In historic, sacred services held on Thursday, June 27, 2002 marking the158th anniversary of the martyrdoms of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the rebuilt Nauvoo Illinois Temple.
After an absence of more than a century and a half, a house of the Lord, with all the sacred ordinances administered therein, is once again majestically gracing an elevated site in Nauvoo, Ill., overlooking a bend in the Mississippi River. The present meets the past as the newly constructed temple, which replicates the design and structure of the original temple as far as possible, becomes the latest in an unprecedented era of temple building.
The original Nauvoo Illinois Temple was one of the most imposing buildings in the state of Illinois during its day. It was constructed at great sacrifice by faithful men and women who were eager to receive the sacred ordinances administered by priesthood authority and available only within the walls of a holy temple.
In the fall of 1840, the First Presidency announced the acquisition of a four-acre site in the newly named city of Nauvoo to build a house of the Lord. In a revelation the following January, the Lord declared that such a house (a temple) be constructed where He could "restore again that which was lost . . . even the fulness of the priesthood" (Doctrine and Covenants 124:28). Sacred ordinances not available since the days of the apostolic ministry in the meridian of times, and essential to enabling one to live in the presence of God, were once again to be restored to the earth. The promised ordinances would bless both the living and the dead.
In January, 1844, Joseph Smith spoke of the saints becoming "saviors on Mount Zion" and declared, "herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah. And I would to God that this temple was now done, that we might go into it, and go to work." (History of the Church, 6:184.)
Tragically, the Prophet suffered martyrdom just a few months later and the temple would take almost two more years to complete.
Portions of the temple were dedicated for use as they were completed, making it possible for an estimated 5,600 worthy members to receive their endowments before Brigham Young concluded this season of administering the sacred ordinances and the exodus west commenced. The official public dedication occurred May 1, 1846, by Elders Orson Hyde and Wilford Woodruff.
The magnificent Nauvoo Temple, built at such tremendous sacrifice and with such hopes, was left behind. Truly it remained a building of beauty, but no longer were the endowments administered; for priesthood authority and sacred ordinances had been withdrawn. The building itself was later destroyed by a combination of arson and a tornado. The remaining building blocks were also carried away so that all that was left was an empty site.
As he left Nauvoo for the last time, Elder Woodruff said: "The work in Nauvoo was done, henceforth the city of the Saints was to be nothing more to them than a memory until God should determine otherwise." (Wilford Woodruff's Daily Journals , 248.)
Today we witness the blessing of a loving Heavenly Father who through His prophet determined to rebuild the Nauvoo Illinois Temple. Many have expressed feelings of great satisfaction in seeing the temple once again upon the hill. However, true joy was experienced when President Hinckley, acting with authority and the inspiration of heaven, dedicated the new Nauvoo Illinois Temple. As a result of this dedication, once again the sacred ordinances can be administered in this temple to those prepared to enter the house of the Lord.
President Hinckley has said: "I urge our people everywhere, with all of the persuasiveness of which I am capable, to live worthy to hold a temple recommend, to secure one and regard it as a precious asset, and to make a greater effort to go to the house of the Lord and partake of the spirit and the blessings to be had therein. I am satisfied that every man or woman who goes to the temple in a spirit of sincerity and faith leaves the house of the Lord a better man or woman. There is need for constant improvement in all of our lives. There is need occasionally to leave the noise and the tumult of the world and step within the walls of a sacred house of God, there to feel His spirit in an environment of holiness and peace." (Ensign, November 1995, p. 53.)
May each member of the Church cultivate and act upon the desire to follow the counsel of a prophet of God to be worthy of holding a current temple recommend and to make the temple and temple covenants a more central part of daily living. The spirit felt at the dedication of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple can continue to be a regular part of one's life.