Sitting with his family in his living room in April 1999 and listening to President Gordon B. Hinckley's surprise announcement that the Nauvoo Temple would be rebuilt, Lee Groberg was struck forcibly with the thought: "Somebody needs to document that story."
"I happened to know this good documentary filmmaker," Brother Groberg facetiously recalled in a recent interview. He, along with collaborator Heidi S. Swinton, already had a track record for two successful documentaries on Church history subjects aired over the Public Broadcasting Service: "Trail of Hope" (1997), about the Mormon westward exodus, and "An American Prophet" (1999) about Joseph Smith.
"I contacted and asked the Brethren if they would have any objection to my proceeding," he said. "They gave me encouragement."
Sister Swinton was enlisted to write the script and do the companion volume. What is emerging is a documentary film and companion book. The name of the film is Sacred Stone: Temple on the Mississippi. The book is titled Sacred Stone: The Temple at Nauvoo. (Filming will not be completed until after the temple is dedicated in June.) The film and book draw on hundreds of journal accounts, newspaper articles and commentary from some 50 scholars, many of whom are not members of the Church, to tell the story of the temple's construction, desecration and destruction, and ultimate reconstruction. Like its two predecessors, the film uses dramatic recreation and still photography and art to tell the story.
"It's exciting to me to see the story go full circle, from Joseph being arrested and murdered to having his temple completed then destroyed, to having it recreated, perhaps never to be tarnished again," Brother Groberg said.
The documentary traces the construction of temples in antiquity, setting a background for modern-day temple building, culminating with the reconstruction of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple.
"We have filmed every stone carving site in America and Canada," he said. "We went to France and filmed the blowing of the colonial glass that went into the windows. We filmed Charles Allen and Co. crafting the frames for the 4,000-plus individual panes. We filmed Tom Holdman creating the stained glass windows and skylights. We filmed the building inside and out as the stones were being placed, the hand carving of the oxen, sunstones and moonstones, and we talked to the craftsmen."
For Sister Swinton, who wrote the companion volume to the documentary, the project is the completion of a "trilogy."
"American Prophet is the beginning of the story," she explained in an interview. "Trail of Hope is the story of the Saints leaving Nauvoo, and Sacred Stone is the piece that connects them, the point where Brigham Young and Joseph Smith overlap. We didn't set out to write a trilogy, but we ended up putting one together."
Sister Swinton feels the Nauvoo Temple documentary goes beyond an account of the construction of a building.
In the preface to the companion volume, she wrote: "The essence of the story is not size, dimensions, timetables and floor plans. Nor is it the story of the town. For years, the Latter-day Saints have told of Nauvoo, elaborating on its picturesque setting, the social, cultural and economic development of a boomtown on the river."
Instead, the temple is and should be regarded as the centerpiece of the Nauvoo saga, she feels.
The reconstruction of the temple "really points us forward," she said in the interview. "The pattern of those people building a temple in their poverty provides an overlay for us today in doing what the Lord asks us to do."
Narrated by prominent actor Hal Holbrook (who also narrated Trail of Hope) Sacred Stone is planned to air on public television stations in the fall of 2002, beginning with KBYU-TV. The companion book will be available in bookstores May 6.
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