President Gordon B. Hinckley saw Navuoo, Ill., for the first time 67 years ago, long before the Church began restoring any of its buildings or regained title to the site where the Nauvoo Temple stood. Yet, he said, there was something about Nauvoo that interested and captivated him.
"The year was 1935," he said of his first visit to Nauvoo. "I was on my way home from my mission. Homer Durham and I and two or three others went to Nauvoo. It was very quiet then."
In an interview with the Church News, President Hinckley said that on that first visit he sensed he was on hallowed ground.
Now the 91-year-old president of the Church looks forward to dedicating the rebuilt Nauvoo Illinois Temple June 27-30. He could not speak without emotion of the upcoming event, especially as it is framed in Nauvoo's history.
"When our people left there, they were refugees; they were driven out. The enemy was at their backs," he said of the Church's exodus from Nauvoo in 1846. "They had built those beautiful homes in that beautiful community. They were driven from it. [Some of] their lives were taken. They were threatened. They were badgered. They were fired upon. They had nothing else to do but leave, and they left, and couldn't take with them what they had built. They were impoverished, as it were, when they left. Many of them had lived in some degree of comfort, but when they left they were reduced in what they had.
"Now, all these years later, things have changed. The old days of persecution have died. The drivings, the burnings have disappeared. Our people are held in esteem and respect, by and large. They have been prospered in their affairs. The fact of the matter is that a very substantial portion of the cost of rebuilding the Nauvoo Temple has come from donations of the people who wanted to give something, to be a part of that process of rebuilding it. They have given generously, and we very much appreciate that. We just can't help noting the tremendous contrast between the circumstances under which they left in 1846 and the comfort and prosperity and affluence with which this generation goes back to honor them."
The first dedicatory session for the new temple in Nauvoo is scheduled to be held June 27, at 6 p.m. (Central Daylight Time). On that date and hour 158 years ago the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred at nearby Carthage, Ill.
"We determined on that date because that was the sunset on Joseph's life," President Hinckley said. "I simply felt that the dedication of this temple would be a beautiful remembrance of that sad event of the sacrifice which he made in giving up his life. And what a nice thing it would be upon the anniversary of that afternoon if we could dedicate this beautiful reconstructed house of the Lord, which in a large measure will stand as a memorial to him."
By and large, Church members focus on Joseph Smith's many accomplishments, "but we must never forget his death," President Hinckley added. "His death marked the giving of his life as a testimony of the truth of this work. It was a great capstone, really, when all is said and done, of his career as the Prophet of the Restoration. His death became a testimonial of the truth of what he taught and the work he did, of the restoration of the gospel and all that it implies.
"As we dedicate the temple on the 27th of June, we'll be remembering the events of the 27th of June, 1844, that sorrowful and sad day in the history of our people, when the Prophet of this dispensation was killed at Carthage. It's a date that will always remain strong, clear and bright in the history of our people, and one that we should never forget."
President Hinckley sees the completion of the Nauvoo Temple as fulfillment of a long-held dream. In the 1930s, his father, Bryant S. Hinckley, presided over the Northern States Mission, headquartered in Chicago, Ill.
"When the Nauvoo centennial was commemorated [in 1939], he went to Nauvoo with newspaper reporters and others from Chicago," President Hinckley said. "They had a big celebration in Nauvoo. He wrote to the Brethren concerning rebuilding the temple. But we didn't own the site then, and there were some questions about some phases of the work, and it was in the depths of the Depression. Nothing happened. Since then, something has happened, and we will be a part of it in June."
President Hinckley said that the dedication of the Nauvoo temple is one of the more historic events in living memory. "I hope it will be so regarded. This is a milestone in the history of the Church to rebuild that temple, dedicate it, start it on its course as a working temple of the Church. It will be the 113th working temple of the Church. It will become a focal point for our people. I think the people of Nauvoo can't keep that temple busy themselves. The patronage of the temple will depend upon visitors, for the most part. They will come from far and near and everywhere, I think, and appreciate very much the opportunity of serving in the house of the Lord there, on the very ground, the very place, where the Prophet Joseph constructed the house of the Lord."
At various times, President Hinckley has referred to a portrait of Brigham Young that hangs in his office; he has said that he sometimes "talks to Brother Brigham." Asked what he would say to Joseph Smith, President Hinckley paused, then with some emotion, he replied, "I would say to the Prophet Joseph Smith: 'We've come back to honor you, and pay respect to what you did as the leader of our people, as the Prophet of this dispensation, to make available to the members of this Church throughout the world a sacred house of the Lord where they may do the work which you began as a prophet of the Lord. We're here to remember you. We're here to honor you. We're here to pledge our own faith to the faith which you and your people carried in those dark and difficult days.' "
Asked to share some of his thoughts about being the Church president who brought about the rebuilding of the Nauvoo Temple, President Hinckley said, "I think, inevitably, the Nauvoo Temple would have been rebuilt some time, but mine has been the great opportunity to bring that about, for which I feel deeply grateful. I have some roots in Nauvoo. I'm only the third generation from Nauvoo. My grandfather was there as a young man. My father was the mission president there in the area that included Nauvoo. Now I'm there. It's three generations in a direct line, so there are some emotions to it.
"Yes, I'm satisfied that it came as inspiration to make that decision, to bring about that decision to rebuild the temple there. I'm satisfied of it. It's an outgrowth of the temple construction work that we've been doing through these years. This is a big chapter in that saga of temple building, and a very important chapter, meaningful chapter. But we're just grateful that it's here."
President Hinckley expressed appreciation to the people of Nauvoo, "the mayor, city council and all others who have worked so cooperatively to make this possible; the state of Illinois, which has worked cooperatively.
"Some interesting things have come together to make all of this possible and attractive. . . . Things come together when you're trying to do the Lord's work. Things come together in a remarkable way. It all works out. There are obstacles. There are problems. There are concerns. But the Lord lets you worry. He lets you fret, stew and wonder, but He sees you through. That's what's happened. I think it's a great thing, a marvelous thing."