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Salt Lake Temple Historyby Marion D. Hanks
The Salt Lake Temple is an impressive structure standing on the ten-acre Temple Square in the heart of Salt Lake City. For many years after its construction, the temple physically dominated the Salt Lake Valley. While other buildings now tower over it, the gray granite structure is still recognized as the religious symbol of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide. Millions of visitors annually have seen the building. Photographs of the temple have gone to scores of countries where people who have never personally seen the structure identify its striking presence with the Church and the city.
SITE SELECTION. Several days after the LDS pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847, Brigham Young planted his walking stick at a certain point while traversing the ground with some associates and exclaimed, "Here we will build the temple of our God" (Gates, p. 104).
CONSTRUCTION. Construction on the temple began on February 14, 1853, with Brigham Young turning the first shovelful of dirt in ground-breaking ceremonies. That April 6, the cornerstones were laid, following the pattern established for temples by Joseph Smith (cf. TPJS, p. 183). By this date, Truman O. Angell and William Ward, architect and assistant, had completed plans for the foundation and part of the basement, and Brigham Young had approved them. Sandstone from nearby Red Butte Canyon provided the basic material for the foundation and footings. The great walls of the building were to be granite from a vast mountain deposit in Little Cottonwood canyon about twenty miles away.
Workers cut slabs of granite in Little Cottonwood Canyon (c. 1872), about twenty miles southeast of Salt Lake City, for use in building the Salt Lake Temple. In the early years, the granite was moved to the temple site by ox team, a four-day journey, and after twenty years, by railroad. Stereoscopic image. Photographer: C.W. Carter.
The foundation was completed in 1855, and some granite blocks were assembled on the site. Then, in 1858, under threat of an approaching U.S. army unit (see Utah Expedition), the Saints evacuated Salt Lake City and temporarily moved southward. They buried the foundation of the temple, leaving the appearance of a plowed field.
Work on the temple was not resumed for several years. Some deterioration of the foundation was discovered when it was reexcavated, and replacements were made with stone of the best quality. The exterior walls from the ground up, eight feet thick at ground level and six feet thick at the top, were painstakingly prepared and fitted from solid granite.
Transporting the granite from the mountain quarry proved to be a severe challenge. The builders tried using a wooden railroad spur, a canal, special roads, and even a uniquely constructed wagon. Although it was less than forty miles, a round trip required four days. The arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 and the later laying of a spur into the canyon for mining purposes resolved the transportation problem.
As many as 150 men worked on the temple at any given time. During the forty years from the beginning to the end of the project, they also completed the construction of the great domed Tabernacle, the Assembly Hall, the Temple Annex, and a 15-foot-high wall that, a century and a half later, still sequesters Temple Square from the city that surrounds it.
COMPLETION AND DEDICATION. The capstone was laid April 6, 1892, one year before the dedication, amidst a tremendous spiritual outpouring of appreciation and anticipation. After the large spherical capstone was put in place, the people unanimously adopted a resolution to complete and dedicate the building one year from that date. That afternoon, the 12-foot-high gold-leafed copper statue representing the angel Moroni was placed on the central eastern spire, anchored through the capstone with huge weights suspended into the tower below.
The temple was completed within the year, and the dedication was held on the appointed dateApril 6, 1893forty years after Brigham Young laid the cornerstone. More than 2,250 people crowded the large Assembly Room on the fourth floor of the temple for the first of twenty-three dedicatory sessions that continued over almost three weeks. Many reported having spiritual experiences at the dedications. President Wilford Woodruff offered the dedicatory prayer, and the hosanna shout and original inspirational music were rendered (see Dedications). The sacred celebration was concluded with the singing of a special hymn saluting the sentiments of the people: the Hosanna Anthem.
INTERIOR DIVISIONS (DESIGN). Entrance to the temple for patrons is through an annex outside the main building. For the instructions and ordinances within, a processional plan is followed through several rooms, each signifying a stage in man's path of eternal progression. Each room is decorated with murals depicting that stage of the journey.
First is the Creation Room, where the creative periods of the earth are considered. Next, the events of Eden are the subject in the Garden Room. The World (or Telestial) Room depicts conditions following the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, providing a background for the Atonement of Christ, the great apostasy, and the restoration of the gospel.
In the Terrestrial Room, the requirements of the pure life and of complete commitment to the work of the Lord are taught. The path then leads through the veil of the temple to the Celestial Room, representing the "heaven of heavens," the glorious kingdom of God. On this level also are small rooms with altars for marriage and sealing ordinances.
The building also includes in the lower area a baptistry, and on other levels, a large assembly room, rooms where the leaders of the Church meet, lecture rooms, administrative offices, and dressing rooms.
SYMBOLISM. Notable among all LDS temples, the Salt Lake Temple includes significant symbolism in its architecture. The six major towers and finial spires signify the restoration of priesthood authority. Earth stones, sun stones, moon stones, star stones, cloud stones penetrated with rays of light, the all-seeing eye, the clasped hands, Ursa Major pointing to the North Star, and the inscriptions "The House of the Lord" and "I Am Alpha and Omega" all appear on its exterior.
UNIQUE FUNCTIONS. Notwithstanding the increasing availability of temples nearer to them offering the same religious experience, many members of the Church still travel long distances to receive their individual Endowment in the Salt Lake Temple or to be married or sealed as families in the same building in which parents or perhaps grandparents or other family members were married long ago.
This temple is also unique among LDS temples in that the highest quorums of the priesthood meet there. The First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Presidents of the Seventy gather separately as quorums weekly, and the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve also meet conjointly. All General Authorities meet there monthly.
It is also, as already noted, architecturally and artistically unique and is the most widely known and recognized building in the Church.
Anderson, James H. "The Salt Lake Temple." Contributor 14 (Apr. 1893):243-303.
Gates, Susa Young. The Life Story of Brigham Young. New York, 1931.
McAllister, D. M. The Great Temple (pamphlet). Salt Lake City, 1935.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, Salt Lake Temple
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company