“Chapter Thirteen: Glorious Days in Kirtland, 1834–36,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 153–68
“Chapter Thirteen,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 153–68
By August 1834 Joseph Smith and most of his associates in Zion’s Camp had returned home. With the attempt to help the Missouri Saints behind them, the members in Ohio again turned their attention to building the kingdom of God in their own area. The two years following the return of Zion’s Camp were a time of relative peace for these Ohio Saints. This period brought a number of significant and particularly far-reaching developments affecting Church organization, doctrine, scriptures, and temple activity.
On 5 December 1834 the Prophet Joseph Smith ordained Oliver Cowdery as Assistant President of the Church.1 He had been with the Prophet when the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods were restored. When the Church of Jesus Christ was organized in 1830, Oliver as “second elder” stood next to Joseph in authority (see Joseph Smith—History 1:68–73; D&C 110).2 Thus, whenever priesthood authority or keys were restored, Oliver was with the Prophet Joseph. “It was necessary according to the divine law of witnesses for Joseph Smith to have a companion holding those keys.”3 Oliver Cowdery was not only to assist Joseph Smith in presiding over the Church, but he was also to stand with the Prophet as a second witness of the Restoration. By 1838 Oliver Cowdery had lost his office of Assistant President through apostasy and excommunication, but in 1841 the Lord called Hyrum Smith to fill this office (see D&C 124:94–96). The President and the Assistant President, or the first and second witnesses, would seal their testimonies with their blood at the Carthage Jail.
One of the most important events in the restoration of the Savior’s Church was the formation of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Even before the Church was organized, the members had anticipated this significant step. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had received the authority of the apostleship (see D&C 20:2–3) probably as early as 1829. During that same year, a revelation directed Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer to search out the twelve who would be “called to go into all the world to preach my gospel unto every creature” (D&C 18:28). Later, Martin Harris was also called to assist in this selection. This meant that the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, under the direction and consent of the First Presidency, would choose the Twelve Apostles who were to serve as special witnesses of the Savior in this dispensation. The Prophet Joseph Smith invited the veterans of Zion’s Camp and others to attend a special conference on Saturday, 14 February 1835. The minutes of the meeting reflect those events:4
“He then gave a relation of some of the circumstances attending us while journeying to Zion—our trials, sufferings: and said God had not designed all this for nothing, but He had it in remembrance yet; and it was the will of God that those who went to Zion, with a determination to lay down their lives, if necessary, should be ordained to the ministry, and go forth to prune the vineyard for the last time, or the coming of the Lord, which was nigh. …
“… Even the smallest and weakest among us, shall be powerful and mighty, and great things shall be accomplished by you from this hour; and you shall begin to feel the whisperings of the Spirit of God; and the work of God shall begin to break forth from this time; and you shall be endowed with power from on high.” Following the Prophet’s remarks, the meeting was adjourned for an hour. As the meeting reconvened, the Three Witnesses prayed and were blessed by the First Presidency. The witnesses then proceeded to select the Twelve Apostles.5 Because they were all called at the same time, the Apostles’ seniority in the quorum was set according to age.
One week after their selection, the Twelve received an apostolic charge from Oliver Cowdery similar to the one the Savior gave the New Testament Apostles (see Matthew 10; 28:19–20; Acts 1:8). He warned them:
“You will have to combat all the prejudices of all nations.
“He then read the revelation [D&C 18]. …
“… I therefore warn you to cultivate great humility; for I know the pride of the human heart. Beware, lest the flatterers of the world lift you up; beware, lest your affections be captivated by worldly objects. Let your ministry be first. …
“… It is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven for yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth. …
“… Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid His hand upon you. …
“… You are to bear this message to those who consider themselves wise; and such may persecute you—they may seek your life. The adversary has always sought the life of the servants of God; you are therefore to be prepared at all times to make a sacrifice of your lives, should God require them in the advancement and building up of His cause. …
“He then took them separately by the hand, and said, ‘Do you with full purpose of heart take part in this ministry, to proclaim the Gospel with all diligence, with these your brethren, according to the tenor and intent of the charge you have received?’ Each of them answered in the affirmative.”6
Two weeks later at a special conference, the Prophet organized another key priesthood quorum—the Seventy—from those who had been in Zion’s Camp (see D&C 107:93). To accommodate their unique role as a “traveling” quorum with responsibility to preach the gospel worldwide, they were presided over by seven presidents. This was according to a vision of Church organization given to the Prophet.7 Joseph Young, Hazen Aldrich, Levi Hancock, Leonard Rich, Zebedee Coltrin, Lyman Sherman, and Sylvester Smith were the original presidents of this quorum.
