The Nauvoo Temple: Cornerstones of Faith
May 2002

“The Nauvoo Temple: Cornerstones of Faith,” New Era, May 2002, 20

The Nauvoo Temple:
Cornerstones of Faith

For a century and a half, the Nauvoo Temple was just a beautiful and sad story in Church history. Now, as the walls of the rebuilt temple (right) rise up to gleam in the sunlight again, Latter-day Saint teens living in Nauvoo talk about their feelings and experiences as the temple dedication nears.

Andy Mair has heard many of the stories about sacrifices made in building the first Nauvoo Temple. He knows about the men and boys who cut stone by hand, hauled heavy loads with just horses and mules, went without good food and clothing, and spent every minute they could building a beautiful House of the Lord.

Andy has plenty to eat and wear and because he’s only 14 he’s not really allowed to work on the temple site. But Andy has made sacrifices. He willingly left his friends and home to come with his family to Nauvoo where his father would oversee the reconstruction of the Nauvoo Temple. “I am not sorry that I came,” says Andy. “I have been able to learn a lot more about the history of the Church and Joseph Smith. I can say that I have walked and lived where the Prophet Joseph and the early leaders of the Church did. As I see the temple workers, I notice that they all have shoes and shirts. They also have modern equipment like cranes, lifts, cement trucks, dump trucks, tractors, and power tools. I try to imagine how people in the 1840s built such a huge building without these things.”

Also, during the construction of the temple, Andy has seen what kind of man his dad is. “It means a lot to me to have my dad be able to oversee the construction of this temple, because I know I am one of a few young men who is able to participate so closely in such an historic event. My dad is a great example to me of hard work and dedication.”

Andy and his new friends in Nauvoo keep track of the reconstruction. One friend, Tally Smith, says, “It’s special to drive by and notice more stone going up or another window in place.”

Amanda Smith also has loved watching the temple go up. “It’s amazing to have a temple right up the road—a temple that’s really a part of your life because you’ve watched it and seen the changes.”

Laying the cornerstones

One unique event that took place at the start of the construction was the laying of all four cornerstones. For most temples built today the cornerstone laying is completed as the building is dedicated, but in rebuilding the Nauvoo Temple, the sequence of events from the nineteenth century was duplicated as much as possible.

On April 6, 1841, the members of the Church in Nauvoo gathered at the temple site for the laying of all four cornerstones. Under the Prophet Joseph’s instructions, each cornerstone was moved into place under the direction of the presidents of the various quorums of the priesthood. In those days, the Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidents were all grown men.

But on November 5, 2000, the quorum presidents of the Aaronic Priesthood—representing the deacons and teachers—were Jared Brown, 13, and Hans Smith, 15, both from the Nauvoo Illinois First Ward. They were surprised and honored to be asked to participate in the cornerstone laying.

“I had always thought it would be cool if the Nauvoo Temple were rebuilt,” says Hans. “Now it is happening, and I am going to be here to see it.

“One evening, my stake president, Durell Nelson, came over to my house and told me there was going to be a special cornerstone ceremony. He asked me if I would be interested in being part of this historic event since I was the teachers quorum president of the Nauvoo Ward, and the original teachers quorum president had helped at the original cornerstone ceremony. Wow!”

On the day of the ceremony, Hans was right there with President Gordon B. Hinckley and Bishop H. David Burton, the Presiding Bishop of the Church. Hans says, “I was humbled to represent teachers all over the world at this event. Because I have cerebral palsy, I needed help to scoop in the mortar and was grateful to have Bishop Burton help me. I was grateful that those in charge didn’t let my handicap stand in the way of my participating in this great event.”

As deacons quorum president, Jared also participated. “I felt really blessed because there are so many other young men who would have loved this opportunity. It was probably the best experience of my life. I got to meet the prophet. I also got to keep the trowel I used. It’s something I can always remember and someday tell my children.”

A busy time in Nauvoo

A tree-lined road still follows the curves of the Mississippi River as it winds to the small town of Nauvoo. With a little more than a thousand residents, Nauvoo is so small and quiet that it often gets left off road maps. But with the temple construction, more attention is focused on Nauvoo, and the temple’s construction workers and their families have increased the number of Church members.

Lisa and Joanne Church are new Nauvoo residents. Their father is the temple engineer. They have a strong connection to both this temple and the one built last century. “My great-great grandpa Hayden Wells Church left his home in Tennessee and came to Nauvoo,” says Lisa, 17. “He heard the missionaries sing and was so impressed.”

“He came here and was baptized by the Prophet Joseph,” adds Joanne, 14. “It was hard for him to leave his home behind and come to Nauvoo. He’s such an example to me. His testimony made me want to come here and see the things he saw and share the feelings he felt.”

Ashlie Wilson also gets to share the feeling of one of her ancestors working on the temple, only this ancestor, her grandfather Charles Allen, is alive and well and working on the windows of the temple, including the unique red and blue star windows similar to those in the original temple. Ashlie was there when her grandfather was notified that he would be creating the windows. “I stood there when he told my grandma that he had the window contract. He said he felt so honored, yet humbled, at the job. Then he started to cry. I’d never seen my grandpa cry before.”

