosanna Shout. The choir and congregation then sang “The Spirit of God like a Fire Is Burning.”12
The dedication moved Susa profoundly. Her father had broken ground on the temple a few years before she was born, so all her life faithful women and men had been consecrating their money, means, and labor to temple construction. Recently, her own mother had anonymously donated $500 to the temple fund.
All of them were sure to receive blessings, Susa believed, for offering their gifts upon the altar of sacrifice and Christlike love.13
Joseph F. Smith spoke later in the service, tears streaming down his face. “All the inhabitants of the earth are the people of God,” he said, “and it is our duty to carry the words of life and salvation to them, and to redeem those who have died without the knowledge of the truth. This house has been erected to the name of God for that purpose.”14
A radiant glow seemed to emanate from Joseph, and Susa thought a shaft of sunshine had come through the window to illuminate his face. “What a singular effect of sunlight,” she whispered to the man next to her. “Do look at it!”
“There is no sunshine outdoors,” the man whispered back, “nothing but dark clouds and gloom.”
Susa glanced out the windows and saw stormy skies. She then realized that the light shining through Joseph’s countenance was the Holy Spirit, descended upon him.15
That same day, Rua and Tematagi, a young couple on the Anaa atoll, attended a conference with other Saints from the Tuamotu Islands. With mission president James Brown presiding, the conference started at seven o’clock in the morning, the same time that the first dedicatory session began in Salt Lake City.16
For several days before the conference, missionaries and other Church members had been gathering at Putuahara, the same place on Anaa where Addison Pratt had met with more than eight hundred Saints nearly fifty years earlier. High winds had recently whipped the ocean into a fury, but the squally weather had since subsided and a warm sun was now rising over the village.17
Rua and Tematagi had joined the Church a few months after James Brown arrived on the islands. When he came to Anaa, James found the atoll bitterly divided over religion, but he and his son Elando had baptized a few new Saints. In accepting baptism, Rua and Tematagi were uniting their faith with Rua’s younger sister, Terai, and her husband, Tefanau, who had joined the Church nine years earlier. Rua’s father, Teraupua, was also a member of the Church and had recently been ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood.18
After the conference began, James Brown spoke about the temple dedication and its importance. Joseph Damron, one of the elders who had reopened the Tahitian mission, spoke about building temples in the latter days. Though the Salt Lake temple was thousands of miles away, the Tuamotu Saints could celebrate the historic day and learn more about the role temples played in redeeming the living and dead.
When the meeting ended, the Saints walked down a path to the ocean to watch Elando baptize five new converts in the warm Pacific water. Among the Saints baptized was Mahue, Rua and Tematagi’s nine-year-old daughter. Following the baptism, she was confirmed by her uncle Tefanau. Rua was then ordained an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood by Terogomaihite, a local Church leader. Two other Saints from the islands were ordained elders and set apart as branch presidents.19
The conference concluded two days later, and the Saints agreed to meet again in three months’ time. Joseph Damron and others from neighboring islands then bade farewell to their friends on Anaa. Before Joseph left, Rua presented him with a gift of a small pearl.20
Snow blanketed the ground at Temple Square on April 9 when about fifty Hawaiian Saints from the Iosepa settlement assembled at the temple gate to present their recommends.21
More than two years had passed since the First Presidency visited Iosepa to celebrate the founding of the settlement. The Saints had continued to work hard to cultivate their land. Although they had bought eight hundred additional acres of land and successfully raised a wide variety of crops, money was still scarce. Even so, when the First Presidency called for donations to push the temple to completion, the Iosepa Saints had donated $1,400.22
When they learned that a date had been scheduled for them to attend the temple dedication, the people in Iosepa were filled with new energy. They worked tirelessly to plant their spring crops before the time came to make the two-day trip to Salt Lake City. Every plow, leveler, harrow, and grain drill was put to use until the Saints were ready to depart.23
Although a recommend for the dedication required nothing more than membership in the Church and a desire to attend, the Iosepa Saints wanted to be sure they were spiritually prepared to enter the temple. Nearly thirty had sought rebaptism, and a special baptismal service was held at the town reservoir.24
After presenting their recommends at the temple gates, the Iosepa Saints entered the building and walked through its many rooms. The Saints in Laie had sent a small table inlaid with Hawaiian hardwood for the temple, and two poles decorated with the feathers of Hawaiian birds were on display in one corner of the celestial room. Women in Hawaiian Relief Societies had crafted the poles, called kāhili, which symbolized royalty and spiritual protection.25
Soon the Iosepa Saints and more than two thousand others took their seats in the assembly room. Together they sang, listened to the dedicatory prayer, and gave the Hosanna Shout. After another hymn, Wilford Woodruff thanked the people for their contributions to the temple and testified of Jesus Christ.26
Wilford then called on George Q. Cannon to speak. “Our mission is a far greater one than that of those who have preceded us,” George said. “The Saints are laying the foundation of a work, the extent of which they cannot grasp.”
Before concluding, he addressed the Iosepa Saints in their own language.
“There are millions of spirits who have died but are unable to go before the presence of God because they do not possess the key,” he said. He alluded to the Hawaiians on the other side of the veil who would accept the gospel, and he testified that the Church needed the Hawaiian Saints to do temple work for their kindred dead.27
Later, at a branch meeting in Iosepa, a man named J. Mahoe spoke of his experience at the dedication and the important lesson he learned there. “I rejoice in having been able to attend the temple and witness the happenings found therein,” he said. “We need to take care of our genealogies.”28
At ten o’clock on the morning of April 19, the First Presidency held a special meeting in the temple for all general authorities and stake presidencies. Once the men assembled, the presidency invited them to share their feelings about the temple dedication and the work of God in the lives of the Saints.29
All morning, one man after another bore powerful testimony. When they finished, Wilford stood and added his witness to theirs. “I have felt more of the Holy Ghost here at this dedication than I have ever felt before, except on one occasion,” he said. He then spoke about the time when Joseph Smith gave his final charge to the apostles in Nauvoo.