A month later the Lord revealed additional information concerning priesthood and Church government. The Twelve, who were preparing to depart on missions, felt they had not fully accepted the weighty responsibilities of their calling. In a spirit of repentance, they petitioned the Prophet to ask the Lord for further guidance. In response the Lord instructed the Twelve and the Seventy on their respective responsibilities. The Twelve were to be “special witnesses of the name of Christ” and serve under the direction of the First Presidency to “build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations” (D&C 107:23, 33). The Seventy were to serve under the direction of the Twelve and accomplish the same purpose. Together with the First Presidency, these quorums constituted the presiding councils of the Church. The revelation also outlined the duties of those who preside over the quorums of the priesthood, and it closed with this admonition:
“Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.
“He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand” (D&C 107:99–100). In compliance with instructions given in the revelation, the first Aaronic Priesthood quorums were formed in 1835 in Kirtland. They were made up of mature men. There were no set ages for worthy candidates to advance from one office to another.8
In the light of instructions in Doctrine and Covenants 107, the “standing” stake high councils assumed an increasingly important role during the mid-1830s, particularly in the capacity of Church courts. Questions soon arose concerning the status and jurisdiction of the high councils and of the Twelve, who were referred to as “a Traveling Presiding High Council” (D&C 107:33). The Prophet responded that the authority of the standing high councils was limited to the stakes, while the Twelve had jurisdiction over the Church abroad.9 This raised the additional question about the jurisdiction of the Twelve in local matters. The Prophet assured them that since they stood next to the First Presidency in authority, they were not subject to any other body. Brigham Young later looked back on these months of discussion as a time of trial when the Twelve had to prove their willingness “‘to be everybody’s servant for Christ’s sake. …’ This was necessary, according to Young, for only ‘true servants’ may receive the power.”10
Organized proselyting had been temporarily interrupted by Zion’s Camp in the summer of 1834. During the fall, however, missionary work resumed as Church leaders called more and more men to fill missions. Some of them labored for only a few weeks in nearby communities. Others had longer assignments to proclaim the gospel in distant areas. Many of the missionaries served more than one mission, often leaving home at times that were personally inconvenient. In 1835 William W. Phelps wrote, “The Elders are constantly coming and going.”11
Formal missions were supplemented by the efforts of enthusiastic converts eager to share their newly found treasure with family and friends. New convert Caroline Crosby exclaimed, “How often while listening to the voice of the prophet have I wished, Oh that my friends, parents, brothers, and sisters, could hear the things that I have heard, and their hearts be made to rejoice in them, as mine did.”12
Many leaders of the Church were also involved in missionary service. The Prophet Joseph Smith went to Michigan in 1834 and 1835. But perhaps the most important effort was the five-month mission of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to the East in 1835. From May to September they traveled hundreds of miles throughout New York, New England, and Canada. Besides doing missionary work and regulating and strengthening local congregations, their assignments included gathering funds for temple construction, for purchase of lands in Zion, and for the printing endeavors of the Church. Traveling without purse or scrip, they experienced typical problems of persecution, rejection, fatigue, and hunger; however, at one large meeting they counted 144 carriages and estimated that from two to three thousand people attended.
