“The Salt Lake Temple,” Tambuli, Nov. 1993, 3
First Presidency Message
The Salt Lake Temple
Our Father in heaven, thou who hast created the heavens and the earth, and all things that are therein; thou most glorious One, … we, thy children, come this day before thee, and in this house which we have built to thy most holy name, humbly plead the atoning blood of thine Only Begotten Son, that our sins may be remembered no more against us forever, but that our prayers may ascend unto thee and have free access to thy throne, that we may be heard in thy holy habitation. And may it graciously please thee to hearken unto our petitions, answer them according to thine infinite wisdom and love, and grant that the blessings which we seek may be bestowed upon us, even a hundred fold, inasmuch as we seek with purity of heart and fulness of purpose to do thy will and glorify thy name.”1
Thus spoke President Wilford Woodruff in dedicating the Salt Lake Temple on 6 April 1893. These opening lines of a remarkable prayer of dedication are a sermon in themselves. In these few words, which are the beginning of a long and beautiful petition, the prophet of that day acknowledged the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He acknowledged the fatherhood of God and the blessing extended to all of His sons and daughters to speak to Him in prayer. He acknowledged the Only Begotten of the Father, the Savior and Redeemer of the world, whose atoning blood was shed for each of us. He extended a plea that we might walk worthy of the blessings of the Almighty and with a desire to glorify His name.
This prayer of consecration is filled with thanksgiving for the blessings of the Lord upon His people. The occasion was the greatest and most significant event in the history of the Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Valley.
It is a thing of note that Wilford Woodruff had been the one to drive the stake marking the site of the temple four days after the 1847 arrival of the pioneers. On that occasion President Brigham Young had declared, “Here we will build a temple to our God.”
Brother Woodruff saw with his own eyes the forty-year pageant of the construction of this magnificent house of the Lord. At the time of the temple dedication he was eighty-six years of age. He had been sustained President of the Church four years earlier. He had known all of the latter-day temples that had been built before this—Kirtland, Nauvoo, St. George, Logan, and Manti. He had presided in the St. George Temple from the time of its dedication in 1877 until 1884.
Few, if any, had a better understanding of the purposes for which these structures are built. He grasped with eagerness and taught with clarity the importance of the ordinances in the house of the Lord and, particularly, of the validity of work for the dead and the manner in which families should be linked together in a great patriarchal chain.
Beautiful is the prayer that he offered in the dedicatory service of what was then the newest temple in the Church and which has remained the largest.
The work performed in every temple is identical and is equally efficacious. While the Salt Lake Temple was the first begun in the western United States, it was the fourth completed and dedicated. But it is the most widely recognized. It has been used to illustrate Church literature for a full century. It is known and recognized by Latter-day Saints and others not of our faith throughout the world.
If I may speak personally, one of the treasured blessings of my life is this Salt Lake Temple. It is not mine. It is the Lord’s. And yet I feel a certain sense of possession.
It is mine to look upon, and it is mine to enter. No special qualifications are necessary to admire it from the outside. Certain standards are required for those who enter.
It is a creation of beauty—
A symbol of strength
A haven of peace
A sanctuary of service
A school of instruction
A place of revelation
A fountain of truth
A house of covenants
A temple of God
I am fortunate to be able almost daily to feast upon its architectural beauty. I am blessed, as is every qualified member of the Church, to be able to enter its rooms and walk its halls. To me, it is an incomparable structure.
Who can deny its singular beauty? It follows no traditional pattern of architecture. It was constructed over a period of forty years. I am confident that many details of structure were changed during that period. And yet here is a flowing harmony in its pattern. It is anchored firmly in the earth and reaches toward the heavens. There is a solid symmetry in its design. Six major spires rise from the walls. And each of these major spires has a three-tiered set of four lesser spires.
The lines of the building are such that each of the towers seems to rise independently from the ground and yet all are tied together to create harmony and solidarity. Joining each set of spires is a row of castellated stone. Granite dentils and capstones add to the beauty of the design.
The variety of windows is interesting. Some are round, some oval, some have arched headings, others are narrow and perpendicular.
I write not as an architect. I write as one who loves the beauty found in the harmony of line and the decorative detail to be seen no matter the place from which one views.
I marvel at the architects who had only a very small amount of the kind of technical training received by professionals today. Except for the glass and some of the hardware, they had access only to native materials. I have no doubt that they were inspired from on high. They recognized that they were not simply constructing another building. They knew they were creating a temple of God.
Its granite walls give a feeling of substance and strength. Most of those who dressed and set the stones had learned their craft in England. They had come to Utah as converts to the Church. They were highly skilled, and the temple, after a century of time, shows this.
