For the first time since 1927, Latter-day Saints in the metro Phoenix area will have a new temple.
The Gilbert Arizona Temple, which, at 85,000 square feet, is the largest temple the Church has built in 17 years, will be dedicated Sunday, March 2, in three sessions.
Prior to the dedication, Church members throughout Arizona have an opportunity to take family, friends and neighbors through an open house.
“This is a great day for members of our church,” Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, told a group from the media prior to a tour Jan. 15.
The public is invited to visit the temple Monday-Saturday, Jan. 18 through Feb. 15, except Sundays.
According to recent U.S. Census reports, the Phoenix metropolitan area is one of the fastest growing in the nation and its population tops more than 4 million.
The Mesa Arizona Temple, which is east of Phoenix and about 14 miles northwest of the Gilbert temple, was dedicated in October 1927 by President Heber J. Grant.
Elder Walker said Church leaders recognized substantial growth in Arizona and the fact that the Mesa temple was one of the busiest outside of Utah.
“The Mesa temple was becoming increasingly crowded and undersized to meet the growing number of faithful Latter-day Saints,” he said.
In 2008, President Thomas S. Monson announced plans to build three new temples in Arizona. The Gila Valley Arizona Temple opened in 2010 and the Phoenix Arizona Temple is under construction. Since then another temple in Tucson was announced and is in the planning stages. The Snowflake Arizona Temple opened in 2002, bringing the total to six in the state. The Gilbert temple will become the 142nd operating temple in the world.
Elder Walker noted that there are nearly 400,000 members of the Church in Arizona and approximately 100,000 will be within the Gilbert temple district.
He said the interest in attending the Gilbert temple open house has been “unprecedented.”
Before the open house began, more than 400,000 reservations had been made online to schedule a 25-minute tour.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the wonderful response from the community, and from people of all faiths,” said Elder Todd B. Hansen, an Area Seventy and a resident of Gilbert.
The tours start in the adjacent meetinghouse with a 12-minute video that features President Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of that quorum, explaining the importance of temples. The video illustrates the Church’s growth locally.
The video depicts the efforts of the earliest Latter-day Saints, who came to the area in the 1870s under the direction of President Brigham Young. Their endeavors, despite extreme difficulties of settling in the desert, laid the foundation for some of the expansive cities in the Phoenix area.
The town of Gilbert began as a train depot, named for the landowner who allowed the railroad to cross his property. The first congregation in Gilbert was officially organized in 1918. In 1975 the first stake was organized. In recent years the area was the fastest growing in the nation.
Ground was broken for the Gilbert Arizona Temple Nov. 13, 2010, on a 15-acre site at the southeast corner of Pecos and Greenfield roads in Gilbert. Soon after, a viewing and display area was created at the construction site for visitors to learn more about the temple and its purpose. More than 60,000 people visited, according to local leaders.
The temple is 82 1/2 feet high with a spire reaching 195 feet, making it the tallest building in Gilbert and one of the tallest in the cities east of Phoenix.
The agave plant, native to the southwestern United States, and its flower are used as a motif throughout the temple. The plant is a succulent with a large rosette of thick leaves, each ending in a sharp point. Each rosette grows slowly to flower only once and then dies. During flowering, a tall stem grows from the center of the leaf rosette and bears a large number of short, tubular flowers. Leaders say the interlinked agave leaf patterns could symbolize the eternal nature of marriage and family.
Inside the temple are numerous original paintings portraying the Savior and depicting Arizona scenery.
In conjunction with the dedication of the temple, there will also be a cultural celebration featuring more than 12,000 youth on Saturday, March 1.