Episode 179: Church historians reflect on the spiritual significance of the historic Kirtland Temple, other sites, artifacts

Historic sites ‘remind us of events, they remind us of people, they tie us to the past. But above all, they help us to know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty,’ said Elder Kyle S. McKay, who joins the Church News podcast with historian Matt Grow

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has purchased the Kirtland Temple — the first temple built in this dispensation — from Community of Christ, leaders of both faiths announced Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

This episode of the Church News podcast features Elder Kyle S. McKay, General Authority Seventy and Church historian and recorder, and historian Matt Grow, managing director of the Church History Department, discussing the historic purchase, which also included landmark buildings and other artifacts. Of the purchase, President Russell M. Nelson declared, “We are deeply honored to assume the stewardship of these sacred places, documents and artifacts.”

The Kirtland Temple will remain a historic building and will not be converted into an operating Latter-day Saint temple, according to the question-and-answer statement released by the Church. The Kirtland Temple, as well as the other historic buildings — all in Nauvoo — closed March 5 to facilitate the transfer of ownership and will reopen to the public on March 25.

“We are deeply grateful for what [Community of Christ] has done over the decades, for well over a century, to care for the Kirtland Temple, to care for the properties in Nauvoo, to care for these manuscripts and artifacts,” said Grow.

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Elder Kyle S. McKay: I view the acquisition and then contemplate what I have learned from it as a personal matter. What happened in Kirtland has far-reaching effects on me and my family, my ancestors and my posterity, personally; the keys of the gathering of Israel, the keys of the sealing power. We are not celebrating an isolated experience, but the blessings of heaven called down upon the Saints then by the Prophet Joseph are accessible to us now, through the ordinances. That is why we are thrilled to have everything that we just acquired. They remind us of events, they remind us of people, they tie us to the past. But above all, they help us to know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty.


Sarah Jane Weaver: This is Sarah Jane Weaver, executive editor of the Church News, welcoming you to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We often use the word “historic” to describe events reported on the Church News podcast; and today, that word has never had more meaning. On this episode, we discuss The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ historic purchase of the Kirtland Temple, the first temple built in this dispensation, from Community of Christ. Both faiths announced the acquisition, which also included historic buildings and other artifacts, in a joint statement released Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Of the purchase, President Russell M. Nelson declared, “We are deeply honored to assume the stewardship of these sacred places, documents and artifacts.”

Joining this episode of the Church News podcast are Elder Kyle S. McKay, a General Authority Seventy and Church historian and recorder, and historian Matt Grow, managing director of the Church History Department. Thank you, both, for joining us today.

Elder Kyle S. McKay: Thank you.

Matt Grow: Thank you.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, the Church has been abuzz with this news. We are so excited to talk more about these cities and these buildings and these artifacts. And as we start today, I’d love to talk a little bit about Community of Christ and the mutual, respectful relationship the Church shares, and the way they cared for these properties and the stewardship they’ve had for so many years.

Tell us how this acquisition was even possible. And, Elder McKay, we’ll have you go first with that.


Elder Kyle S. McKay: Well, it’s because of the relationship that you just identified. We have, over the years, especially in the recent decades, enjoyed a wonderful, respectful relationship with them. And my colleague here, Matt Grow, has pointed out that the beginning of the thaw, for what was initially a chilly relationship, really had its roots in Church history, that we shared this heritage. And both institutions cherish that heritage. And because of that mutual love that we had for the heritage, we used that as a bridge. And it’s just continued and has been strengthened over the years. And it’s led to this historic announcement on Tuesday.


Matt Grow: And we are deeply grateful for what they’ve done over the decades, for well over a century, to care for the Kirtland Temple, to care for the properties in Nauvoo, to care for these manuscripts and artifacts. They’ve done so professionally, they’ve done so with great respect and love. And the joint announcement between Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints talks about transferring a stewardship for these responsibilities. It’s a sacred trust that they’ve had. And we deeply feel the sacred trust that we’ll have going forward to continue that legacy of preservation and access to those sites.


Sarah Jane Weaver: If each of you can also give us a high-level kind of view on the significance of Kirtland and Nauvoo in Church history. That will sort of set the stage for what we need to talk about next, which is each of these individual properties.


Elder Kyle S. McKay: The Lord, early on, gave the command that we gather into one place, and that was in the 29th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, in 1830. At that time, a specific place had not been identified, but the first place that was eventually identified was Kirtland, Ohio, and the Saints began to gather there. Then we have this building up of the Kirtland Temple, and the keys of the gathering of Israel are restored in that sacred edifice on April 3, 1836, along with other keys, the sealing power.