This mission is significant in Church history because it is the only time that all twelve members of the Quorum undertook a mission together. Upon their return to Kirtland, Heber C. Kimball reported that they had felt God’s power and were able to heal the sick and cast out devils. In this same season the Quorum of the Seventy also filled missions, primarily in the eastern states.13
During the mid-1830s many Church leaders also served numerous individual missions. Elder Parley P. Pratt’s Canadian mission is a notable example. In April 1836 fellow Apostle Heber C. Kimball blessed Parley and prophesied that he would go to Toronto and there “find a people prepared for the fulness of the gospel, and they shall receive thee, … and it shall spread thence into the regions round about … ; and from the things growing out of this mission, shall the fulness of the gospel spread into England, and cause a great work to be done in that land.”14 While Parley was in Hamilton en route to Toronto, a stranger gave him a letter of introduction to John Taylor, a Methodist lay preacher in Toronto. Taylor was affiliated with a group who believed existing churches did not correspond with New Testament Christianity. For two years this group had met several times a week for the “purpose of seeking truth, independent of any sectarian organization.” In Toronto, Elder Pratt was courteously received by the Taylors, but they were not at first enthusiastic about his message.15
Discouraged at being unable to secure a place to preach, Parley decided to leave Toronto. Before going he stopped at the Taylors to get some of his luggage and to say good-bye. While he was there, Leonora Taylor told her friend Mrs. Isabella Walton about Parley’s problem and said she was sorry he was leaving. “He may be a man of God,” she said. Mrs. Walton replied that she had been inspired by the Spirit to visit the Taylors that morning because she was willing to let Elder Pratt stay at her home and preach. He did so and was eventually invited to attend a meeting of John Taylor’s group, in which John read the New Testament account of Philip’s preaching in Samaria. “‘Now,’ said he, ‘where is our Philip? Where is our receiving the Word with joy, and being baptized when we believed? Where is our Peter and John? Our apostles? Where is our Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands? …’”16 When Parley was invited to speak, he declared that he had answers to John Taylor’s questions.
For three weeks John Taylor attended Elder Pratt’s meetings, making detailed notes of his sermons and carefully comparing them with the scriptures. Gradually he became convinced that the true gospel of Jesus Christ was restored. He and his wife, Leonora, were baptized on 9 May 1836. Soon thereafter John Taylor was ordained an elder and became an active missionary. The work spread so rapidly that Orson Hyde was sent from Kirtland to assist Parley, while Orson Pratt and Freeman Nickerson, who were already in Canada, joined Parley in Toronto. When the missionaries left Toronto, John Taylor was set apart to preside over the congregations these elders had established.
The Fielding family, who also became important in the history of the Church, was part of this Canadian harvest. Mary Fielding married Hyrum Smith and became the mother of the sixth and grandmother of the tenth Presidents of the Church—Joseph F. Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith, respectively. A year after his baptism, Mary’s brother Joseph joined the first missionaries to Britain and played a key role in establishing the work there.
Missionaries in other areas also enjoyed rich spiritual experiences. Wilford Woodruff, for example, went to Missouri in 1834 at the age of twenty-seven. That fall he was ordained a priest and sent to Arkansas and Tennessee as one of the earliest missionaries to carry the gospel to those regions. In later years he frequently testified that “in all his life he never had enjoyed more of the spirit and power of God than when he was a priest doing missionary work in the Southern States.”17
Gradually, congregations sprang up throughout the Northeast, the Midwest, and eastern Canada, and eventually the gospel spread into West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. At first local groups were called churches, but by 1835 the term branch was common. This designation symbolized how the members in one locality extended the good news to friends living nearby who formed a new congregation, which was literally a branch of the parent group. Customarily, several branches joined together for periodic conferences, and in 1835 the Twelve organized them into districts, called conferences, each having definite boundaries like modern stakes.18
In a tomb19 on the west bank of the Nile River across from the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes (now called Luxor), Antonio Lebolo, a French-speaking explorer from the Piedmont (a region of northwestern Italy), discovered several mummies and along with them some papyrus scrolls. Following the death of Lebolo in 1830, the mummies and papyri were shipped to the United States, where Michael H. Chandler, who identified himself as Lebolo’s nephew, came into possession of them in 1833. In 1835 Chandler displayed his artifacts in several eastern cities.
