NAUVOO, Illinois — Reflecting on the “devoted service and exceptional sacrifices” of early Latter-day Saints during a “tender but turbulent” time in Church history, Elder Quentin L Cook dedicated the Temple District of Nauvoo on Saturday, May 29.
The historic homes, landscapes and pavilions — located just west of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple — “help us remember” and “provide moral courage and spiritual strength” to visitors, said Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Some 50 people gathered for the dedication on a quiet, spring morning in a scenic location between the Nauvoo temple and Mississippi River. Another several hundred people participated in the event from other locations in the historic district, just opening up to tourists after 14 months defined by the COVID-19 pandemic. The dedication also marked the first public assignment outside of Utah for a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since March 2020.
“I love the early history of the restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said Elder Cook. “I treasure the sacrifices and dedication of our faithful early members who worked closely with the Prophet Joseph Smith. Despite poverty and other challenges, it is inspiring to contemplate what they accomplished.”
Elder Cook was accompanied by his wife, Sister Mary Cook, and Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., Church Historian and Recorder and General Authority Seventy, and his wife, Sister Jane Curtis.
Before the event, Elder Cook and Elder Curtis greeted Lachlan Mackay, an apostle in the Community of Christ church and his wife, Christin Mackay, Community of Christ director of the Joseph Smith Historic Site in Nauvoo. During the meeting, Elder Cook spoke of his “appreciation and gratitude for the tremendous relationship” shared by Latter-day Saints and the Community of Christ. “You have honored us by coming,” he told the Mackays.
“We share this heritage in this beloved place,” said Elder Curtis.
Elder Cook said the history of the Church in Nauvoo covers a relatively short period, from 1839 to 1846. Joseph Smith, martyred on June 27, 1844, led the early Latter-day Saints for five years in Nauvoo. “Even though the time was relatively brief, the guidance and instruction were seminal, especially pertaining to the restoration of all the temple ordinances,” said Elder Cook.
Speaking about the original Nauvoo temple on the 175th anniversary year of its dedication and the Saints’ exodus from the city where the Lord revealed the fullness of temple ordinances, Elder Cook said “exceptional physical, temporal and spiritual sacrifices” were made to complete the Nauvoo Temple. “The sacrifices that were made to build this temple are among our greatest historical heritages,” he said. “These sacrifices not only blessed the participants, but also subsequent generations.”
The temple, he said, was funded by three types of tithing. First, members contributed one-tenth of their assets. Second, they contributed one-tenth of their increase, as Latter-day Saints continue to do today. Third, the men tithed their workdays. In 1842, men from the 10 wards in Nauvoo worked on the temple every tenth day.
“As we think about this arrangement for building the temple, we understand why almost every family who has ancestors from this early Church period also has a true account of how those ancestors, with great personal sacrifice and dedication, helped build the Nauvoo Temple,” he said. “This represented a test of the Saints as a whole and has blessed the Church for generations.”
Elder Cook said it is important to understand how significant temple ordinances were to members of the Church in Nauvoo. “The records show that in the two months before the temple was closed and the Saints were forced to vacate Nauvoo, some 6,000 members received saving ordinances. These ordinances then sustained them through all the trials and tribulations they subsequently faced in their exodus to an unknown future.”
Elder Cook recalled the dedication of the rebuilt Nauvoo temple by President Gordon B. Hinckley on June 27, 2002, the anniversary of the Prophet Joseph’s martyrdom. “In that dedicatory prayer he said, ‘On this same site in the year 1841, thy people, under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and in obedience to revelation from Thee, began construction of a temple to the Most High. … May this sacred house stand as a memorial to him who lived here and was buried here, Joseph Smith, the great prophet of this dispensation, and his brother Hyrum, whom he loved.’”
Two great prophetic priorities occurred at the same time in the history of Nauvoo, Elder Cook said. “Missionaries were being sent across the world, and the Nauvoo Temple was being built to provide sacred saving ordinances for the living and the dead.”
The homes that now stand in the Nauvoo Temple district represent these prophetic priorities, and Elder Cook dedicated the following:
- The reconstructed William and Esther Gheen home. The Gheen family embraced the gospel and gathered to Nauvoo to assist with construction of the temple.
- The William and Caroline Weeks home, where William Weeks, the Church architect, designed the Nauvoo temple under the Prophet Joseph’s direction.
- The Edward and Anne Hunter home, where the Prophet wrote inspired epistles to the Latter-day Saints.
- The stone cutting pavilion built on what was the property of William and Elizabeth Jones.
- The West Grove, where the Prophet Joseph Smith delivered numerous sermons.
In addition to the temple district, Elder Cook dedicated the Orson and Marinda Hyde home, which has been renovated and highlights the apostolic missions of Church leaders during the Nauvoo period.
“We thank Thee for the rich legacy of the thousands of Saints who gathered here and settled Nauvoo,” Elder Cook prayed. “We are grateful for the revelation Thou gave the Prophet Joseph that they should build a House unto Thee in this place. We marvel at their sacrifices and dedication over several years to prioritize the building of the temple. We are grateful for the faith and industry of these early Saints in establishing a ‘temple city,’ a place of refuge where holy temple ordinances were fully revealed to Thy children.”
During her remarks, Sister Cook spoke of her ancestors who joined the Church in its infancy and contributed to the establishment of Nauvoo. “They suffered persecution and many hardships as they stayed loyal and dedicated to the witness of the Spirit they had when they were baptized,” she said.
Her great-great-grandfather, Edward Hunter, lived with his aunt and uncle — Edward and Anne Hunter — in one of the homes in the Nauvoo Temple District.
“I express gratitude for the pioneer heritage which I have,” said Sister Cook. “We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. I feel a debt and great sense of thanksgiving for the wonderful Saints who established this legacy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am grateful for the Prophet Joseph Smith and all the ordinances and covenants that have been restored through priesthood power.”
Sister Curtis also spoke of some of her ancestors who “walked, worshipped and died” in Nauvoo — including those who received temple blessings in the original Nauvoo temple.
“Nauvoo is coupled with the words ‘the Beautiful,’ which is a perfect description of this place,” she said. “Its buildings, its place in religious history and its faithful people who came and left, and made it beautiful in many eyes and hearts.”
Elder Curtis said the name of the area, the “Temple District of Nauvoo,” is appropriate for two reasons. “First, as you can see, the area we are dedicating is quite close to the temple and can appropriately be referred to as part of the same district,” he said. “Second, the structures we are dedicating in the district are all connected to the building of the Nauvoo Temple.”
The Church welcomes the new and restored homes, landscapes and facilities, he said. “We honor those who built Nauvoo and treasure the legacy that they left.”
At the conclusion of the dedicatory service, a choir of missionaries performed “O, My Father;” the hymn originated from a poem written by Eliza R. Snow In 1845 while she was living in the Temple District of Nauvoo.