And then the gospel really does start to roll forth, both in application in individual lives and institutionally as Israel is gathered. Then, in Nauvoo, we have a fulfillment or a continuation, if you will, of the promises and the blessings that were restored in Kirtland. The sealing keys and sealing power, for example, were not fully exercised in Kirtland, but they were, they began to be exercised in Nauvoo. And so you have these two places that become historic and sacred to us and to the Lord.

An aerial view of the Kirtland Temple, showing the cemetery next to it and the buildings across the street.
The Kirtland Ohio Temple on Saturday, June 2, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and Matt, you’ve had to spend so much of your career studying these places.

Matt Grow: Kirtland and Nauvoo are both so foundational to the early Church. The Church has only been organized eight or nine months when the Lord declares, “Go to the Ohio,” go gather in Ohio and Kirtland, where there’s now a growing group of converts. And the Saints stay in Kirtland from 1831 to 1838. And then the gathering in Nauvoo begins in 1839. And, of course, Joseph Smith will be killed there in 1844. And the Saints will leave for the American West from Nauvoo in 1846. So, they’re in both of those cities about seven years. And so much of what we do in the Church today, so many of the doctrines that we cherish, were restored either in Kirtland or in Nauvoo.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And Joseph Smith spent more time in Kirtland than in any other city in his adult life. And the Saints sacrificed so much for the Kirtland Temple, which we celebrate for the really amazing things that happened there, including the appearance of Jesus Christ Himself. And then, of course, Moses and Elias and Elijah.


Elder Kyle S. McKay: It’s true. When you make reference to the sacrifice the Saints made, I can’t help but draw a comparison between this humble Kirtland Temple and the opulent, extravagant temple that King Solomon was able to build, where it was — most of the interior was covered with gold. And then you think of the Nephite temple that Nephi talks about, that it wasn’t as nice as Solomon’s temple, but he said it was “exceedingly fine.”

And then you have this humble Kirtland Temple that was built in the Saints’ poverty, they used their broken china, the stuff that was broken, they used in order to cobble together materials to create the surface, the exterior surface, And it’s just a humble offering, but it was all that they had. And the thing that’s impressive is the Lord accepted the Kirtland Temple just the same way He did Solomon’s temple, and He promised to abide there and be with His people.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and Matt, in the joint statement — and the question-and-answer that accompanied it — it said that the Church is going to leave this temple as a historic site and not try and convert it to a dedicated temple where we do temple worship today.


Matt Grow: That’s right, and we’re so excited that the Kirtland Temple will be preserved, as it long has been. And for those of us who work in Church history and care for the Church’s historic sites across the United States, the Kirtland Temple is just going to be such a special site. Our historic sites both celebrate how Latter-day Saints have lived through time, but they also celebrate those moments when heaven and earth came together in really spectacular ways.

And so the Kirtland Temple is akin to the Sacred Grove, where God the Father and Jesus Christ Himself appeared to Joseph Smith. It was in the Kirtland Temple in a very similar way that Jesus Christ appears to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, and then additional prophetic messengers restoring authority. And so, for us to be able to interpret and give access to this holy site, the Kirtland Temple will do so much good in building faith in Latter-day Saints as a historic site than it probably could as a functioning modern temple.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and it’ll be closed for a few weeks, but before we know it, it’ll be open, and anyone who wants to go see it can, correct?

Matt Grow: Absolutely. And we are so excited that after closing for just 20 days, on March 25, we will reopen the doors of the Kirtland Temple, as well as the historic sites in Nauvoo, and invite visitors. And we’ve written tours that will celebrate these core events of the Restoration that took place there.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I really loved the timing of this announcement in connection with RootsTech Family Discovery Day, because you have President M. Russell Ballard, who loved these areas, who loved his own heritage that connected him to Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Hyrum was his great-great-grandfather. And so, as part of Family Discovery Day, there is a video that’s created with him at the sites, talking about the significance to him and to the Church.

And then just after we celebrate that, you know, it’s just a few days later that we learned that the Church will resume the stewardship for these places. And so, it feels like a lot of attention has been kind of building and focusing on this moment.

President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talks during an interview inside the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Friday, June 2, 2023.
President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talks during an interview inside the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Friday, June 2, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News


Elder Kyle S. McKay: There has been a lot of attention and momentum. And we feel that we’re prepared now for this time and for this responsibility and stewardship. I think it’s also worth noting that our assumed stewardship of the Kirtland Temple and some of these other properties happens at about the time the Kirtland Temple was initially dedicated. We will reopen it to the public on March 25. The actual dedication date was March 27. And that’s significant. And then, of course, a week later come these heavenly messengers, beginning with Jesus Christ. But it all seems to gather together and come forth in what looks like an orchestrated manner. But we just did our part and are happy to be now in this position.