When he came to Kirtland at the end of June, the Saints showed great interest in the mummies and papyri. Chandler had heard that Joseph Smith claimed he could translate ancient records. He asked Joseph if he could translate the papyri. Orson Pratt recalled, “The Prophet took them and repaired to his room and inquired of the Lord concerning them. The Lord told him they were sacred records” and revealed the translation of some of the characters.20 Chandler had previously submitted a few characters from the records to scholars in order to determine their probable meaning. Upon receiving the Prophet’s translation, he provided a signed testimonial that it corresponded “in the most minute matters” with those of the scholars.21
Greatly interested in their content, the Saints purchased the mummies and scrolls for twenty-four hundred dollars. Joseph immediately began working with the scrolls and found that they contained the writings of Abraham and the writings of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. “Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth.”22 During the rest of his time in Kirtland he maintained an active interest in working with these ancient writings. The fruit of his efforts, the book of Abraham, was not printed, however, until 1842, after more translating was completed in Nauvoo. In February 1843 the Prophet promised to supply more of the translation of the book of Abraham, but his demanding schedule did not allow him time to complete the work before he was assassinated.
In 1835 another standard work of the Church was published. The Missouri persecutions had disrupted the publication of the Book of Commandments in 1833. Steps were taken in Ohio to publish an expanded compilation of the revelations. In September 1834 the First Presidency was appointed to select the revelations to be published, and the Prophet revised some of them to correct printing errors and to add information revealed since 1833. The committee’s work was completed the following summer, and a solemn assembly was convened on 17 August 1835 to vote on the new book of scripture to be called the Doctrine and Covenants.
The book’s title referred to its two major divisions. The first part, designated “doctrine,” contained seven lectures on faith delivered in the School of the Elders the previous winter. The second section, titled “Covenants and Commandments,” included one hundred and two sections, thirty-seven more than the Book of Commandments.23 The volume’s preface pointed out the differences between the theological lectures and the Lord’s revelations.24 This distinction became the basis for a decision in 1921 to publish the revelations without the Lectures on Faith to avoid confusing readers about the status of the lectures.
During the middle 1830s Kirtland increasingly became a Latter-day Saint community. While the number of nonmembers there remained relatively constant at about twelve to thirteen hundred, the number of Saints almost tripled, growing from nearly five hundred to about fifteen hundred between 1834 and 1837. Thus the Church and its activities gradually exerted more influence on community life. This sometimes led to tensions between the two ideologically different groups of people.25
While most of the Saints were grateful for such momentous events as the calling of the Twelve Apostles and the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants, their day-to-day life centered on earning a living on the farm or in town. Despite long hours of hard physical work, the Saints found time for recreation, education, and worship.
Although leisure time was limited, the Kirtland Saints enjoyed hunting, fishing, swimming, and horseback riding. Wintertime favorites included ice-skating and sleigh riding. Family associations were especially important to the Saints. After a long day’s work, parents and children often enjoyed the evening together singing, playing, studying, and discussing topics of common interest. Holidays were infrequent and generally went almost unnoticed. Journals of the time seldom mention any special holiday activities, even on Christmas day. One Latter-day Saint girl was surprised during a trip to New York City to learn that other children received visits from Santa Claus, who filled their stockings with gifts and treats.26
The Saints considered education essential, and the home was the setting for most of the learning. Private tutors, such as Eliza R. Snow, who lived with Joseph Smith’s family tutoring his children, were common. Occasionally teachers offered their services for private classes in a home or community building.
Following the early efforts of the School of the Prophets in 1833, the School of the Elders met during the next two winters, when the men were not so busy with farming or missionary assignments. It convened in a thirty-by-thirty-eight-foot room on the main floor of the printing building just west of the temple. Its purpose was to prepare the men who were about to go forth as missionaries or to serve in other Church callings. The curriculum included English grammar, writing, philosophy, government, literature, geography, and ancient as well as modern history. Theology, however, received the major emphasis.
