The temple is the 'heart of sacred work'

The year 1993 marks the centennial of the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple. As part of the centennial celebration, the Museum of Church History and Art will soon have an exhibit of the Salt Lake Temple and its construction that should be seen by every member of the Church who can conveniently come to the museum. The exhibit will open the week prior to April General Conference.

On April 6, 100 years ago, the temple was dedicated in conjunction with general conference. Forty years in the building, this magnificent structure is recognized today as the "Mountain of the House of the Lord" spoken of by Micah, to which many nations would come. (Micah 4:1.)The Salt Lake Temple was seen in vision by Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff before the Saints arrived in the valley. There were initial discussions as to whether the temple should be built of adobe or of red butte stone, which is a sandstone. But Wilford Woodruff later said he knew it was to be built of cut granite, based on what he had seen in vision. (L. John Nuttall Papers, entry for Oct. 7, 1891.)

There is historical evidence to support that before the Saints entered the valley, Joseph Smith, in vision, showed Brigham Young the Salt Lake Valley and the layout of the city from the vantage point of Ensign Peak. (William Hepworth Dixon, New America 1:186-87; Junius F. Wells, "Brigham Young's Pre-vision of Salt Lake Valley," Deseret News, Dec. 20, 1924, p. 17.) Although arriving in the valley on July 24, Brigham did not designate the site for the temple until July 28. In the interim, he climbed to the top of Ensign Peak, possibly to confirm what he had previously seen. Later he struck his cane into the ground, marking the exact site of the temple and said, "Here is the 40 acres for the temple. The city can be laid out perfectly square, north, south, east, and west." ("Temple Square in Salt Lake City," LXII, No. 19, p. 6.)

That the Saints would go to the Rocky Mountains and build temples was prophesied by Joseph Smith as early as 1834. (Wilford Woodruff, Conference Report, April 8, 1898, p. 57.) By the time the pioneers arrived in Salt Lake Valley, they built and walked away from two temples. It was in the Kirtland Temple that the keys of previous dispensations were restored to the Prophet Joseph Smith. These same keys rest with the leaders of the Church today. It was in the Nauvoo Temple that all ordinances we recognize as being connected with temples were performed.

Although 40 years seemed a long time to build a temple, during this period many other things were going on in the growing Utah Territory. The Salt Lake Temple was the first temple begun after Kirtland and Nauvoo, but before it was finished, the St. George, Logan, and Manti temples were completed.

There were also other challenges. The Utah War and the arrival of Johnston's Army in 1858 brought the work to a stop. In fact, the foundation was covered over, and the temple site looked like nothing more than a "freshly plowed field." (Brigham Young, letter to John M. Bernhisel, May 6, 1858; Brigham Young Letterbooks, No. 4.) When work was begun after this crisis passed, it was determined that there was a defective foundation, with heavy granite blocks lying on a foundation of small stones together with deteriorated mortar, which would ultimately cause cracks. The foundation was torn up, and the heavy cut stones were laid at the base.

Another reason for long construction was the hauling of stone by wagons from Little Cottonwood Canyon. These stones weighed up to 21/2 tons, with the lighter stones being carried on top of wagons and the heavier stones being lashed to the bottom of wagons. It was a three-day trip from Little Cottonwood Canyon to the temple grounds. It was not unusual for the wagons to break down, and in some cases the stones, having broken loose, were left by the side of the road.

There were also instances of skilled workmen being diverted for the construction of other buildings in the city such as the Salt Lake Theater and ZCMI. In addition, Brigham Young accepted the contract to assist in completing the transcontinental (Union Pacific) railroad in Utah. While this drew away skilled labor, in the long run it also helped open the way to bring the necessary materials to the Salt Lake Valley for temple construction. It also laid the foundation for the building of a railroad line south through Salt Lake County and a narrow gauge railroad east from Sandy to Little Cottonwood Canyon, which greatly simplified the moving of the granite blocks and provided the impetus for the finishing of the temple. (Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Every Stone a Sermon, p. 27.)

William Weeks, architect of the Nauvoo Temple, came to Salt Lake City in 1847 to begin plans for the Salt Lake Temple. He only served in this capacity for a short time. Truman O. Angell came in 1853, and he is recognized as the major architect of the Temple. He worked under the close supervision of Brigham Young until President Young's death in 1877. Brother Angell himself died in 1887. He was succeeded by Joseph Don Carlos Young, who is credited with bringing modern construction techniques to the project and installing the latest conveniences, such as a steam radiator heating system and elevators. He received an engineering degree at the Rensselaer Institute, Troy, N.Y.

