Original sunstones part of America’s religious history

The sunstones of the 19th-century Nauvoo Temple were so unique that one was deemed a valuable addition to the Smithsonian Institution's collection.

The Smithsonian paid $100,000 in 1989 for one of two known remaining complete sunstones to put on display in its National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

While carved faces were not uncommon elements in pre-Victorian architecture, the sunstone is "a unique piece of America's religious tradition," said David Shayt, a curatorial specialist in the Division of Cultural History at the Smithsonian. During a Church News telephone interview, he said the sunstone is a worthy piece of the museum's collection because of its size and because it represents a notable church with American origins.

The sunstone is prominently displayed on the second floor of the museum facing the National Mall, Mr. Shayt said. It is on a pedestal which keeps it out of reach and allows viewers to look upward at it, just as they would have at the temple.

The sunstone, which had been displayed at a museum in Quincy, Ill., was sold to the Smithsonian by the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County, according to the Feb. 18, 1989, Church News.

A mold of a sunstone for the Nauvoo Temple at State Stone in Murray Wednesday, November 22, 2000. Photo by Jason Olson
A mold of a sunstone for the Nauvoo Temple at State Stone in Murray Wednesday, November 22, 2000. Photo by Jason Olson Credit: Photo by Scott Winterton

The second complete sunstone was unveiled as a display at the temple site by President Howard W. Hunter on June 26, 1994, a July 2, 1994, Church News report stated. It is currently located in a glass case in front of the Church's Nauvoo Visitors Center.

There were originally 30 sunstones, one topping each of the pilasters, or support pillars, surrounding the temple — nine on each side and six each on the front and back. They have been duplicated for the rebuilding of the Nauvoo Temple.

The 2 1/2-ton stones have a carved radiant face emerging between cloud banks beneath a pair of hand-held trumpets.

Speaking during the 1994 unveiling ceremony in Nauvoo, President Gordon B. Hinckley, then a counselor in the First Presidency, mentioned the sunstones, along with exterior engravings of the moon and stars, according to the Church News. He said they "were undoubtedly inspired by Paul's writing in 1 Corinthians 15:40-42 "which compared the glory of the heavenly kingdoms to that of the sun, the moon and the stars."

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