Few members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can say "Nauvoo" without adding "the Beautiful."
Nauvoo, a major part of our historical, cultural and spiritual heritage, did not begin as a beautiful city. Refugees from Missouri mobs, the Saints arrived in 1839 at a swampy area on the east bank of the Mississippi River and began building their "city beautiful, Nauvoo," which, at its peak, had become the largest city in the state of Illinois. Nauvoo's crown jewel was the temple on the hill.
Construction began on the temple in October 1840; it was dedicated in a private service on April 30, 1846, and in a public ceremony the next day.
In that place and time, the temple was an architectural wonder. In its own right, Nauvoo was a phenomenon. Shortly after the city was abandoned by the last body of Saints in September 1846, Col. Thomas L. Kane traveled the Mississippi by steamer. Leaving the ship because of rapids and continuing his journey on land, he saw unimproved country where outlaws and idlers had settled. Then a different scene unfolded. He wrote:
"I was descending the last hillside upon my journey, when a landscape in delightful contrast broke upon my view. Half encircled by a bend of the river, a beautiful city lay glittering in the fresh morning sun. Its bright new dwellings [were] set in cool green gardens ranging up and around a stately dome-shaped hill, which was crowned by a noble marble edifice, whose high tapering spire was radiant with white and gold. . . ." (Memoirs of John R. Young, Utah Pioneer 1847 [Deseret News, 1920], pp. 31-33.)
While visitors of the day were struck by the outward beauty of the temple on the hill, Latter-day Saints past and present have been blessed to see more in Nauvoo's sacred edifice than the eye can behold. Few casual visitors recognize the real beauty that unfolded in Nauvoo — beauty brought by the hand of the Lord directing a band of His children during difficult times to construct an edifice unique in all the world where could be performed His sacred ordinances, "things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times." (See Doctrine and Covenants 124:41.)
The original Nauvoo Temple, abandoned as Latter-day Saints were driven from their beautiful city, was desecrated by mobs and nearly destroyed by fire. In May 1850 a tornado struck, toppling temple walls and weakening those that remained.
Now, more than a century and a half later, another temple stands in its place. On April 4, 1999, during concluding moments of the 169th Annual General Conference of the Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced plans to rebuild the Nauvoo Temple. The new building, he said, "will stand as a memorial to those who built the first such structure there on the banks of the Mississippi." (Ensign, May 1999, p. 89.)
The hundreds of thousands who visit Nauvoo in coming months and years will marvel at its outward beauty. Those fortunate enough to visit during the open house will see the beauty of its many rooms, period furniture, murals, art work and other details lovingly put into place. But it will be those who serve within after its dedication, June 27-30, who will recognize the real beauty of the temple, as is true of all other such sacred edifices.
In a recent interview, President Hinckley said there has always been interest in Nauvoo and "there always will be, on the part of our people. The thousands who lived in Nauvoo have become tens of thousands in their descendants. They look back on their people with affection and remembrance and with a great desire to honor them and respect them. And besides that, Nauvoo is the summit of the Prophet Joseph's experience. The temple which he began and saw pretty well to its conclusion was a great high watermark for him. His death in 1844 accentuated that interest, and the destruction of the temple after our people left all tended to make for a great interest in Nauvoo."
The rebuilt temple sits on the same site as the original. "The outside dimensions are the same and the view from the temple down across the city and out across the Mississippi to Iowa will be largely as it once was," President Hinckley said. "We've tried to create this great new monument to the tremendous faith and efforts of the past."
Once again, Nauvoo — the city beautiful — has its crown jewel on the hill.