An important outgrowth of the School of the Elders was a Hebrew school conducted from January to April of 1836 under the direction of a young Hebrew instructor, Joshua Seixas. He was contracted for $320 to teach forty students for seven weeks. Interest was greater than expected, so two additional classes were organized. After Seixas left, interest in Hebrew continued. William W. Phelps, for example, often shared his translations from the Hebrew Bible with his friends. The Prophet Joseph Smith was particularly enthusiastic about his study of Hebrew. He declared, “My soul delights in reading the word of the Lord in the original.”27
One young nonmember, Lorenzo Snow from nearby Mantua, Ohio, attended the Hebrew school. One day while on his way to Oberlin College, Lorenzo met Elder David W. Patten. Their conversation turned to religion, and Elder Patten’s sincerity and testimony made a lasting impression on Lorenzo. He was therefore receptive when his sister Eliza, a recent convert, invited him to attend the school. While there, Lorenzo became acquainted with Joseph Smith and other Church leaders and was baptized in June 1836.
Sabbath worship was central in the lives of the early Latter-day Saints. Many people gathered enough firewood and completed other chores on Saturday so they could devote Sunday to spiritual matters. They met in homes and later in schools for their services, but during warm weather they gathered outdoors. Sunday meetings were simple. The morning meeting typically began at 10:00 with a hymn and prayer followed by one or two sermons. The afternoon service was similar but usually included the administration of the sacrament. Occasionally confirmations and marriages were performed during these gatherings.
The first Thursday of each month was fast day. In meetings that often lasted six hours, the Saints sang, prayed, bore their testimonies describing divine manifestations in their lives, and exhorted each other to live the gospel. Eliza R. Snow fondly remembered these gatherings as “hallowed and interesting beyond the power of language to describe. Many, many were the pentecostal seasons of the outpouring of the spirit of God on those days, manifesting the gifts of the Gospel and the power of healing, prophesying, speaking in tongues, the interpretation of tongues, etc.”28 Weeknights were also filled with priesthood quorum meetings, preaching services, choir practices, or meetings where patriarchal blessings were given.
Music has always been an important part in the Saints’ worship. In July 1830 a revelation directed Emma Smith to compile a hymnbook for the Church. This small volume finally appeared in 1835. It included the words for ninety hymns, thirty-four that were written by Church members and bore testimony of the Restoration. The remainder of the hymns were drawn from popular contemporary hymnals. No music was printed in the hymnal. The Saints sang the hymns to popular tunes of the time, and frequently branches and choirs used different melodies for the same hymns. Several of the hymns selected by Emma Smith, with the assistance of William W. Phelps, are still in our present hymnbook.
For about three years the time and energies of the Kirtland Saints were devoted to building the first temple of this dispensation. This endeavor began in December 1832 when the Lord commanded them to “establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” (D&C 88:119). Five months later the Lord chastised the Church for their delay and admonished them to move forward with the building of the temple (see D&C 95). The Saints then faithfully devoted themselves to the task.
The Prophet once asked a conference of high priests how the temple should be constructed. Some favored building it of logs. Others preferred a frame structure. “‘Shall we, brethren,’ said he, ‘build a house for our God, of logs? No, I have a better plan than that. I have a plan of the house of the Lord, given by himself; and you will soon see by this, the difference between our calculations and his idea of things.’”29 Truman O. Angell, one of the construction supervisors, testified that the Lord’s promise to show the Prophet the building’s design was literally fulfilled. He said that when the First Presidency knelt in prayer, “the Building appeared within viewing distance.” Later, while speaking in the completed temple, Frederick G. Williams said that the hall in which they met coincided in every detail with the vision given to them.30
The temple’s exterior looked like a typical New England meetinghouse, but its interior was unique. The Lord had specified that the building should include two large rooms, one above the other, each measuring fifty-five by sixty-five feet. Each pulpit in the temple was to have four tiers. The lower hall was to be the chapel, for praying, preaching, and administering the sacrament. The upper hall was for educational purposes (see D&C 95:8, 13–17).