Matt Grow: The other fun part about the timing of RootsTech — of course, the President Ballard video is just terrific — but had Elijah not come to the Kirtland Temple in 1836, there would be no RootsTech, there would be no great effort to gather our family history work, there would be no great effort to do the ordinance work in the temple. It all stems back to that visit of Elijah.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and Matt, I want to detail a little more about so much of what happened in Kirtland in such a short time period. You’re talking about seven years, and in that time, just a few things, including the Lord revealing to His covenant people the priesthood organization of the Church, we ordained the first high priest, the first stake of Zion is created, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is established, and the Council of the First Presidency is created. And so, so much happened in such a little time period.


Matt Grow: And the Kirtland Temple is so foundational to most of what’s going on in Kirtland. We already referenced the commandment that the Lord gave to the Prophet Joseph to go to the Ohio. And in that revelation, Joseph is told that in Ohio, the Saints would be “endowed with power.”

And as they build their city in Kirtland, and as the Church’s organization develops — so yes, now we have a stake, and now we have bishops, and now we have a Council of the First Presidency, and now we have the Quorum of the Twelve — as all of that is happening, the temple is rising on the hill, and so much of the community’s resources, so much of their spiritual resources and then their temporal resources, are being poured into that temple because they have heard the Lord’s promise that there in that temple, they would be endowed with power.

And that’s what happened with the miraculous events of the dedication and then the week after, as so many of the Saints receive those spiritual manifestations, and they feel endowed with power to take the gospel now to the world.

The Kirtland Ohio Temple on Friday, June 2, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News


Elder Kyle S. McKay: I think it’s important to remember that this endowment of power that the Saints received in that temple — and from that temple dedication and the experience — continues with us today. We are not celebrating an isolated experience, but the blessings of heaven called down upon the Saints then by the Prophet Joseph are accessible to us now. And so it means something to read the words: “We ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them” (Doctrine and Covenants 109:22).

It’s something special, and it’s a connection to God and heaven, but it’s also a connection to the Prophet who called down that blessing upon every one of us who go into that temple to receive an endowment of power from on high. And so those blessings and those experiences remain with us today through the ordinances.


Matt Grow: I think the other important connection with this concept of an endowment of power is, of course, the endowment of power in Kirtland is not the ceremony that we have in the temple today that we call the temple endowment, that teaches us about the plan of salvation and enables us to covenant with God. That occurs at the Red Brick Store in Nauvoo for the first time, which is also part of this transfer of stewardship. And so that ceremony, which endows us with knowledge and power and covenants, we’re going to be able to celebrate and interpret and explain in the Red Brick Store.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I want to talk about the Red Brick Store. I love that the Red Brick Store is also among those buildings that were part of this acquisition, because the Relief Society was founded there. Elder McKay, talk about that important moment in Church history.


Elder Kyle S. McKay: There’s a series of important moments that happened there in the upper room of that Red Brick Store. And we should probably mention that this is not the original Red Brick Store; it came down in 1890, and then this is a reconstruction. But it’s still very significant because of what happened there. So, Emma Smith and a few of the sisters gather together, and they want to form a society, and they move forward. And Joseph commends them and says, “I’ve got a better idea: We’ll improve upon this and organize it under the priesthood, the keys.”

And so he does, there’s a great discussion in their initial meeting that is very instructive, where they were trying to determine what to call it. Would it be called the Benevolent Society or the Relief Society? The sisters wanted one thing, one of the Apostles that was in attendance suggested another, the Benevolent Society. And they talked about it amongst themselves, and the sisters said, “We will call it the Relief Society.” And that’s what it was called then, and that’s what it continues to be called now. It’s a nod to the deference that Joseph and, on that occasion, John Taylor gave to the sisters and the authority that was given them in the simple naming of this now largest female organization on earth.


Matt Grow: And, importantly, it’s six weeks later, after the organization of the Relief Society, that Joseph gathers a few men in that same space and gives to them the temple endowment for the first time. And in Joseph’s mind, and in the minds of those early sisters, one of the core purposes of the Relief Society was to prepare the women of the Church for the temple ceremonies. The priesthood quorums were organized, and they were used to prepare the men for the temple. But it’s very clear in those early meetings of the Relief Society and what Joseph is teaching the Relief Society, that one of the core purposes is to teach the women of the Church and to prepare them for the blessings of the temple.

So, I love the way that those two events come together: The Relief Society organized, six weeks later, we’re going to get the first temple endowments, and so on and so forth, until the temple itself can be dedicated in Nauvoo and that endowment ordinance can go within the walls of the temple.

The sun rises on the Kirtland Ohio Temple and the Joseph and Emma Smith home in Kirtland, Ohio on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m so glad that Elder McKay mentioned that the original Red Brick Store actually fell into disrepair after the Saints left Nauvoo, and Community of Christ rebuilt that store in 1980 on the original foundation. Matt, tell us about the other buildings that were part of this acquisition and what happened in them and what visitors can expect when they go to Nauvoo and see them.


