Following a procedure established by the Prophet Joseph Smith for the original Nauvoo Temple, President Gordon B. Hinckley on Sunday, Nov. 5, presided over the cornerstone dedication for the new Nauvoo Illinois Temple.
"We've had cornerstone services for many temples, but for this one, we are reverting to the past," the 90-year-old prophet-leader announced to the congregation of 4,600 who had gathered for the service. "We're trying to recreate as nearly as we possibly can that which took place here April 6, 1841."
On that occasion, with the Nauvoo Legion lending an air of pageantry, each of the four cornerstones of the original temple were set, with remarks made and a prayer given by officers of the priesthood at each cornerstone as designated by Joseph Smith.
Accordingly, each of the four cornerstones of the new temple, placed earlier, were mortared and blessed by general and local priesthood officers under President Hinckley's direction.
In remarks before dedicating the southeast cornerstone, the Church president captured the spiritual and triumphal essence of this occasion, in which the temple is being recreated on the very spot where the original structure was desecrated by a mob and burned by an arsonist after the saints were driven from their beloved city.
"My wife was asleep when I left this morning," he said, "and I left a note for her. It said, 'Have gone to Nauvoo. Will be back at 4:30 this afternoon.' Now that's a miracle! . . . If I had said to Brigham Young, 'Brigham, I'm going home this afternoon. It'll take me two hours and 10 minutes,' he would say 'You're out of your head.' Because he never could have imagined, never could have dreamed that we would fly through the sky at . . . . 550 miles an hour in coming to this place which they left with such sorrow, such misery and regret long ago."
He explained that the service begins with the southeast cornerstone because that is where the first light of day falls, and in construction of a temple, the Melchizedek Priesthood is on the east and the Aaronic Priesthood is on the west.
The Church president dabbed some ceremonial mortar on the block and then offered a prayer.
"We know that we are standing in a historic place, Father, at the construction site of the Nauvoo Temple, which was built in the 1840s and which was subsequently destroyed," he said. "It now becomes our great opportunity and privilege to build it according to the standards of architecture and in similitude of the temple that stood here in the 1840s. . . . We pray that this may become a holy site for Thy people across the world that they may wish to come here and to enter this holy house and here engage in the ordinances of the gospel and also reflect on what occurred here in this city of Nauvoo."
President Hinckley and the other leaders then progressed to the southwest cornerstone, where Presiding Bishop H. David Burton officiated and was joined in applying mortar to the stone by Bishop Merlin L. Reittinger of the Nauvoo Ward; Hans Smith, president of the teachers quorum; and Jared Brown, president of the deacons quorum. Bishop Burton remarked, "I see these cement walls have risen with some speed. I reflect on those tremendous sacrifices that took place to build this building originally, for the muscle that was used, for the economic resources that were expended, for the precious things of life that were sold to make this marvelous structure possible."
Bishop Reittinger gave the prayer, asking blessings upon "this city and this part of Thy vineyard, that those people that come will be courteous and kind, and people living here will understand that thy work will move forward."
At the northwest cornerstone, President Durrell N. Nelson of the Nauvoo Illinois Stake remarked: "I hope each of us today, as we contemplate this sacred occasion, will take time to remember the miracles of the past, will remember the miracle in which we're involved today, and will pledge to trust in the Lord that He will lead us in all of the miracles which will yet need to happen for this dispensation to be completed in all of its glory." He reflected on the conditions when he moved to Nauvoo 22 years ago and found a branch and district that have became a stake with 12 wards and almost 3,000 members. "I can bear witness that we do live in a day of miracles," he declared.
He and President Arthur Lee Noe of the Nauvoo Ward elders quorum then applied mortar to the stone. President Noe prayed for a blessing upon "all those who are here that they might remember this sacred building and have a desire to enter its walls to perform the sacred ordinances after its completion."
At the northeast cornerstone, President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, was joined in ceremonial duties by Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder L. Aldin Porter of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder Donald L. Staheli of the Seventy.