There are five major events connected with the construction of the Salt Lake Temple - the groundbreaking, the laying of the cornerstones, the record stone, the capstone, and the dedication.

The groundbreaking took place on Feb. 14, 1853. Brigham Young spoke, and Heber C. Kimball offered a prayer consecrating the ground. That the Saints were in their extremity can be seen by this quote from one present:

"I walked [to the meetingT the morning the ground was broken for the foundation of the temple. I went through frozen mud and slush with my feet tied up in rags. I had on a pair of pants made out of my wife's calico skirt - a thin Scotch plaid; also a thin calico shirt and a straw hat. These were all the clothes I had. It was go that way or stay home. I was not alone in poverty. There were many who were fixed as badly as I was." (From photographed statement, anonymous, appearing in the John F. Bennett picture collection on Church history.)

The cornerstones were placed on April 6 that same year (1853). The ceremony followed the pattern established by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo. At the site of each of the four cornerstones, there was a hymn, a speech, and a dedicatory prayer. There were as many as 200 working at one time. Wilford Woodruff said, "I spent this week in digging out the foundation of the temple. . . . I spent my time at hard labor to prepare the temple ground for the laying of the cornerstones of the temple." (Wilford Woodruff, Journal, April 6, 1853.)

The first cornerstone was laid in the southeast corner, where Brigham Young said the light of day comes. Brigham Young gave the oration and Heber C. Kimball, his first counselor, offered the prayer. This ceremony at the southeast corner represented the First Presidency. At this occasion, Brigham Young said that the temple fulfills the prophecy that the House of the Lord should be reared in the tops of the mountains. ("Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 6, 1853, p. 2.)

The second stone was laid in the southwest corner, with Presiding Bishop Edward Hunter offering the oration and Alfred Cordon, a bishop, offering the prayer. This ceremony represented the Aaronic Priesthood. Bishop Hunter called for the bringing forth of the best materials to construct the House of the Lord. (Edward Hunter, "The Salt Lake Temple," The Contributor, April 1893.)

The third cornerstone was laid in the northwest corner. John Young, president of the high priest quorum in the valley, offered the oration and G.B. Wallace, one of his counselors, offered the prayer. This ceremony represented the Melchizedek Priesthood.

The fourth was the northeast cornerstone. The oration was by Parley P. Pratt and the prayer was by Orson Hyde, both members of the Quorum of the Twelve. This represented the Apostleship or, as Brigham Young said, "the fulness of the priesthood." (Minutes of the Millennial Star, p. 481.) The Seventy were included here. Parley Pratt said the temple was being built so, "Heaven and Earth and the world of spirits may commune together." (Parley Pratt, Deseret News, April 6, 1853.)

On the evening of Aug. 13, 1857, Brigham Young crossed over from his office to the temple block. There, along with his counselors and a few members of the Twelve and other workers, he dedicated the record stone, which was built into the southeast corner of the temple, just beneath the first layer of granite. It contained a number of sacred books and manuscripts. ("Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," Aug. 13, 1857, p. 1.) The Saints knew at this time that Johnston's Army was approaching, and the record stone seemed to be a means of preserving some of their sacred records, not knowing what the future might bring.

In the dedicatory prayer, Brigham Young asked that the records might come forth at some time to be of benefit to the House of Israel. He also pled with the Lord that He would deliver them from their enemies. (Wilford Woodruff Journal, Aug. 13, 1857.)

By May 6 of the following year (1858), the temple foundation was covered. When Johnston's Army came into the valley, the foundation looked like another freshly plowed field.

With the threat of war past, the foundation was uncovered by Dec. 18, 1861, and the record stone was opened and its contents removed. (Wilford Woodruff Journal, June 10, 1862.)

We now move forward to April 6, 1892. Brigham Young and John Taylor have both passed away, and Wilford Woodruff is president of the Church. On this date, the capstone was put in place. The capstone is located on the center east tower and lies immediately below the Angel Moroni statue. In the capstone are copies of the four standard works and other theological works, photographs of Church authorities, and an engraved tablet giving a brief history of the temple's construction. (The Contributor, April 1893, pp. 275-77.)