Matt Grow: So, in Nauvoo, there are four really important historical buildings. One is the Red Brick Store. And then the other three really relate primarily to the Joseph and Emma Smith family. There’s a building that we call the Smith Family Homestead. So, in 1839, when the Saints were really religious refugees at the time, when they first take shelter in Quincy, Illinois, after being driven from Missouri, then they moved to Nauvoo, there’s a home that’s standing there, and Joseph and Emma purchase that home and move into that home with their four children. Joseph’s parents and his younger sister are also going to live there for a time. They live in that homestead for four years. And it’s a place of, of course, both their family life but a gathering place for other Saints as well.

In 1843, then, they moved to a newly constructed home. This home was called the Mansion House. It’s a much larger home, and it initially was much larger than what we have today, because there was also a large hotel wing, and the idea was that Joseph and Emma were going to be able to support themselves by operating this hotel. A few months after they’re operating the hotel, they lease it to another man, and they continue to live in the Mansion House, of course, until Joseph dies, and then Emma stays there until 1871, that she’s living in the Mansion House.

The other property that was acquired is what is called the Nauvoo House. So, in the revelation in Section 124 of the Doctrine and Covenants, in which the Saints are commanded to build a temple, they are also commanded to build a boarding house to be called the Nauvoo House, and this was intended to be a massive building that could house 300 people. By the time Joseph dies and then by the time the Saints leave Nauvoo, it’s only a portion of it built. The Saints have had to decide: Are they going to keep building both buildings, or are they going to prioritize the temple and finish the temple? And, of course, the choice is obvious.

And after most of the Saints leave Nauvoo, that Nauvoo House remains in the possession of Emma Smith, and her second husband, Lewis Bidamon, takes portions of that house down, of the partially built house, and finishes another building, that at that time was called the Riverside Mansion. And Emma moves from the Mansion House with Lewis Bidamon to this Riverside Mansion in 1871. She’s going to live there for the remaining eight years of her life. And so, if a visitor goes to Nauvoo today, they will go inside the homestead, they will go inside the Mansion House, they will view the outside of this Nauvoo House that became known as the Riverside Manson.


Elder Kyle S. McKay: I might add to that, that not only were these places homes where the gospel was lived out by the Prophet and his family, but they became places of solemnity upon his death. In the Mansion House, Joseph and Hyrum lay in state, and the Saints were able to view their bodies and grieve together. And then, initially, they were buried in the basement of the Nauvoo House in order to prevent any vandalism of graves where it was announced they would be buried.

We also acquired several other homes in Nauvoo. And as I look at this transaction, I look at some of the places like the Red Brick Store and the Kirtland Temple and other places where the Prophet received revelation that can clearly be tied to the Restoration of the gospel and the Church. These other homes, I think, including Joseph Smith’s homes, represent where that gospel was lived and how these revelations were received, and just the day-to-day application of everything that we celebrate happening in these significant other places.


Matt Grow: And just to clarify, that Riverside Mansion, then, is the remains of the Nauvoo House. And interestingly, when Joseph Smith laid the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House in 1841, he put into that cornerstone the original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, this treasure that they had taken from New York to Kirtland to Missouri and now is in Nauvoo. And they lined that cornerstone in a way that they felt like would protect the original manuscript.

Unfortunately, we’re pretty near the Mississippi River, it’s really humid, water gets in, moisture gets in. When Lewis Bidamon opens that cornerstone, he mostly finds a mush of destroyed paper. But he takes the remaining pages that are sort of on top of the pile, 30% or so, and he gives these pages as souvenirs to missionaries, Latter-day Saint missionaries, who are passing through Nauvoo to see the old town, to see the old sites. And these missionaries, when they come home to Salt Lake City, deliver those pages to the Church Historian’s Office.

And that’s how we have the original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, because of the kindness of Lewis Bidamon to these missionaries. And as part of the transaction, the Church acquired that original cornerstone of the Nauvoo House that housed the Book of Mormon manuscript.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, Elder McKay, in a press conference this week after this announcement, you talked about how Latter-day Saints value religious artifacts because they strengthen our testimonies of the Savior and His Restoration. Can you expand on that here?


Elder Kyle S. McKay: Yes, I will by using two examples from the Old Testament. The artifacts that ancient Israel carried with them in the wilderness included Aaron’s rod and a jar of mana. Interestingly, the manna, if it was kept too long, in its day, it would be destroyed, and it would become sour. Well, God allowed this special manna that was preserved to stay in an unspoiled state. And, of course, then the tablets. They carried them with them to remind them of certain events, but most of all, to remind them of the God of Israel, who was guiding them. And we view these artifacts the same way.

