Cover Story: Nauvoo Temple to be rebuilt on original site

When the Nauvoo Temple is rebuilt, it is anticipated it will occupy the same site and bear the same external appearance as the original edifice that was constructed 153 years ago.

Moreover, it likely will be built with stones quarried from the same areas in Nauvoo as that first temple, constructed by faithful Latter-day Saints under the leadership of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.

"We anticipate, if possible, it will be built on the original footprint," said Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy, who presides over the Church's North America Central Area.

He added that it is anticipated the interior of the new structure will be built to accommodate regular temple work as in any of today's temples.

And, he said, stones from the same or nearby quarrieswill be used.

Elder Pinnock said it is not yet known when construction will begin on the temple. "On all items pertaining to the Nauvoo temple we wait for further information from President Hinckley who loves temple work and loves Nauvoo," he said.

"As the area presidency with responsibility over the North America Central Area, we were excited and pleased as President Hinckley made the announcement [on April 4 during the concluding session of general conference]," Elder Pinnock said. "And we have learned that the people in Nauvoo are comfortable with it."

"Comfortable" might be understating the mood just a bit.

"I'm on Cloud nine thinking about this," said Mike Trapp, a Church member who moved to Nauvoo 18 years ago, attracted by the heritage of the historic city and who publishes a seasonal periodical called the Nauvoo Neighbor, named after an 1840s-era newspaper published in the city.

"We were always hoping this would happen," he said.

The temple was not just the center of the cityscape of 1840s Nauvoo, but it was at center of Nauvoo's identity and cultural consciousness. That it remains so today, 151 years after it was destroyed, is all the more remarkable.

Its rise paralleled Nauvoo's development as one of the major cities in Illinois, rivaling Chicago in size; its destruction attended the city's rapid decline following the exodus of the Latter-day Saints.

Nauvoo was founded in 1839 after Joseph Smith's followers drained a Mississippi River swamp to make the land habitable. Barely a year later, the prophet began to unfold the eternal teachings that would have their ultimate expression in the completed temple.

On Aug. 15, 1840, in a sermon at the funeral of Seymour Brunson, he taught the principle of baptism for the dead. So eager were the Saints to implement the doctrine that the first baptisms for the dead were performed the next month in the Mississippi River.

On Jan. 19 of the following year, the prophet received the revelation now recorded as Section 124 of the Doctrine and Covenants, giving the purpose of the temple which the Lord commanded to be built. "For therein are the keys of the holy priesthood ordained, that you may receive honor and glory." (Verse 6.)

The temple cornerstones were laid in a grand ceremony April 6, and a temporary baptismal font, enclosed in the basement, was dedicated Nov. 21. On that date, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and John Taylor served as officiators for 40 persons baptized for their kindred dead, said Susan Easton Black, BYU Church history professor.

Construction of the temple was steady, limestone blocks blasted from quarries were hauled to the temple site by wagon. Workmen tithed their labor, contributing one day in 10 to the temple's construction, while women donated precious heirlooms and coins to fund the construction, as well as providing food and clothing for the workers.

As the temple construction progressed, other key ordinances were unfolded. Revelations on celestial marriage (D&C 131, 132) were given in May and July of 1843.

Meanwhile, the first rafts arrived on Aug. 4, 1842, carrying high quality lumber from Church-operated sawmills in the Black River area of Wisconsin for the interior work. With the walls four feet high, the first official meeting was held on the temporary first floor of the temple Oct. 30, 1842.

In March and April 1844, the prophet conferred the keys of temple work upon the Quorum of the Twelve, a fortuitous event, as he was martyred just two months later, on June 27.

Under leadership of President Brigham Young and the Twelve, progress continued on the temple, with the capstone placed on May 24, 1845. The attic story was dedicated for ordinances on Nov. 30, and the first full endowments given on Dec. 10. By the time the exodus was finished, 5,595 endowments had been given in the Nauvoo Temple.

The temple was finished even as the Saints were in the process of abandoning the city. The public dedication conducted by Orson Hyde and Wilford Woodruff did not take place until May 1, 1846, three months after the exodus began.

Col. Thomas L. Kane, a friend of Brigham Young and other Church leaders, visited Nauvoo soon after the exodus and graphically described the vile manner in which mobs desecrated the temple. (See B.H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church 3:19-20.)

On Oct. 9, 1848, an arson-caused fire destroyed the temple interior.

On May 27, 1850, a tornado destroyed most of the north wall and so severely weakened the east and south wall they had to be removed. The stronger west wall remained standing as a landmark, but in 1865, the Nauvoo City Council ordered it removed.

In 1937, Wilford Wood of Bountiful, a descendant of Nauvoo Latter-day Saints, purchased most of the temple property, acting under assignment from the First Presidency. By 1969, the temple site had been landscaped and developed as a visitors attraction. Today, large circles of brick can be seen on the west end of the excavation, covering the foundations of the temple's two circular staircases. In the center of the foundation of the baptismal font, and to the east of that is the well that filled the font with water.

It is at that location that it is anticipated the temple will be rebuilt, in President Hinckley's words, "as a memorial to those who built the first such structure there on the banks of the Mississippi."