The Salt Lake Temple
June 1978

“The Salt Lake Temple,” New Era, June 1978, 33

The Salt Lake Temple

On July 28, 1847, four days after the pioneers entered the Great Salt Lake Valley, President Brigham Young and some of his associates, including Wilford Woodruff, were walking over the barren floor of the valley when suddenly President Young stopped, drove his cane into the earth, and declared, “Here we will build the temple of our God.” Elder Woodruff afterward drove a wooden stake into the ground at the exact spot. Later that day the ten acres that now comprise Temple Square were laid out. Unknown to the surveyors who would come six years later, that stake would mark the center of the temple block.

At general conference, April 1851, the Saints unanimously approved the building of the temple. Twenty-two months later the site was surveyed, the block was dedicated, and the ground was broken—symbolizing the beginning of the construction of the temple that would be the focal point for tens of thousands of gathering Saints.

On April 6, 1853, the four cornerstones were laid. The First Presidency of the Church laid the southeast cornerstone; the Presiding Bishopric laid the southwest cornerstone; the presidency of the high priests quorum, the presidency of the Salt Lake Stake, and the high council laid the northwest cornerstone; and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and the presidencies of the First Quorum of the Seventy and the elders quorums laid the northeast cornerstone.

The 40 years required in the construction of the temple were long and difficult. In the meantime, the Saints who had gathered elsewhere in the Great Basin were completing other temples—St. George in 1877; Logan, 1884; and Manti, 1888. However, among the temples in current use the Salt Lake Temple is unsurpassed in its rich ornamentation, precise craftsmanship, and unique architecture. The Salt Lake Temple has come to symbolize the faith, dedication, and sacrifice of the Mormon people worldwide.

For Truman O. Angell, the architect, the building of the Salt Lake Temple was a great sacrifice. Angell, a skillful carpenter and joiner, was told in his patriarchal blessing that he would become a builder of temples and cities. He had been selected as the foreman of all carpenters and joiners working on the Nauvoo Temple. When most of the Saints moved out of Nauvoo, Angell remained behind, designing and completing the lower hall of the temple. He continued in Nauvoo until the temple was dedicated on April 30, 1846, whereupon he moved with the Saints, finding his way to the Salt Lake Valley in the spring of 1848.

That fall President Young commissioned Brother Angell to serve as the architect for several public projects. On April 8, 1867, at the conference of the Church, Angell was sustained as “Architect for the Church,” in which capacity his major labor would be to design and supervise the construction of the Salt Lake Temple. A little of his temperament and the ill health that was to plague him throughout his career can be seen in his journal entry of April 21, 1868:

“I feel a good deal worn out, but if the President and my brethren feel to sustain a poor worm of the dust like me to be Architect of the Church, let me strive to serve them and not disgrace myself. This I trust and mean shall be my aim. May the Lord help me so to do.”

On April 28 he wrote:

“Let the council of Israel decide, for I do not want to be measured by the folly of a vain man unless he knows how to weigh me in the balance and knows whether I am wanting or not.”

The meticulous care with which Angell worked is well attested to by his original drawings, located in the Church Archives. Masterfully drawn, they reflect the dedication and care that was to radiate to the hand and heart of every craftsman.

Brother Angell died on October 16, 1887, just six years before the Salt Lake Temple was completed.

All temples in this dispensation have been constructed for the instruction of the Saints in various phases of man’s progression. Though they vary considerably in their outward appearance, they all function that men and women might obtain the knowledge and power necessary to enter into the presence of God. Inside the temples the initiated are schooled in principles of eternity through representations, symbols, and words—the earthly, temporal, and physical representing the eternal and intangible.

The temple buildings represent the mountains where the ancients ascended to commune with God. A careful examination of the exterior of the Salt Lake Temple will reveal specially cut stones not found on any other temple. These stones are symbolic. The white (actually gray) granite of the walls symbolizes the enduring nature of the sacred ordinances administered within the temple. Enduring as the everlasting hills, granite is the framework of the earth’s crust.

Prominent on the Salt Lake Temple are its towers. Three eastern towers, rising six feet higher than the corresponding towers on the west, represent the three presiding high priests of the Church who constitute the First Presidency. The three western towers represent the Presiding Bishopric of the Church1, whose duty it is to supervise temporal interests.

All the fine-cut stones of the building convey a moral lesson and point to the celestial world.2

The earth stones, located just above the basement at the floor of each buttress, represent different portions of the globe—all combining to include the entire surface. The earth stones are thought to represent the spreading of the gospel throughout the whole earth or to represent the telestial kingdom.3

The moon stones, above the promenade, close under the second string course on each buttress, and directly above the earth stones, represent the moon in all its phases. Elder Angell’s architectural drawing of the moon stones describes them as “Buttress Blocks Commencing with Course M2 Representing the Moon in all its Phases. During the year 1878. 13 New Moons. 13 First Quarters. 12 Full Moons. 12 Last Quarters.” The moon stone representing the first quarter of the moon in January 1878 is located midway along the north wall of the temple, with the other phases of the moon being represented in a clockwise pattern around the temple, thereby locating the moon in its phases for the month of April on the central east tower. The moon stones are sometimes thought to represent the terrestrial kingdom.4

Up from the moon stones, close under the third string, or cornice, are located the sun stones, each with 52 points per face, representing the sun’s rays. Angell drew the sun stones patterned after the Nauvoo sun stones. Sun stones are sometimes thought to represent the celestial kingdom. At the time of the dedication of the temple, it was in mind to gild the sun stones.5

Before the additional rooms were built on the north wall of the temple, there were a total of 50 earth, moon, and sun stones.