And the same is true of places and memorials and monuments. When you think about what Jacob created after he had that marvelous dream, wherein he received some of the same promises of his father, Isaac, and his grandfather, Abraham, he makes a monument out of the stone pillow he had rested on that night so that he could remember what had happened there. It was a significant place. As he made the monument, He declared, “Surely the Lord is in this place” (Genesis 28:16).

And then when Israel crosses the River Jordan into the Promised Land, finally, under the leadership of Joshua, they’re commanded to go back into that riverbed while the water is still rolled back and pick up 12 stones, large stones, and with those stones, they create a monument there to memorialize the event, the significant and sacred event of God rolling back the river. But most of all, and these are the Lord’s words, “That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty” (Joshua 4:24).

That is why we are thrilled to have everything that we just acquired. They remind us of events, they remind us of people, they tie us to the past and to significant things that happened in the past. But above all, they help us to know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty.

The Red Brick Store in historic Nauvoo, Illinois. | Jeffrey Allred


Sarah Jane Weaver: And, Matt, I want to talk a little bit about, in the same press conference that we referenced, you called the care of these buildings a sacred trust. What can we expect? Is the Church going to go in and try and restore as much as they can? Are we going to do something that would make them accessible to those with disabilities? What can we expect for the future of these sites?


Matt Grow: You can expect us to act with prudence and patience as we research these buildings and determine what needs to happen in each of the structures to ensure that it will stand, as it has for the last almost 200 years, that it can stand for another 200 years; for example, the Kirtland Temple. So, we need to do a lot of analysis. And the entire goal will be: What do we need to do structurally to enable this building to continue to stand as a witness?

And so, there will be no immediate closure of the Kirtland Temple. At some point, probably, work will need to be done on that temple to ensure its long-term preservation, as well as the other buildings. So, our immediate task has just been to write new tours and to begin the analysis, and we’re really seeing this as a long-term sacred trust. And we’re not going to rush into anything, but there will need to be work done on each of these buildings. Certainly, there’s long-term work that will need to be done to preserve the temple.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Great. And Elder McKay, I love the fact that while the Saints are building Kirtland and Nauvoo, they also were sending very key leaders across the globe to talk about the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so, it’s not like they were hunkered down in Kirtland, just focusing on the building. Or in Nauvoo; at one point, almost every member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is in England, I think. Why was it so important that while they were building these sites, they were also declaring the truth of what was happening there?


Elder Kyle S. McKay: So, the answer to that question takes us back to the Kirtland Temple, because in the Kirtland Temple, Moses appears and restores the keys for the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the bringing forth of the lost tribes of Israel. And with those keys, now we can go forward with full force and power and authority to bring about this gathering. The timing is significant because we don’t go to Great Britain, our first overseas mission, until we have these keys restored.

We’ve been on missions; Samuel Smith starts a mission and goes to Mendon, and we have stories that are kind of local, we’ve got some efforts up in Canada. But the missionary work, the gathering of Israel, does not start in earnest from the four corners of the earth until those keys are restored. And then the 112th section of the Doctrine and Covenants is given in July of 1837, on the day that Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde begin to preach in England. And it was that 112th section that establishes that the Twelve have the keys to open the door of the kingdom in every place, in every nation. And as that revelation is being received, it’s being fulfilled overseas.


Matt Grow: One other, I think, really interesting connection with this, of course, it’s Moses who restores those keys in the Kirtland Temple. And one part of the transaction is what we call the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. And most of that is a very careful study of the Bible, where Joseph, under inspiration, is changing a few words here and a few words there. But that really begins in a manuscript that we call Old Testament Manuscript 1, with the vision of Moses, what we have today in the Pearl of Great Price as the book of Moses.

And there, of course, we have this spectacular vision where Moses is taught about his true identity as a son of God, where he confronts the devil and moves forward in his mission. So, I love that we’re having the sacred trust of both the building where Moses restores those keys, and the manuscript where we learn more personal things about Moses than we do in most of the rest of scripture.

A photo of the west pulpits and lower court in the Kirtland Temple where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery reported seeing a vision of Jesus Christ and other ancient Biblical prophets. The experience was recorded in Smith's 1835-36 journal. | IRI/Provided by Joseph Smith Papers


Elder Kyle S. McKay: Let me add one more thing that creates just a sweet connection in context of the gathering of Israel. The keys get restored in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836. But even that was a fulfillment of the promise that Moroni gave young Joseph and the prophecy that Moroni gave young Joseph on the night of Sept. 21, 1823. Most of the conversation that night, as I read the documents, have to do with the gathering of Israel. And the Book of Mormon is the preeminent tool for the gathering of Israel. So it’s introduced that night. But Moroni spends a good deal of his time talking with Joseph about the gathering of Israel, and it will happen through this book.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Thank you, Matt, for mentioning that the Bible which was used in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is part of this acquisition. What are some of the other artifacts that the Church acquired?