"Two months ago, the 100th temple [of the Church] was dedicated in Boston, Mass., and it is so fitting that the temple be rebuilt here," President Packer noted. "It was here that the revelation first came for baptism for the dead."
He traced some of the historical events surrounding the establishment of Nauvoo and the building of the temple, noting that the saints had been driven away from Kirtland, Ohio, where the first temple was built, and had been driven from Independence and Far West, Mo., before they could build temples in those locations. "And so they were hesitant when there came a revelation and the Lord said to build a house," but they complied with the commandment to build it at any cost, because He said He would reject them as a people if they did not, President Packer explained.
He recounted that they finished the temple in time to receive the spiritual blessings therein before being forced to abandon it and depart.
"And so the saints moved west, and then the temple was destroyed and burned, and the stones of the temple were scattered like the bones had been cremated, and the temple, in effect, was dead. But the Brethren carried with them to the West in their minds, not written on paper, the endowment, the washings, the anointings, the other ordinances of the temple. And it would be 30 years before a temple would be built where the work could proceed again, although part of it was carried forward in the Endowment House.
"So the temple died. But now, this day, it has come to a resurrection. The temple stands here again."
In offering the prayer, Elder Porter said, "Father, we remember before Thee this beautiful day those who originally stood before Thee more than 150 years ago."
Two choirs sang songs of the Restoration that were in the first hymnbook of the Church, the one compiled by Joseph Smith's wife, Emma. On the south side of the temple walls, missionaries from the newly organized Illinois Nauvoo Mission sang; on the south side, the singing was rendered by the Nauvoo Illinois Stake Choir.
Corey B. Hart, Nauvoo stake Relief Society president, gave President Hinckley a U.S. flag identical to what would have been flown in Nauvoo in the 1840s. Kathy Porter, Nauvoo Ward Relief Society president, gave him a modern U.S. flag. The president said, "When this temple is finished, we ought to have those flags in this temple."
The gifts paralleled the 1840 cornerstone service, when Joseph Smith, as lieutenant-general of the Nauvoo Legion, was given a silk national flag by the ladies of Nauvoo.
In 1939, the centennial year of the founding of Nauvoo, President Hinckley's father, Bryant S. Hinckley, was a mission president over the area that encompassed Nauvoo. He wrote to the First Presidency recommending that the Church rebuild the Nauvoo Temple, but the Brethren wrote back saying the Church didn't have the money to do so.
That occasion was recalled by both President Packer, and later in concluding remarks, by President Hinckley, who said: "Now, it becomes my opportunity and great pleasure, in association with my brethren, to see this work [the reconstruction of the temple] going forward. I think it will grace this whole area in a marvelous way and be looked to and looked upon as wonderful and significant, standing here as it does on the soil of Illinois, overlooking the Mississippi and out across the prairies of Iowa."
For deacon Jared Brown and teacher Hans Smith, participation in the cornerstone service was a unique privilege.
"I think it's an awesome thing," Jared said.
And Hans, who is confined to a wheelchair by cerebral palsy, said he felt lucky to have the opportunity come to him. He had only been president of the quorum for three weeks. Since the final decision to hold the service was not made until Tuesday, he was not notified until Wednesday. That meant his mother, RuthAnn, on a trip to Salt Lake City, could not make it back in time to see her son participate in the honor.
"She was sad, but I told her she can read about it in the Church News," her husband, David, said.
Among those attending the service were Conrad and Louise Radke of the Savannah Ward, Davenport Iowa Stake, who will be members of the temple district.
"I think it's fantastic that they're building it the way it was before, basically, and on the same spot," Brother Radke said. "The Lord moves in mysterious ways, but He works wonders."
"It's like going home again," said Sister Radke. "A lot of the people that love the Nauvoo Temple have ancestors who lived here in the 1840s, and they have that emotional bond. We don't truly have that because we don't have any direct ancestors who lived here, but we still feel the kinship." The Radkes joined the Church in the 1960s after visiting Temple Square in Salt Lake City and being impressed by the kindness of the people there.