James Moyle, who was superintendent of the stonemasons, wrote:
“Not only days but weeks were required to dress some of the stones. … Many stones in the building required a high degree of skill on the part of the worker, for these come almost to a feather edge. One may see them from the ground in the large round windows. The grain is easily cracked since the small pieces of quartz, feldspar and mica in the composition fall apart when jarred. For this reason the feather edge was always cut last. If there was a miss hit, or if a given blow of the hammer were too hard, the work went for nothing, and weeks might be lost.”2 There is an air of strength, a feeling of solid substance with an essence of delicacy in the massive granite of this sacred structure.
When the temple was completed, a wall was constructed surrounding what has come to be known as Temple Square. The traffic outside the wall is now frequently heavy and noisy. Within the wall, there is an environment of peace and beauty. The grounds with their artistic walkways, broad lawns, magnificent trees, and brightly colored flowers become a world apart from the outer surroundings. Visitors from near and far, who now come by the millions, speak of this.
Inside the temple a further sense of peace is experienced. The world is left behind with its clamor and rush. In the house of the Lord there is tranquillity. Those who serve here know that they are dealing with matters of eternity. All are dressed in white. Speech is subdued. Thoughts are elevated.
This is a sanctuary of service. Most of the work done in this sacred house is performed vicariously in behalf of those who have passed beyond the veil of death. I know of no other work to compare with it. It more nearly approaches the vicarious sacrifice of the Son of God in behalf of all mankind than any other work of which I am aware. Thanks is not expected from those who in the world beyond become the beneficiaries of this consecrated service. It is a service of the living in behalf of the dead. It is a service which is of the very essence of selflessness.
This sacred edifice becomes a school of instruction in the sweet and sacred things of God. Here we have outlined the plan of a loving Father in behalf of His sons and daughters of all generations. Here we have sketched before us the odyssey of man’s eternal journey from premortal existence through this life to the life beyond. Great fundamental and basic truths are taught with clarity and simplicity well within the understanding of all who hear.
This is a place of revelation. Here almost weekly the First Presidency of the Church and the Council of the Twelve Apostles have met since the time of dedication. Here there is earnest prayer with supplication for enlightenment and understanding. Here in these hallowed precincts there is discussion, quiet and restrained. And here is felt that inspiration which comes when men who are endowed with the highest authority of the eternal priesthood counsel together and seek the will of the Lord.
I was in that circle in that sacred room when President Spencer W. Kimball on a June day in 1978 pleaded with the Lord for direction on a matter fraught with tremendous consequences. It concerned the eligibility of all worthy men to receive the priesthood.
I can testify now, as I have testified before, that the spirit of revelation was felt on that occasion, and that the fruits which have flowed from that revelation have been sweet and wonderful for great numbers of people across the world.
The temple is also a place of personal inspiration and revelation. Legion are those who in times of stress, when difficult decisions must be made and perplexing problems must be handled, have come to the temple in a spirit of fasting and prayer to seek divine direction. Many have testified that while voices of revelation were not heard, impressions concerning a course to follow were experienced at that time or later which became answers to their prayers.
This temple is a fountain of eternal truth. “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst” (John 4:14). Here are taught those truths which are divine in their substance and eternal in their implications.
For those who enter these walls, this house becomes a house of covenants. Here we promise, solemnly and sacredly, to live the gospel of Jesus Christ in its finest expression. We covenant with God our Eternal Father to live those principles which are the bedrock of all true religion.
This is a temple of God. The entablature on its face declares “Holiness to the Lord—The House of the Lord.” The first phrase of this statement is a declared recognition of the Almighty and a pledge of holiness and reverence before Him. The second is a statement of ownership. This is His house, built through the consecrations of the people and presented to Him as their offering of love and sacrifice.
In this holy house, I was endowed as a young man before departing for a mission. Here I was later married under the authority of the holy priesthood in a relationship that death cannot break and time cannot destroy. And here I have entered to do that for which this house was designed, always leaving a better man than I was when I entered.
So it has been with countless thousands of those who have come to this temple where is felt the divine love of the Redeemer of the world.
Every temple in the Church, each somewhat different in its architectural design, offers the same blessings. We speak today particularly of the Salt Lake Temple because it was an even century ago that it was dedicated by a prophet of God. It took longer to build than any other—forty years. In terms of interior space and facilities, it is the largest ever built by our people.
It is a veritable fulfillment of the words of Isaiah:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
“And 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; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths” (Isa. 2:2–3).
Thanks be to God for His holy house. May it stand, as it was built to stand, through the millennium yet to come and serve the needs of our Father’s children, those in this life and those beyond. May its doors ever be open to the faithful who may enter its portals and experience something of the divine.
The dedication of the Salt Lake Temple a century ago was the greatest and most significant event in the history of the Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Valley.
The Salt Lake Temple is recognized by people throughout the world.
The Salt Lake Temple—along with all of the Lord’s temples—is a creation of beauty, a symbol of strength, a haven of peace, a sanctuary of service, a school of instruction, a place of revelation, a fountain of truth, a house of covenants, a temple of God.