Matt Grow: Well, first of all, there’s a focus on Joseph’s revelatory material, so the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is included. Early pages of an early revelation book that will be the earliest versions of several of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants is included. And with those acquisitions, the Church now has basically all of Joseph’s revelatory material. And so we’re able to have those original manuscripts and feel their power and study them and learn more about them.

Also included are many items that are significant to Joseph Smith and his wife Emma. We have the portraits that were done during their lifetime, which are among the most important pieces of Latter-day Saint art that exist in the world. We have seven letters that Joseph wrote to Emma during his lifetime, which are just really terrific letters. Each of these letters, of course, takes place when Joseph is away from home, oftentimes confronting a new situation or a challenging situation. One of them, he’s in New York City for the first time — and this is in 1832 — and you just get the feel of this small-town young man in the big city for the first time. And just his descriptions are great.

Others of the letters come from Richmond and Liberty Jail, where Joseph in those persecutions in Missouri is in prison. And they’re just really powerful. And then there’s a letter written to Emma the day he dies. So, his last communication to his family, and he writes the letter, stops and then goes back and writes a postscript where he says, “Emma, I’m resigned to whatever’s going to happen, but I love you, love the kids.” And it’s such a powerful document, to think about that in the context of what’s going on at Carthage. So, for me, those are many of the exciting documents and artifacts that are included.


Elder Kyle S. McKay: We also have, as we mentioned earlier, the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House, and then the original door to the Liberty Jail itself. And that’s significant because as we rejoice and think about everything that happened in the Kirtland Temple, it’s important to remember that Liberty Jail has been described as a temple-jail by some. And there were some sacred things that went on in there and some sacred writings that came out of it and some things that we continue to learn from. So, having that door is significant as well.

Matt Grow: And the great thing about it is it looks like a prison door.

Elder Kyle S. McKay: Boy, it sure does. It weighs about 300 pounds.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And most of those artifacts will make their way to Salt Lake City, correct? Or will they stay in some of these other historic places?

Elder Kyle S. McKay: They’re here now. They made their way to Salt Lake City beginning the morning of the day this transaction closed. And they arrived Wednesday evening at about 5 o’clock. So most of the things that Matt has just talked about are here now. The door and the portraits are in the museum. The sacred documents are in the Church History Library with our curators. And so, they’re here now, and we plan on making them available to the public in an exhibit form on March 25, the day that these sites will open again to the public in Nauvoo and Kirtland. The artifacts and documents, some of them, will be on display here in the Church History Museum.


Matt Grow: The artifacts that are most useful in interpreting the sites will remain at the site. So there are several items associated with the Smith family — a walking stick associated with Emma Smith, a rocking chair from Lucy Mack Smith — and other items like that will remain in Nauvoo to continue to interpret those sites.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to talk a little bit about the relationship between Joseph and Emma. Emma stays in Nauvoo, Lucy Mack Smith stayed in Nauvoo, they live out their lives there. It’s the joint history that we share with their children that ultimately allows us to acquire these properties and artifacts. What do you think is interesting to share about the life of Joseph and Emma?


Matt Grow: It was a tumultuous life. It was a challenging life. But it was also a life of faith and of unity between the two of them, and they went through tremendous challenges in those Nauvoo years. We know that the practice of plural marriage was begun, and I think it’s appropriate to acknowledge that that strained their relationship, but also important to note it didn’t break their relationship.

Emma is devoted to Joseph’s memory. She’s pregnant with their son, David Hyrum, when he dies, and he’ll be born several months later. One of the items that we acquired were manuscript notes of an interview that Joseph Smith III did with his mother not long before her death. And in that interview, she reaffirms her witness that Joseph didn’t write the Book of Mormon, that it came by translation from God.


Elder Kyle S. McKay: I think one of the indicators of their relationship is in the final letter that Joseph writes to Emma, from Carthage Jail. It’s written the morning of his martyrdom. And as with many documents that were created by Joseph, it was dictated and written by someone else. But this postscript, as though he wants to say, “Now, Emma, it’s just you and me. Nobody here is in between. Nobody’s writing this for me. P.S., I’m resigned to my lot, I feel justified, and whatever happens will happen. Please tell the children that I love them.” That speaks volumes about Joseph and Emma, what their relationship was like, but also how he died. He died with their relationship in that condition.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I want to talk more about something that happened when the Nauvoo temple is dedicated. President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated that temple on the anniversary of the martyrdom. And at the end of the dedication, he invited the Saints who were there to walk down Parley Street and look back and see what they were leaving. When we think about the early days and we think about the Kirtland Temple and we think about these communities that they sacrificed so much to build, and then this continual moving and leaving.

