Symbolism: Symbols in architecture of the temple are 'a means of teaching'

Symbolism is a means of teaching, and in the Nauvoo and Salt Lake Temples, there were and are a number of symbolic stones.

Orson F. Whitney said, "The universe is built on symbols whereby one thing bespeaks another; the lesser testifying of the greater, lifting our thoughts from man to God. . . . God teaches with symbols; it is His favorite method of teaching. The Savior often used them." (Improvement Era, August 1927, p. 851.)The symbolic stones in the Salt Lake Temple are less detailed than were the stones in the Nauvoo Temple. This is because the Nauvoo Temple was made of a softer stone which could be easily carved. After the decision was made that the Salt Lake Temple should be constructed of granite and as the walls rose, the carving of these stones had to be simplified because of the difficulty in working with the hard granite surface.

"The original plan contemplated adobe walls trimmed with facestone (easily carved sandstone), accordingly the plan shows more enrichment in the trimmings than practicable with granite to which walls and trimmings were subsequently changed." (Truman O. Angell Sr., Architect, April 29, 1886, letter to President John Taylor, First Presidency Presidential Papers, LDS Church Archives.)

We are not entirely sure of the meaning of all of the symbolic stones and their placement. Neither Joseph Smith nor Brigham Young said too much about these. Brigham Young said, "Figures (symbols) are reduced to reality, and realities are exhibited by figures, and those who have the Spirit and understand, derive great comfort and consolation from that source."

The temple itself was to be a symbol. Said Wilford Woodruff, "With the completion of the temple in Salt Lake City, whose very appearance is a symbol of purity and peace, whose existence is a witness of the favor and power of God, the work of temple-building by the Saints does not cease." (Wilford Woodruff, The Contributor, 1893.)

Brigham Young made it clear that of the six spires on the temple, the three on the east represent the First Presidency and the Melchizedek Priesthood. The three spires on the west, which are slightly lower, represent the Presiding Bishopric and the Aaronic Priesthood.

On the west central tower are stones representing the seven stars of Ursa Major, or the Big Dipper, which points to the North Star. Architect Truman O. Angell defined this as meaning the lost shall find their way with the help of the priesthood.

The statue of the Angel Moroni which sits at the top of the temple is a reflection of the restoration of the gospel as mentioned in Rev. 14:6.

Each tower has a spire and 12 pinnacles which architect Angell said are representative of the First Presidency, the Twelve Apostles, and the "high council." (Millennial Star, XXVI, May 5, 1874, pp. 273-275.)

There are also on the exterior of the temple, the earth, moon, sun and star stones.

On the front of each pedestal are stones depicting the earth, and on each buttress is a figure of the moon represented in its different phases. As a result of lunar observations made in 1878, the moon stones are laid out in a sequence of 50 quarter-phases of the moon, representing one year. The key month is April, and it is shown on the center east tower. (George A. Smith, quoted in James Henry Anderson, "The Salt Lake Temple," The Contributor, Vol. XIV, No. 6, April 1893, p. 275.)

On each buttress is the full face of the sun.

The temple also has stones showing clasped hands, which Elder James E. Talmage said has reference to brotherhood and the free offering of the right hand of fellowship. There are also stones depicting the all-seeing eye of the Lord. These motifs are reported to be carved in limestone rather than temple granite.

There are also cloud stones showing rays of light coming through, which the architect described as the light of the gospel dispelling the clouds of superstition and error.

In addition, there are the inscriptions "Holiness to the Lord," "The House of the Lord," and "I Am Alpha and Omega."

Architect Angell said that the picture stones on the temple were derived by President Brigham Young after intense study of scripture, particularly the Old Testament.

It is clear that the meaning conveyed by these representative stones is that the temple is a place where Heaven and Earth come together for the benefit and salvation of mankind.

Elder Loren C. Dunn, executive director of the Historical Department and president of the Utah Central Area, is chairman of the temple centennial committee.

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