"We had been told by the Prophet Joseph, that the Lord had given sufficient time in which to build the temple, and if we did not do it we would be rejected with our dead," remembered Wandle Mace, a mechanical engineer who had converted to Mormonism in New York City and had gathered with the Saints to Nauvoo. "We were therefore very diligent in our labors on the temple."
After the death of Joseph Smith, Brother Mace was appointed by Brigham Young, president of the Twelve, to coordinate much of the finishing touches on the glorious House of the Lord. "Men were as thick as blackbirds busily engaged upon the various portions, all intent upon its completion: although we were being in constant expectation of a mob," Brother Mace added.1The Lord had revealed His agenda for Nauvoo to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 124, a revelation that was recorded Jan. 19, 1841. Most of the principles of this lengthy composite revelation had already been announced in preceding months by the Prophet. The Lord's most important assignment to the Nauvoo Saints was to rear a new temple. The Lord admonished the Saints from all over the world to come with their gold, silver, precious stones, copper, brass, pine trees, and fir trees to "build a house to my name, for the Most High to dwell therein."
The reason for this effort and sacrifice, the revelation explains, was that "there was not a place found on earth that he
the LordT may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood." The revelation further enlightened the faithful Saints in their new "City Beautiful," or Nauvoo, that a temple was the appropriate spot to perform baptisms for the dead, washings and anointings, solemn assemblies, and the endowment of all the worthy Saints.
Work proceeded on the holy edifice as fast as the Saints could provide materials, money, and labor.
My own second great-grandfather, William Van Orden, tithed one labor day out of ten to work on the temple as did most able-bodied men in Nauvoo. The women provided clothing and food for the workmen and sewed beautiful curtains. William was different than some others who helped with the temple; he had come to Nauvoo a relatively wealthy individual. Back in his home town of Moravia, N.Y., he had served as a justice of the peace, was known as the "squire of Moravia," and had prospered as a farmer and land owner. When he came to Nauvoo, he had purchased a handsome story-and-a-half brick house for his family about a mile east of the temple on Mulholland Street. "Brother Joseph" often visited the Van Orden home and sometimes asked William and his wife, Julia Ann, for more funds to help with the temple.
The Prophet's brother Hyrum was chairman of the temple committee and daily oversaw its construction, in addition to his First Presidency and Church Patriarch duties. Unfortunately, only the basic shell of the temple above the basement floor that housed the functioning baptismal font was completed before Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred in June 1844. Sadly William Van Orden died at age 39 just a week after the death of his beloved Joseph and Hyrum. As a member of the Nauvoo Legion, he helped protect the slain bodies of his two leaders. After a night of standing guard in pouring rain, William contracted pneumonia and died within a few days. William would not be able to go through the temple during his lifetime to receive his endowment and be sealed with his wife, Julia Ann Haight.
When the Prophet and Patriarch died, the Twelve Apostles, excepting John Taylor and Willard Richards, were in the East campaigning for Joseph Smith's run for the presidency. Earlier the Prophet had said to the Twelve: "Upon you must rest the responsibility of bearing off the kingdom of God in all the world, therefore round up your shoulders and bear it."2
The Twelve did not fully comprehend this statement until Joseph was actually shot. But when Brigham Young learned of the killing, he seized the moment. President Young and the other apostles quickly returned to Nauvoo and conducted an outdoor meeting with the body of the Saints. President Young explained that the Twelve held the "keys of the kingdom of God," that they stood "next to Joseph, and are as the First Presidency of the Church."3 At this meeting Brigham Young was transfigured into the personage of Joseph Smith as a spiritual witness to many of the people. William Van Orden's oldest son, Peter Van Orden, my great-grandfather, proudly bore witness throughout the rest of his life to his children and grandchildren that he had seen this transfiguration.
Of highest priority for Brigham Young and the Twelve was the completion of the Nauvoo Temple. On Aug. 18, 1845, President Young explained to the Saints:
"If we do not carry out the plan Joseph has laid down and the pattern he has given for us to work by, we cannot get any further endowment – I want this to sink deep into your hearts that you may remember it. . . . We want to build the Temple in this place, if we have to build it as the Jews built the walls of the Temple in Jerusalem, with a sword in one hand and the trowel in the other. . . . Store your grain in Nauvoo for you will want it here to eat while you are building the Temple. I say to the hands on the Temple, be united; and to the Temple Committee, do not turn away any person because he is an Englishman, Scotchman, Irishman, or of any other nation; but employ every man you can and build the Temple and your homes. I would rather pay out every cent I have to build up this place and get an endowment, if I were driven the next minute without anything to take with me."4
Work on the Nauvoo Temple actually proceeded more quickly under Brigham Young than earlier. President Young was a consummate organizer. He also understood buildings, having worked as a master carpenter and having contributed his talents earlier to the construction of the Kirtland Temple.
Unfortunately, the conflict between the Nauvoo Saints and their western Illinois neighbors escalated to the point in October 1845 that a civil war nearly broke out. A tenuous peace was brokered by four representatives of Gov. Thomas Ford. Part of the agreement was that the Latter-day Saints would leave Nauvoo in the spring. Hence, work on the temple pressed forward even more devotedly in October and November 1845 despite economic hardship and anxiety about mob violence.