At the close of the conference on April 6, President Woodruff spoke briefly to the congregation in the Tabernacle, following which, at 11:30 a.m., they moved to the temple site, where a platform had been erected. Held's Band played "The Capstone March," after which the choir rendered the "Temple Anthem." President Joseph F. Smith offered the dedicatory prayer, followed by the choir's "Grant Us Peace."

Architect Don Carlos Young then called from the top of the temple that the capstone was ready to be laid. President Woodruff made brief remarks before he pushed a switch that electrically lowered the capstone into place. The "Hosanna Shout" then followed. (Women's Exponent, Emmeline B. Wells, editor, April 15 and May 1, 1893.)

One observer described it this way: "The assembly was greater than any one witnessed before in our city. The estimate was that 30,000 persons were on or around the block. When the great song, `The Spirit of God' was sung by the united audience, a feeling thrilled through me different from any ever experienced. The Hosanna Shout was something long to be remembered and one I never expect to hear again during my life." (C. R. Savage Journal, April 6, 1892.)

It was at this conference of April 1892 that the call went out to finish the temple in one year's time. (Mary Ann Burnham Freeze Diaries, April 6, 1892.) There was some question if the interior could be completed on time, but President Woodruff and others encouraged the workmen.

Frederick William Hurst reports a meeting with President Woodruff, wherein he said: "Brethren, I will be here April 6 to dedicate this building. . . . This was shown to me 50 years ago in the city of Boston." Brother Hurst went on to say that he did not miss a day all that winter but was constant until the work was finished.

The dream mentioned by Wilford Woodruff years previous to the dedication had him standing on the temple grounds with the Salt Lake Temple completed. The people were milling around outside because the doors were locked. Brigham Young came to Wilford Woodruff and gave him the keys to the temple and told him to open the door and let the people in. Wilford Woodruff could not understand why he did not give the keys to John Taylor, who was senior to him, and Brigham young said it was because he couldn't walk. (L. John Nuttal Papers, entry for Oct. 7, 1891.)

By the time April 6, 1893, arrived, the dream was about to be fulfilled.

On April 5, 1893, the day before the dedication, a local newspaper noted that "Five thousand, [most non-membersT, visited the temple yesterday evening by special invitations. . . . The tour was very much appreciated and enjoyed by those who visited the building. The interior was a revelation of beauty."

The complex job of completing the Salt Lake Temple had come to a conclusion. This meant finishing everything from the baptismal font with its support of 12 life-sized cast iron oxen to the local artists who had been sent to France by the Church to develop their skills and who were called home to do the paintings on the walls in the Garden Room, the World Room, and other places in the temple.

Said the First Presidency in 1892: "We shall have the rooms artistically decorated. . . . We would like to get the benefit of the best artistic skill now in the Church in the decoration of this grand building." (Wilford Woodruff, George W. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith to John Clawson, Lorus Pratt, John B. Fairbanks, Edwin Evans and Herman Haag, April 18, 1892.)

Between the groundbreaking and the dedication, five workmen were killed and one baby was born at the temple. The baby was born when the mother went into labor during one of the dedication services, and she was removed to a side room. One report said that such a thing might be considered by some a desecration of the temple, but to the Saints quite the opposite is true. (James E. Talmage, Diary, April 7, 1893.)

On April 6, 1893, the Salt Lake Temple was dedicated. The services were held in the Solemn Assembly Room and repeated a number of times over the next several weeks so as many worthy members as possible could witness this event. Saints came to the dedication from all over the Church, which at that time was mostly located in what was the Utah Territory, being just three years before statehood was granted.

Said Amy Brown, one participant: "It was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. [President WoodruffT stood there before the people with hair and beard as white as snow, the essence of purity, gentleness, and faithfulness. He reminded me of the prophets of old." (In Retrospect, Autobiography of Amy Brown Lyman, p. 23.)

Said President Woodruff in his prayer: "Oh Lord, we regard with intense and indescribable feelings the completion of this sacred house. Deign to accept this, the fourth temple, which thy covenant children have been assisted by thee in erecting in these mountains." (Wilford Woodruff, Dedication Prayer from The Contributor, 1893.)

As part of the services, the sacrament was blessed and passed to those present. Extra sacrament was provided and blessed for distribution to members of the Church throughout the valley who could not be present.

The "Mountain of the Lord's House" was completed. As the gospel of the Kingdom is spreading now to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, and as scores of temples have been completed throughout the world, the Salt Lake Temple, the "Mountain of the House of the Lord," stands as an ensign to the Church and to the world and is recognized as being as the physical and spiritual heart of this sacred work.

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