Interspersed in the battlements above the cornice on the walls of the structure are located star stones. There are 40 on the eastern towers, 12 on each central tower, and they are also found on nearly every keystone.

The central towers on both the west and the east contain stones that are found nowhere else. The clasped hands, below the center tower keystone in the lower window of each tower, represent giving the hand of fellowship and the strong union and brotherly love characteristic of Latter-day Saints.6

Above the windows of the east central tower is the principle inscription stone. Actually composed of five stones, the inscription reads, “Holiness to the Lord/The House of the Lord/built by/The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints/Commenced April 6, 1853/Completed April 6, 1893.”

On the west central tower, above the windows, can be found Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, intended to remind those in doubt concerning the true way, that they should follow the path indicated by the priesthood. Angell recorded that Ursa Major means that the lost may find themselves by the priesthood.7

There are only two cloud stones on the temple. Located on the east central tower, near the top of the two principal buttresses and just below the caps, they depict the gospel light piercing the dark clouds of superstition and error that had enshrouded the world.8

Surmounting the corner tower octagonal turrets are found single spire stones, representing flaming torches.

In the east and west central towers are two windows, on the keystones of which is inscribed “I am Alpha and Omega.”

One record stone is located at the base of the wall in the southeast corner. Made of firestone from Red Butte Canyon, the stone has a one-square-foot cavity that contains such records, books, and papers as were considered appropriate. The cavity is covered with a sandstone slab.

The ball or capstone on which Moroni rests is a second record stone. It contains music composed by C. J. Thomas entitled the “Capstone March”; the “Temple Anthem,” with words by C. L. Walker, music by Evan Stephens; a polished brass plate; as well as the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, Voice of Warning, Spencer’s Letters, Key to Theology, a hymn book, a compendium, and some other works. Also sealed in this record stone are pictures or photographs of Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, and Joseph F. Smith and a photograph of the Salt Lake Temple as it then stood.

Inscribed on the polished brass plate are these words:

Holiness to the Lord.


General Church Authorities:

April 6th, 1853.

April 6th, 1892.

Brigham Young,
Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards.

Wilford Woodruff,
George Q. Cannon, Joseph F. Smith.



Orson Hyde,

Amasa Lyman,

Lorenzo Snow,

Franklin D. Richards,

Parley P. Pratt,

Ezra T. Benson,

Brigham Young,

Moses Thatcher,

Orson Pratt,

Charles C. Rich,

Francis M. Lyman,

John H. Smith,

Wilford Woodruff,

Lorenzo Snow,

George Teasdale,

Heber J. Grant,

John Taylor,

Erastus Snow,

John W. Taylor,

Marriner W. Merrill,

George A. Smith,

Franklin D. Richards.

Anthon H. Lund,

Abraham H. Cannon.

John Smith, son of Asael.

John Smith, son of Hyrum.



Joseph Young,

Zera Pulsipher,

Jacob Gates,

Seymour B. Young,

Levi W. Hancock,

A. P. Rockwood,

C. D. Fjelsted,

John Morgan,

Henry Herriman,

Jedediah M. Grant,

B. H. Roberts,

George Reynolds,

Benjamin L. Clapp.

Jonathan G. Kimball.

Edward Hunter.

William B. Preston,
R. T. Burton, John R. Winder, Counselors.

T. O. Angell, Joseph D. C. Young, Architects.

The gold-plated sculpture of Moroni that surmounts the east central tower is symbolic of the restoration of the gospel in this dispensation.

It is interesting to note that while Truman O. Angell’s drawings show the temple in striking clarity and completeness, there are a few places where the actual structure deviated from Angell’s original drawings. Angell’s 1854 drawing of the temple exterior shows Saturn stones, each complete with rings, directly above the sun stones. They appear nowhere on the temple. Cloud stones appear only twice on the temple as it was completed, but they adorned all six towers in this early drawing.

A drawing of the east wall shows inclined battlements between the north and south towers. The temple was built with square battlements, gradually inclining to their contact with the central tower.

Old photographs show a 100-candlepower incandescent lamp surmounting Moroni’s crown. There were also lights on the spires. Incandescent bulbs were used to light the exterior of the temple until the centennial celebration of the Church on April 6, 1930, when the temple was first lighted by flood lamps. The lamp atop Moroni was eventually removed, and the spire lights fell into disuse.

For 85 years the Salt Lake Temple has been the symbol to the world of Mormonism. Its architecture is unique in all the world. But the sacred ordinances therein performed are of infinitely greater importance than the building itself. James H. Anderson, in writing the history of the temple for the Contributor magazine at the dedication of the temple in April 1893, expresses these feelings:

“The Spirit of the Lord rested in power upon the congregations of the Saints, and their hearts were filled with the heavenly joy and peace which passeth all understanding. The toils and sacrifices for forty years were crowned in glorious triumph by the revelation from God that He accepted of the Temple as a habitation holy to His name.”9


  1. Duncan McAllister, A Description of the Great Temple, Salt Lake City, Bureau of Information, 1929, p. 9.

  2. Sec. George A. Smith, quoted in James Henry Anderson, “The Salt Lake Temple,” Contributor, vol. XIV, no. 6 (April 1893), p. 275.

  3. Ibid. Also James E. Talmage, House of the Lord, 1912, p. 83.

  4. Anderson, p. 275.

  5. Anderson, p. 275.

  6. Anderson, p. 277; and McAllister, p. 10.

  7. Talmage, p. 145; Anderson, p. 276; and McAllister, p. 10.

  8. Anderson, p. 277.

  9. Anderson, p. 302.

Photo by Don Thorpe

Truman O. Angell (Portrait by Ted Henninger.)

Architectural drawings: Church Historical Department