Tanisha Lambert, 15, has lived in Nauvoo all her life. She is so grateful to have the temple constructed again. “Having the temple rebuilt recognizes the role of the Prophet Joseph Smith in the restoration of temple ordinances. It’s really important to go to the temple.”

Strong enough to leave

In the 1840s, construction on the temple continued even after the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum in 1844. Despite being driven from their homes and harassed by mobs, the Saints worked to complete the temple. “Those Saints were amazingly strong and faithful—faithful enough to build a temple they knew they’d have to leave,” says James Porter, who is moving from Nauvoo before the temple is complete. “They built that temple like they thought they’d be able to use it for the rest of their lives.”

A day of dedication

Three years ago, President Hinckley announced in general conference that the Nauvoo Temple would be rebuilt. Dallin Hitchcock, 13, remembers the day of that announcement while in the chapel in Nauvoo watching the conference broadcast. “Everyone started cheering. Some people stood to cheer; others were crying. People were so excited.”

Now another great day is coming. The dedication will take place on June 27, an anniversary of the day that Joseph and Hyrum were martyred. For those who live in Nauvoo, it’s a dream come true. The empty hillside where the temple once stood is filled again with a beautiful building Joseph saw in vision.

A Temple-Building People

President James E. Faust

“Each temple that stands today is a vindication of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and a triumph for them and all of our people who suffered the destruction, the beatings, and the murders at the hands of the cruel tyrants in the mobs who drove our people west” (Ensign, August 2001, 2).
–President James E. Faust

Living in Nauvoo

“I have lived in Nauvoo all my life. I remember as a little boy visiting the temple site and helping my dad plant the flowers and water them to make the grounds beautiful. We used to play on the slopes where the temple once stood. My dad would tell us how sacred the grounds were because of the sacrifices the Saints made for the temple to be built, and then they had to leave before they could fully use it for a long period. I am excited to see the temple here. I feel like the people who lived here with Joseph Smith are watching us and hoping we appreciate it and don’t take it for granted.”
–Nathan Nelson, 17

The Angel Moroni

The original Nauvoo Temple was the first temple to have the Angel Moroni on top of the spire. However, the angel on the first Nauvoo Temple was horizontal instead of standing upright as on modern temples. The original angel holds an open Book of Mormon, representing the restored gospel and in the other a trumpet is pressed to his lips. It was an illustration of what John wrote in Revelation 14:6, “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” He is dressed in robes that reach to his feet, and on his head he wears a round cap like those worn by the priests in ancient Israel in the temple (see Ex. 28:40).

After the mobs took possession of the temple, as the Saints were being forced out of Nauvoo, the story is told that a bolt of lightning struck the shaft that held the figure of the angel atop the belfry (see The Nauvoo Temple, 139).


One of the unique architectural elements on the Nauvoo Temple is the sunstones. They sit on top of the 30 pillars surrounding the building. Originally, the sunstones were each made of five stones, carefully put together to create the whole. Brigham Young described their design. “There are thirty capitals around the temple, each one composed of five stones, viz., one base stone, one large stone representing the sun rising just above the clouds, the lower part obscured; the third stone represents two hands each holding a trumpet, and the last two stones form a cap over the trumpet stone, and all these form the capital” (History of the Church, 7:323).

The sun is often used to represent the glory of celestial beings. In D&C 76:70, it says, “These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.”

Nauvoo Temple: Then and Now

Original Nauvoo Temple

New Nauvoo Temple


Fall 1840

October 24, 1999

Cornerstones laid:

April 6, 1841

November 5, 2000

Under construction:

Five years

More than two years


April 30, 1846 and May 1, 1846
(private dedication April 30)
(public dedication May 1)

June 27, 2002

Dedicated by:

Joseph Young
Wilford Woodruff
Orson Hyde

Gordon B. Hinckley
Thomas S. Monson
James E. Faust

How many attended:

About 25 because of the danger from mobs

Thousands will watch as the dedication is broadcast to nations throughout the world.


*130 feet long
*90 feet wide
about 165 feet high

130 feet long
90 feet wide
162 1/2 feet high

Made of:

solid limestone

limestone-clad reinforced concrete

  • based on archaeology

Photography by Vern Hancock, Robyn Chavez, and Lloyd Burton

Andy Mair came with his family to Nauvoo to help rebuild the temple.

Illustrated by Paul Mann

Watching the new temple take shape became a part of Amanda Smith’s daily routine.

Remembering how it felt to be part of the special cornerstone-laying ceremony, Hans Smith, Jared Brown, and Bishop Merlin Reittinger (left to right) of the Nauvoo Illinois First Ward get a glimpse of how the Saints may have felt at the original cornerstone ceremony.

Tanisha Lambert, Joanne Church, and Lisa Church (left to right) are pleased to watch the temple take shape like the original did in the days of the Prophet Joseph.

Knowing her grandfather built some of the windows helps Ashlie Wilson appreciate the craftsmanship that’s gone into the temple.

The Aaronic Priesthood is well represented by Hans Smith and Drew Downs (front) and by Isaac Day, Dallin Hitchcock, Jared Brown, and John Hasek (rear, left to right).