Construction on the temple began 6 June 1833. In response to the Lord’s admonition, a committee was directed to procure materials for the work. A stone quarry was located two miles south of the building site, and a wagon load of stone was immediately quarried. Hyrum Smith and Reynolds Cahoon started digging a trench for the foundation. But the Saints were so poor, an early member recalled, that “there was not a scraper and hardly a plow that could be obtained among the Saints.”31 Nevertheless, “unity, harmony and charity abounded to strengthen” them to fulfill the commandment to build the temple.32 On 23 July 1833, the cornerstones were laid “after the order of the Holy Priesthood.”33
Almost all able-bodied men who were not away on missions worked on the temple. Joseph Smith served as foreman in the quarry. On Saturdays men brought teams and wagons and hauled enough quarried rock to the site to keep the masons busy during the coming week. Under Emma Smith’s direction, the women “made stockings, pantaloons and jackets” for the temple workmen. Heber C. Kimball recalled, “Our wives were all the time knitting, spinning and sewing … ; they were just as busy as any of us.”34
The work on the temple was not without difficulty. Mobs threatened to destroy the temple, and those who worked on it by day guarded it at night. Night after night for weeks, Heber C. Kimball said, we “were not permitted to take off our clothes, and were obliged to lay with our fire locks in our arms.”35 With the Church in constant financial distress during this period, the Saints in the United States and Canada were invited to make contributions, and many did so at great personal sacrifice. Vienna Jaques was one of the first to donate, giving much of her material resources. John Tanner loaned money to pay for the temple site and then sold his twenty-two-hundred-acre farm in New York in order to give three thousand dollars to buy supplies. He continued to give until he had given almost all he owned.
Zion’s Camp also interrupted the work during the summer of 1834, since few workmen were available and funds were diverted to aid the distressed Missouri Saints. When the brethren returned from Zion’s Camp, work progressed more rapidly. That fall Joseph Smith wrote, “Great exertions were made to expedite the work of the Lord’s house, and notwithstanding it was commenced almost with nothing, as to means, yet the way opened as we proceeded, and the Saints rejoiced.”37 The walls were about four feet high in the fall of 1834, but rose quickly during the winter. By November 1835 the exterior plastering commenced. Under the direction of Artemus Millet, the master builder of the temple, crushed china and glassware were mixed with the plaster to make the walls glisten. Under Brigham Young’s direction, the interior was finished during February of 1836. The sisters made the curtains and carpets.
In addition to their great personal efforts, the Saints spent from forty to sixty thousand dollars on the temple. Because they were so willing to sacrifice in building the temple, the Lord poured out great blessings upon them. From 21 January to 1 May 1836 probably more Latter-day Saints beheld visions and witnessed other unusual spiritual manifestations than during any other era in the history of the Church. Members of the Church saw heavenly messengers in at least ten different meetings, and at five of these gatherings different individuals testified that they had beheld the Savior himself. Many experienced visions, some prophesied, and others spoke in tongues.
One of the most important meetings held in the Kirtland Temple was on Thursday, 21 January 1836. The Prophet recorded the incident:
In the evening “at early candle-light I met with the presidency at the west school room, in the Temple, to attend to the ordinance of anointing our heads with holy oil. …
“We then laid our hands upon our aged Father Smith, and invoked the blessings of heaven. … The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof. … I saw … the blazing throne of God. … I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold.” Joseph Smith also saw many prophets in the celestial kingdom before the scene of his vision shifted (see D&C 137:1, 3–5). He then saw the recently appointed Twelve “standing together in a circle, much fatigued, with their clothes tattered and feet swollen, … and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold Him. …
“Many of my brethren who received the ordinance [of washing and anointing] with me saw glorious visions also. Angels ministered unto them as well as to myself, and the power of the Highest rested upon us. The house was filled with the glory of God, and we shouted Hosanna to God and the Lamb. …
“… Some of them saw the face of the Savior, … for we all communed with the heavenly host.”38
Joseph Smith saw his brother Alvin in the celestial kingdom and marvelled because Alvin had died before the gospel was restored. Also with the vision the Lord revealed the principle of mercy: “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God” (D&C 137:7). The Prophet also learned that all children who die before the age of accountability “are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” (D&C 137:10).