“He stood upon his feet for three hours,” Wilford testified. “The room seemed to be filled with consuming fire, and Joseph’s face shone like amber.”30
Wilford also spoke of seeing Brigham Young and Heber Kimball in a vision after their deaths. Both men were riding to conference in a carriage, and they invited Wilford to join them. Wilford did so and asked Brigham to speak.
“I am through with my preaching on earth,” Brigham told him, “but I have come to impress upon your mind what Joseph had told me at Winter Quarters, and that is: seek always to have the Spirit of God, and it will direct you aright.”31
Now Wilford’s message to the general authorities was the same. “You want the Holy Ghost to lead and guide you,” he said. “Teach the people to get the Holy Ghost and the Spirit of the Lord, and keep it with you, and you will prosper.”32
As a young woman, Relief Society general president Zina Young had heard angels sing in the Kirtland temple. Decades later, she had served faithfully in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City and the temples in St. George, Logan, and Manti. Now she would oversee all female ordinance workers in the Salt Lake temple.33
The night after the first dedicatory session, Zina bore testimony of the temple at a crowded Relief Society conference. “There has never been such a day in Israel before,” she told the women. “The work of the Lord will roll on faster from this day forth.”34
Her secretary Emmeline Wells bore a similar witness in the pages of the Woman’s Exponent. “No event of modern times is so important,” she wrote, “as the opening of this holy edifice for the administration of ordinances that pertain to the living and the dead, to the past and the present, to the endowments and covenants that unite families and kindreds in bonds inseparable.”35
That spring, after the Saints held the final dedicatory session of the temple, Zina and Emmeline made final preparations to travel east to attend a conference of women at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a monumental fair meant to showcase the marvels of science and culture from many nations. Like the first conference of the National Council of Women two years earlier, the exposition would provide a chance for Relief Society and Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association leaders to represent the Church and meet with influential women from all over the world.36
The two friends left for Chicago on May 10. In a matter of days their train covered distances it would have taken weeks to travel nearly fifty years earlier, when the Saints first came to the Salt Lake Valley. Crossing the Mississippi River, Emmeline was overwhelmed with emotion as she thought of the past. Although the Saints had endured many trials over the last half century, they had experienced many triumphs as well.37
Zina also found her thoughts returning to the past. “The mantle of time is fast draping its folds around many of us,” she later told Emmeline. “When we go hence to our rest after our sacrifices indescribable, may it be like Utah’s most beautiful sunsets, that many in the future may have reason to praise God for the noble women of this generation.”38
Around the time Zina Young and Emmeline Wells traveled to the World’s Columbian Exposition, Anna Widtsoe received a letter from her son John at Harvard University. For nearly a month, John had been eagerly awaiting letters from his mother and younger brother, Osborne, about the temple dedication. But so far nothing had arrived.
“I am tired of reading the newspaper about the dedication,” John wrote. “I want to hear about it more personally because there is more life in a letter than in a whole world of newspapers.”39
The family had already written to John about the dedication, of course, but the mail service, as fast as it had become over the years, was still not fast enough for him.
Anna and Osborne had attended a dedicatory session together. Later, Osborne had attended a special session with the children and youth of the Sunday School. As he walked through the temple, he had seen a painting of three pioneer women, one of whom was Norwegian.40 The painting was a tribute to the faith and sacrifice of the many immigrant women, including Anna, who had left their homelands to gather to Zion.
Nearly ten years had passed since the Widtsoes had made their journey to Utah. Now, in Salt Lake City, they had a small, comfortable place to live, only a few blocks from the store where Osborne worked. Anna had a dressmaking business and attended her ward Relief Society meetings. She also gathered regularly with other Scandinavian Saints at the old Social Hall.41 She had found a home among the Saints, and she cherished her faith in the restored gospel. Before embracing it, she had been as one born blind. Now she could see.42
But Anna was concerned for John. He had recently written about his struggle to believe some aspects of the gospel. At Harvard, he had learned a great many things from his professors. But their lectures had also led him to question his faith. His doubts cut him to the bone. Some days he denied God’s existence. Other days he affirmed it.43
Anna prayed daily for her son, deeply distressed by his doubts. But she knew he had to gain his own witness of the gospel. “If you have not had a testimony for yourself before, then now is the time that you should have one,” she wrote John. “If you seek sincerely and live purely, then you will receive it. But everything that we have, we must work for.”44
For Anna, the temple affirmed her faith in God’s promises to His children. Even before leaving Nauvoo, the Saints had placed hope in Isaiah’s prophecy of all nations gathering to the Lord’s house in the top of the mountains. By the end of April 1893, more than eighty thousand men, women, and children—many of them immigrants from Europe and the islands of the sea—had entered the temple to attend a dedicatory session. A spirit of love and unity had rested over each meeting, and the Saints felt as if the word of the Lord had been fulfilled.45
Now, with a new century in view, the Saints could look forward to still brighter and bolder days. The four temples in Utah, representing so much sacrifice and faith, were only a beginning. “What a work there is before us if we are faithful,” Brigham Young had once declared. “We shall be able to build temples, yes, thousands of them, and build temples in all countries of the world.”46
When Anna made her way through the Salt Lake temple, she had felt the sacredness of the place. “I tried to stay in the celestial room as long as possible,” she told John in a letter. “I saw it and felt as if a light was shone on me and that no place on earth had any value for me anymore.”
“Everything is so glorious there,” she testified, “and such a blessed peace fills the place that no language can explain it but those who have been there and received the holiness of holiness.”47