Millions of Latter-day Saints around the world are rejoicing at the completion of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, culminating the yearning of more than a century and a half to "go back" to an ancestral home.
A lot has changed during that time; in an area where the Church once dominated until it was driven out by force, it is coming back as a guest of the local community to a spirit of cooperation and friendship.
The temple's rebuilding in this key historic area has attracted widespread interest throughout the Church.
"Everyone who is associated with that temple considers it a modern-day miracle," said Elder David E. Sorensen of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department. People, he said, have to pinch themselves as a reminder that the newly rebuilt temple is a reality, not a dream.
"Could we be living in a time and place where this [is] happening?" he asked.
Many multi-generational members, especially in the western United States, have familial connections to the western Illinois community of Nauvoo, and the rest of the members certainly have heritage and historic ties to the Church's last headquarters east of the Mississippi River.
"Nauvoo. . . is in our blood," said Elder Sorensen, who comes from forebears who immigrated to America in the 19th century for their temple blessings. His parents, he continued, were among the many members who, though they had never been there, wanted to "go back to Nauvoo."
Nauvoo is remembered as the city where in the 1840s half the Church's 30,000 members lived and were forcefully exiled from their city and their new temple, beginning in 1846.
"It almost brings you to tears to think of the tremendous sadness and suffering our people experienced," said Elder Sorensen. "Now to come back and to see this temple [again] overlooking the Mississippi River. . . is one of the great spiritual experiences of this life."
Paul E. Koelliker, managing director of the Temple Department, observed: "Walking down Parley Street to the river, you see that magnificent structure now standing on top of the hill and immediately you have a rekindling of the sacrifice the Saints made to receive their temple ordinances and, then walking west, leaving that which they had put their hearts and souls into."
The rebuilt Nauvoo temple is the third of three temples on historic sites. It is preceded by the Palmyra New York Temple, remembered for its being near the site of the First Vision; and the Winter Quarters Nebraska Temple, remembered as near the settlement and cemetery where the refugees suffered through a bitter winter during the western exodus.
The rebuilding of the Nauvoo Temple is a "tremendous tribute" to Joseph Smith and to those early Saints who gave their lives for this work, he said. It also comes as an exclamation point to a remarkable building phase in which the Church dedicated 61 temples in four years.
The long ago forced exile of the early members from Illinois was a polarity apart from the welcome back to the community received by the Church, said Elder Sorensen. "We couldn't have asked for more cooperation. We are associated with building temples all around the world and I don't think there has been one temple where we have had more cooperation from the local city fathers than we have had in Nauvoo, along with a great feeling of harmony, mutual tranquility and respect."
It was President Hinckley's father, Bryant S. Hinckley, president of the Northern States Mission in the late 1930s, who encouraged rebuilding the temple.
"Yet there wasn't a single person who walked on the property who didn't want to see the temple rebuilt," said Elder Sorensen.
"To me the real miracle of this work is, first, that the prophet has the vision and revelation to see this, and second, the faith of the Latter-day Saints who pay their tithes and offerings, to have the vision and the resources to complete this great work," he said.
Little miracles began to occur many years before the project started, including the return of the original temple drawings (see page 6), and the restoration of Nauvoo started in the 1960s by J. LeRoy Kimball. More recently have been the efforts of the builders to recreate structure from incomplete drawings, the addition of modern mechanical systems within the original dimensions, long periods of good weather to facilitate construction, and superb work done by master craftsmen.
"It is all built with the latest structural design to make it last a long, long time," said Elder Sorensen. "To go there and see [the builders'] dedication and faith is incredible."
The completed edifice is not a museum but a working temple, he emphasized. It is similar in flow to the Idaho Falls Idaho and Cardston Alberta temples that have progressive rooms with a film. Nineteenth century furnishings are reflective, but not duplicates, of the original.
The murals in this temple have prompted a return to the murals of early temples, said Elder Sorensen. "Murals have a high priority in our minds as a method of teaching," he said. "A return to murals has been instigated at the Nauvoo Temple by President Hinckley. They are beautiful and bring out the best in us; they are of magnificent art quality."
He encouraged members, if they visit Nauvoo, to not just vacation, but to take time to participate in temple ordinance work, "spending enough time, and returning, so that they can understand the whole temple experience, of which the murals are part."
"We look to the members in Nauvoo to take the lead in [attending the Nauvoo temple], but President Hinckley has said a recommend is good in any temple in the world, and worthy members are welcome at any temple at any time when the temple is open." However, he suggested, members should call ahead to ensure that there is space for them on a particular day. (453-6252, after July 1.)
The dedication services will be broadcast at appropriate hours all around the world, and expected to be the most widely viewed temple dedication in Church history, he said.
"We have a great legacy that comes to us, a legacy that comes not only from Nauvoo, but from all over the world," Elder Sorensen said. "There will be much rejoicing in heaven as well as all over the world."
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