During November, Brigham Young and his brethren concluded that the temple endowments were too important to put off any longer. They would prepare the upper floor of the temple and dedicate it for the reception of the endowment of the holy priesthood for all worthy Saints in and around Nauvoo. The dedication ceremony took place on Nov. 30.
Joseph Smith had actually already administered the endowment ceremony before he died. Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, the Lord had revealed the glorious truths of the endowment to Joseph Smith. By May 1842 he was ready to administer it to his faithful associates. On May 4 nine men received their endowment. Through the end of Joseph Smith's life, he continued to administer the endowment to many men and their spouses. Approximately 70 people received their endowment prior to the martyrdom. Most of these ordinances were performed on the second floor of Joseph Smith's brick store. All other worthy men and women would wait for the Nauvoo Temple.
One hundred fifty years ago this month the first group of Nauvoo Saints went with anticipation to their beautiful temple to receive their long-awaited endowment of the holy priesthood. It was Wednesday, Dec. 10, 1845. For the previous several days finishing touches had been added to the attic story of the temple. The leading brethren and their wives brought in furniture, draperies, and cedar trees to adorn the temple where some of the sacred ordinances would take place.
Elder Heber C. Kimball of the Twelve and President Brigham Young's chief assistant in administering the ordinances in the Nauvoo Temple recorded in his diary on the eve of the first ordinances: "O Lord be with Thy servants and inspire their hearts with light and knowledge, so that they may not go wrong in the ordinance of the Holy Priesthood and Thy name shall have all the Glory."5
The leading brethren and many of their spouses daily led scores of Saints through the temple for their individual endowment. On some days more than 100 people received their endowment. Generally a husband came with his wife to experience the ceremony at the same time. This was a major time commitment for both the officiators and the recipients of the holy endowment – from four to six hours for each "company." This work went on day after day with hardly a respite, sometimes with two or three companies per day. Many times a ceremony would be conducted way into the night. Christmas and New Year's were not even important; receiving eternal ordinances was of prime significance.
Brigham Young noted in his diary for Jan. 12, 1846, that he had been giving himself "entirely to the work of the Lord in the Temple. Almost night and day I have spent, not taking more than four hours upon an average out of twenty-four to sleep, and but seldom ever allowing myself the time and opportunity of going home once a week."6
The endowment of the holy priesthood was not the only ordinance performed with great solemnity in the Nauvoo Temple in those seven precious weeks of December 1845 and January 1846. Sealings of wives to husbands "for time and all eternity" also took place for those who had gone to the temple for their endowment. Generally the sealing ceremony took place a few days after the couple had received the endowment.
During these two months of temple work, plans went forward for the imminent departure from Nauvoo. Indeed, the first group to leave Nauvoo left in early February 1846, just as temple ordinances were being finished.
Wandle Mace spoke of his working to get ready to migrate and added, "There was much to do and little time to do it. During these labors I was called to the temple to receive my endowments and sealings. He also quoted Joseph Smith's promise to him: "Those whose names are on the books showing their labors for the temple, shall have the first claim." Brother Mace complimented Brigham Young and the Twelve: "They saw that those who spent their whole time in these labors received the reward of the diligence by giving them a great endowment."7
This temple work in Nauvoo, performed in the name of the Lord and with the authority of the holy Melchizedek Priesthood, was accomplished under circumstances requiring huge sacrifices. Was it worth it? For the recipients, the answer is a resounding "Yes!" They were fortified with power against Satan, with commitment to serve God at all hazards, and with the true knowledge of the Godhead and man's relationship with Diety as they progressed through their eternal journey. Additional difficult sacrifices followed for these same Saints as they traversed a trackless wilderness to build Zion in the Rocky Mountains. They bore their burdens with the strength God granted them through the holy endowment. Such was the testimony of thousands of our forebears.
In the 1850s, Church Historian George A. Smith concluded that 5,634 brothers and sisters received their endowment in the partially completed Nauvoo Temple in December 1845 and January 1846. Sealings of couples continued on through Feb. 7, by which time more than 2,000 couples had been united by the priesthood for time and eternity.
I personally am eternally grateful that my ancestress Julia Ann Haight Van Orden received her endowment in the Nauvoo Temple on Dec. 19, 1845. In subsequent years after President Wilford Woodruff powerfully preached that the Saints should see to the endowments and sealing of their kindred dead, my great-grandfather Peter Van Orden acted in behalf of William Van Orden in the reception of his endowment. And with the permission of President Woodruff himself, Peter arranged for the sweethearts William and Julia Ann to be sealed by proxy in the Logan Temple.
Latter-day Saints worldwide can rejoice at the completion of the Nauvoo Temple for endowment and sealing work. Brigham Young was so imbued with the necessity of these ordinances that he made building temples in the new mountain Zion the highest priority. This led to more revelation on temple work for the living and the dead, and now we have 47 operating temples worldwide. President Spencer W. Kimball prophesied that one day hundreds of temples would dot the earth.8 All Latter-day Saints will have the same sacred privilege as those in Nauvoo 150 years ago.
1 Autobiography of Wandle Mace, LDS Church Historical Archives.
2 B.H. Roberts, ed., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 7:264.
3 Ibid, 7:233.
4 Ibid, 7:255, 256, 259.
5 Diaries of Heber C. Kimball, LDS Church Historical Archives, spelling and punctuation corrected.
6 As cited in Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, p. 126.
7 Autobiography of Wandle Mace.
8 See Richard O. Cowan, Temples to Dot the Earth, p. 198.