What does this acquisition say now as we look back on how hard it would have been for them to leave, and yet all of us have the ability to go back and honor them?


Elder Kyle S. McKay: As you talk about this idea of us having constantly to leave or being driven out, there’s another way of looking at it. And that is that we were driven to gather. What compelled us to leave might not have been as significant as what impelled us to leave; the internal force that we felt to gather. No matter what you do to us on the outside, we’re going to gather.

That impelled them, and that was a stronger force than the mobs, or the extermination orders, or the law, or the lack of law or protection. We were driven to gather, and we were certainly driven out, but we were driven to gather. But now, to be able to go back to all of these places and to feel a connection with and learn about what happened there, including the expulsions, creates a greater significance in our lives and helps to tie us to our past.

If I could share something that Elder David A. Bednar taught us and our site leaders in response to a question about where Church history fits in the gathering together all things in one in Christ. Elder Bednar read Doctrine and Covenants, Section 93, Verse 24: “And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” He read that scripture, and then he said, “You cannot know the truth if you do not know the past, your history.” And so, all of these places that we talk about here, we know that Kirtland and Nauvoo are forefront this week, but Kirtland, Nauvoo and Fayette and Palmyra and Missouri, all of them are part of our past. And if we would earnestly seek the truth, then we must earnestly seek an understanding of the past, and things as they really were, in order to understand things as they are.

The final print volume of the Joseph Smith Papers is pictured at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News


Matt Grow: For me, this question makes me think of an event that we celebrated last year in our Church History Department. And that was the end of the Joseph Smith Papers. So, we’d spent a couple of decades editing, putting footnotes to everything that Joseph had ever written or he had owned or been written to him, all of these manuscripts, many of which are now included in this transaction.

And as I thought about what would Joseph want us to learn from the Joseph Smith Papers, it came to me with incredible clarity: He would want us to hear his testimony of Jesus Christ, his testimony of the Restoration, his testimony of the Book of Mormon. And all the manuscripts that we have — for historians, they’re really exciting, and we can think about the manuscripts in lots of different ways. But the core purpose we have these manuscripts and sites and artifacts, core purpose, I think, that Joseph and Emma and the early Saints would want us to use these things for is to hear again their witness of Jesus Christ so we can have a witness of Jesus Christ.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, thank you so much. So, both these sites hold great significance for the Church, not just those who have ancestors that lived or built these cities. How can we all share in the heritage of both Kirtland and Nauvoo?


Elder Kyle S. McKay: That’s a wonderful question. If I could answer it by making it personal to me, the keys that were restored in the Kirtland Temple, whereby the gathering of Israel is now possible, they were exercised and came to fruition in a faraway place in northern Scotland, where my ancestors first heard the gospel. And so, that means something to me. I don’t have that gospel if those keys aren’t turned and if the Apostle doesn’t open the door of the kingdom in that isle of the sea.

And the keys of the sealing power that were restored by Elijah are significant. But for me, personally, what happened on April 3, 1836, is most significant because of what happened on June 12, 1984, when in exercise of those keys, my wife, Jennifer, and I were sealed; not in Kirtland, but in the Oakland temple. And I don’t know that I have ancestors in Kirtland. I know of some ancestors in Nauvoo. But I do know that the keys that were restored and the truths that were revealed have a personal and profound impact on me, now and forever.


Sarah Jane Weaver: So, the Saints also dealt with discouragement and bank failures and a lot of other things during these very, very historic and sometimes trying times. How do we reconcile everything that happened there with our own testimonies?


Matt Grow: It is really interesting to think about the history of Kirtland in terms of this question. So, in April 1836, we have these marvelous manifestations, the community is united, people are excited about the gospel, people had these confirmations of their testimony. And it’s a year later that the community is fraying. There’s an economic crisis in the country, the local bank is failing, people are having their mortgages called in by the bank, people are losing their homes, there’s not enough work. And the bank seemed to have had the authorization of Church leaders. So what does that mean about them? What does that mean about people’s testimonies? And there’s tremendous dissent. There’s violent dissent in the streets of Kirtland, in the walls of the temple itself.

And I think our own lives are not unlike that, at times. We’ll pass through periods of unity; periods where things seem to be going really, really well in our lives; periods where we’re able to hear the Spirit maybe with more clarity than at other times. And then we’re going to pass through real challenges. And I think the role that maybe history or memory can play is that we need to be able to access those past spiritual experiences to strengthen us in whatever lies ahead. For some people, that’s keeping a journal. Or for some people, it’s sharing those experiences over and over again until they’re ingrained in their soul. But if we forget those spiritual experiences — if we forget 1836 and we’re only living in 1837 — then we’re going to have problems.