Some of the most memorable spiritual experiences occurred on the day the temple was dedicated—Sunday, 27 March 1836. Hundreds of Latter-day Saints came to Kirtland anticipating the great blessings the Lord had promised to bestow upon them. Early on the morning of the temple dedication, hundreds of people gathered outside the temple hoping to attend the dedicatory service. The doors were opened at 8:00 a.m., and the First Presidency assisted in seating the congregation of nearly a thousand people, but many were left outside. When the leaders of the Church were seated at the elevated pulpits and benches at each end of the hall and when all the available seats in the temple were filled, the doors were closed. This left hundreds of people still outside, including many who had sacrificed tremendously for the temple’s construction and had come long distances to attend the dedication. Sensing their disappointment, the Prophet directed them to hold an overflow meeting in the schoolhouse just to the west. The dedicatory service was repeated a second time the following Thursday for their benefit.
After the choir’s opening number, President Sidney Rigdon spoke for two and a half hours, declaring that the temple was unique among all the buildings of the world because it was built by divine revelation. After a brief intermission, the officers of the Church were sustained. The climax of the day was the dedicatory prayer, which had previously been given to the Prophet by revelation. He expressed gratitude for God’s blessings and asked the Lord to accept the temple, which was built “through great tribulation … that the Son of Man might have a place to manifest himself to his people” (D&C 109:5). He petitioned that the blessings promised in the Lord’s initial command to build the temple (see D&C 88:117–21) might now be realized, and he prayed that Church leaders, members, and the leaders of nations would be blessed, and that the promised gathering of the scattered remnants of Israel would be accomplished (see D&C 109:60–67). This prayer became a pattern for other temple dedicatory prayers.
Following the prayer, the choir sang the hymn “The Spirit of God.” It had been written especially for the dedication by W. W. Phelps. The sacrament was then administered and passed to the congregation. Joseph Smith and others testified that they saw heavenly messengers at the service. The congregation concluded the seven-hour service by standing and rendering the sacred “Hosanna Shout”: “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb, amen, amen, and amen,” repeated three times. Eliza R. Snow said the shout was given “with such power as seemed almost sufficient to raise the roof from the building.”39
That evening over four hundred priesthood bearers met in the temple. While George A. Smith was speaking, “a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels.”40 “David Whitmer bore testimony that he saw three angels passing up the south aisle.”41 “The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple).” Others saw angels hovering over the temple and heard heavenly singing.42
The most transcendent spiritual manifestation of all occurred a week after the dedication. After the afternoon worship service, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery retired to the Melchizedek Priesthood pulpits in the west end of the lower room of the temple. The canvas partition, called a veil, was lowered so that they could pray in private. As they prayed, “the veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened” (D&C 110:1). They saw a series of remarkable visions. The Lord Jesus Christ appeared, accepted the temple, and promised to manifest himself therein “if my people will keep my commandments, and do not pollute this holy house” (D&C 110:8; see also vv. 2–9).
Moses next appeared and restored “the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north” (v. 11). Elias then conferred “the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham” (v. 12). Finally, in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy (see Malachi 4:5–6) and Moroni’s promise (see D&C 2) to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers” (D&C 110:15), Elijah appeared to the Prophet and Oliver testifying that “the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands” in preparation for “the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (v. 16). Through the sealing keys that were restored by Elijah, Latter-day Saints could now perform saving priesthood ordinances in behalf of their kindred dead as well as for the living. These sacred ordinances for the dead were not introduced to the members of the Church until the Nauvoo era.
This great day of visions and revelation occurred on Easter Sunday, 3 April 1836. What better day in the dispensation of the fulness of times to reconfirm the reality of the Resurrection? That weekend was also the Jewish Passover. For centuries Jewish families have left an empty chair at their Passover feasts, anticipating Elijah’s return. Elijah has returned—not to a Passover feast, but to the Lord’s temple in Kirtland.
The period from the fall of 1834 through the summer of 1836 was one of glorious progress for the Church, and it looked as if the momentum would continue. Dark and dreary days were still ahead for the Kirtland Saints, however, as forces from both within and without threatened the Church’s advancement.