Elder Kyle S. McKay: There are times in our Church history when we’re almost able to view it from the Savior’s point of view. And let me explain. He promised Peter in a conversation that’s recorded in Matthew, Chapter 16, “I’m going to build a church. It’s going to be built on the rock of revelation. One of its hallmarks is going to be the keys of the kingdom of heaven, so that whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Paul later talked about how Jesus loved the church, so much so that He was going to iron out or get rid of any wrinkles that it might have, or blemishes, that He might present it to Himself spotless. Well, as we go through some of these periods of difficulty, I can almost see Jesus saying, “I’ll need to fix that wrinkle in the Church or in my Church leaders. I’ll need to get rid of that blemish so that I can present my Church spotless, sanctified, and my people spotless, sanctified. In the meantime, I have a job,” Jesus might say, “to make them holy, to not condemn them, but to save them from the condemnation they bring upon themselves.” We see all of that played out in Kirtland, in Nauvoo and everywhere else we’ve been at any time.

The Mansion House in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 2013. It's one of the places were Joseph and Emma Smith lived. | Kenneth Mays


Matt Grow: Another thought I might add is that oftentimes when we have challenges in reconciling difficult topics in Church history, it’s easy to lose the big perspective. And so, I think if we’re able to step back, keep the big perspective. And as someone who’s studied the history of the Church for all my professional life — and, believe me, I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about the challenging topics — I know that if we lose that big picture, that the history of the Church, the big picture, is that it’s a beautiful history. It’s a divine history, it’s a history of imperfect people with tremendous faith in Jesus Christ, trying to move forward.

If we lose the big picture and just focus on the stuff that’s a little bit troubling or maybe a lot challenging or a little bit ugly, then we’re going to have trouble. So, if we’re able to step back, try to keep the big picture in mind, try to remember our own spiritual experiences, our own spiritual past, and being patient with the questions that we have, hopefully we’re going to be OK.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I think that’s a great place to sort of wind things up. We have a tradition at the Church News podcast, where we like to ask our guests the same question, and we like to give them the last word. And so, as we conclude today this discussion about the acquisition of these very, very historic places and items, including the Kirtland Temple, I just want to have each of you conclude — and let’s start with you, Matt, and end with Elder McKay — and have you tell us what you know now as you contemplate these very important things coming to Church ownership.


Matt Grow: Well, one thing that I have felt is about the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. I love the book of Moses. Alyssa — my wife — and I named our son Enoch, in part after that great prophet in the book of Moses. And for me, the book of Moses is all about who we are. It’s about God telling Moses, “You’re my son. Don’t listen to Satan telling you you’re the son of man.” It’s about God telling Enoch, “I have a work for you to do,” and Enoch saying, “But I’m not good enough for the work. I’m young, and I’m inexperienced, and I’m not good enough,” and God’s saying, “Do the work, and you are good enough.”

And so, the book of Moses, for me, is all about our identities and for me to be able to remember our identities as Latter-day Saints, as children of God. And if these sites and if these manuscripts can help us to do that, then having them come again to the Church, or assuming that sacred trust again, I think is really significant.


Elder Kyle S. McKay: I view the acquisition and then contemplate what I have learned from it as a personal matter. As I shared earlier, what happened in Kirtland has far-reaching effects on me and my family, my ancestors and my posterity, personally; the keys of the gathering of Israel, the keys of the sealing power. But my mind is drawn, in response to your question, to Joseph’s experience in Liberty Jail that we’re reminded of as we look at that door. It’s an interesting exercise, to go through the writings that Joseph sent from Liberty Jail and maybe discern the process that he was going through, almost a therapeutic writing exercise. Recall how he begins Doctrine and Covenants, Section 121: “O God, where art thou?” How long, yea, Lord, how long is this going to go on?

And then he goes through and writes down some things, including impressions that he has from the Lord: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment” (Verse 7). Yeah, Kolob time, maybe a small moment. But for Joseph, it probably felt like a long time. And then, he goes through and writes beautifully, until he comes to the very last verse in our Doctrine and Covenants now, the very last words of his letters, Doctrine and Covenants 123, Verse 17. Compare this verse to the first verses: “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.”

I wonder how many times in my life I’ve uttered, “O God, where art Thou?” or words to that effect. And then, as I patiently wait upon the Lord, am finally able to come to a time and to an understanding where I can say, “Look, I’m going to just do what I can do. And then I will stand with utmost assurance. I will stand still, I will be still, with utmost assurance to see the salvation of God and for His arm to be revealed. That is a lesson not only from Liberty Jail, but from all the experiences that are represented in the artifacts and the properties that we’ve acquired recently.


Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News executive editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so it can be accessible to more people. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen; and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channels or with other news and updates on the Church on

The sun rises on the Kirtland Ohio Temple in Kirtland, Ohio on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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