Church purchases Kirtland Temple, other historic buildings and artifacts from Community of Christ

‘We are deeply honored to assume the stewardship of these sacred places, documents and artifacts,’ says President Russell M. Nelson

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

The landmark agreement also includes the purchase of several significant buildings in Nauvoo, Illinois, and important manuscripts and artifacts.

“Together, we share an interest in and reverence for these historic sites and items and are committed to preserving them for future generations,” wrote the leaders in the statement, dated March 5.

Discussions leading to this agreement have been ongoing since June 2021, according to the statement.

“We are deeply honored to assume the stewardship of these sacred places, documents and artifacts,” said President Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We thank our friends at Community of Christ for their great care and cooperation in preserving these historical treasures thus far. We are committed to doing the same.”

Community of Christ President Stephen M. Veazey said the exchange of assets is significant for his church. “Through funding from increased endowments, Community of Christ will have greater capacity to pursue our mission priorities around the world, including continuing to fulfill the divinely envisioned purposes for our temple in Independence, Missouri.”

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 of Jesus Christ and the Community of Christ.

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.

More details about the transaction, assets and other items included in the agreement will be forthcoming, according to the statement.

What was purchased?

The historic sites and artifacts in this transaction “relate to significant events and people in the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” according to the statement.

The most significant properties are:

  • Kirtland Temple.
  • Smith Family Homestead.
  • Mansion House.
  • Nauvoo House.
  • Red Brick Store.

Significant documents and artifacts include:

  • Manuscripts and the Bible used in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.
  • Seven letters from Joseph Smith to his wife Emma.
  • John Whitmer’s history of the Church.
  • Original portraits of Joseph and Emma Smith.
  • The cornerstone of the Nauvoo House.
  • The original door of Liberty Jail.
  • A document with the title of “Caractors,” which may contain a sample of inscriptions from the gold plates.

This is not the first transaction of historic materials between the two churches — which enjoy “a strong, respectful and friendly relationship.”

In 2012, Community of Christ sold several properties — including the Hawn’s Mill Massacre site and the Joseph and Emma Smith home in Kirtland — to the Church of Jesus Christ. Five years later, the Church of Jesus Christ purchased the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon from the Community of Christ.

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

The Kirtland Temple

The Kirtland Temple is the first temple built in this dispensation and dedicated almost two centuries ago when Joseph Smith and other early Latter-day Saints lived in Kirtland, Ohio. It holds great historical significance for the Church.

The Doctrine and Covenants records that Jesus Christ “appeared in glory” in the temple, accepting the edifice as His house. Ancient prophets Moses, Elias and Elijah also appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the temple (see Doctrine and Covenants 110).

During the Kirtland period of Church history, the Lord revealed to His covenant people the priesthood organization of His Church. In the city, the Church first ordained high priests, organized a stake of Zion, called the Seventy, established the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and created the Council of the First Presidency. Emma Smith completed her work on the first Latter-day Saint hymnal. Joseph Smith oversaw printing of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and the second edition of the Book of Mormon and translated a portion of the Book of Abraham. In addition, early Church members carried missionary work from Kirtland to the Eastern States, Canada and the British Isles, and members of Zion’s Camp marched from Kirtland to Missouri and back.

The Saints also endured great persecution in Kirtland. Joseph Smith, who lived in Kirtland for seven years, spent more time in that area than any other place as an adult.

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Nauvoo historic buildings

In summer 1838, after fleeing Ohio and Missouri and taking refuge in communities along the Mississippi River, early Latter-day Saints built a city on a bluff on a bend in the Mississippi River. The area was known as Commerce, but Church leaders changed the name of the city to Nauvoo.

Like Kirtland, Nauvoo holds great significance for the Church. Of the 135 sections in the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants that were written during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, nine date from the five years he lived in Nauvoo. The Church also continued a robust missionary effort in Nauvoo — calling members to go abroad and teach the gospel.

Baptism for the dead was introduced and refined in Nauvoo. Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society on March 17, 1842, and the first endowment ordinance was performed on May 3, 1842 — both in the Red Brick Store. Early members built the store in 1841.

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

However, after the Saints left Nauvoo, the Red Brick Store fell into disrepair and was eventually torn down. The Community of Christ rebuilt it on the original foundation in 1980.

Joseph Smith and his family lived in the Smith Family Homestead, built in 1823, from May 1839 to August 1843, when they moved into the Mansion House. Following the martyrdom in Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844, the bodies of Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith lay in state in the Mansion House dining room. Emma Smith continued to live there until 1871.

In a revelation dated Jan. 19, 1841, Joseph Smith is commanded to build a boardinghouse, called the Nauvoo House, for travelers and immigrants (see Doctrine and Covenants 124). The project was never completed. Still, the bodies of Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were temporarily buried in the basement of the uncompleted structure.

Again facing persecution, early Church members left Nauvoo in 1846.

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Kirtland: ‘Nothing like it’

In May 2003, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited Kirtland, dedicating six newly constructed or renovated Church-owned buildings and speaking of the area’s spiritual significance.

“There is something unique and wonderful about what happened here,” President Hinckley said. “Nothing like it has occurred anywhere else in the history of the Church, either before or since.”

In a dedicatory prayer offered for new structures, President Hinckley called Kirtland “the sifting ground where the faithful were winnowed as grain from the chaff.”

The late President Gordon B. Hinckley saw a demonstration of how the sawmill operates when he went to Kirtland to dedicate the historic village. | Provided by

The then-infant Church — nurtured, blessed, tested and tried in Kirtland — grew and expanded around the earth, President Hinckley said.

“I think those who walked these roads [in Kirtland] could not have dreamed — although the Prophet spoke of it — of the marvelous expansion of this great work,” President Hinckley said.

When dedicating the rebuilt home of Joseph and Emma Smith on Aug. 26, 2023, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said one of Joseph Smith’s most significant accomplishments in Kirtland was overseeing construction of the temple.

Elder Bednar read from Section 110 of the Doctrine and Covenants, where the Lord spoke to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple about the future of building temples: “Yea the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice in consequence of the blessings which shall be poured out, and the endowment with which my servants have been endowed in this house. And the fame of this house shall spread to foreign lands; and this is the beginning of the blessing which shall be poured out upon the heads of my people.”

Elder Bednar then said, “How blessed we are [today] to stand as witnesses of the ongoing fulfillment of this remarkable prophecy.”

Elder David A. Bednar of Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife Sister Susan Bednar look over an Emma Smith organized hymn book at the Joseph and Emma Smith home in Kirtland, Ohio on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

‘Holy ground’

In a devotional address at Brigham Young University on Nov. 6, 1994, the late President M. Russell Ballard, who died Nov. 12, 2023, after serving as acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, called Kirtland “a holy ground of this dispensation.”

“The Church basks in the light of revelation today to a great extent because of the great pentecostal outpouring that Joseph and the Saints received in Kirtland,” he said. “The heavens literally opened to hundreds of our early Saints there. For many weeks surrounding the Kirtland Temple dedication, the Savior, past prophets and angels communed directly with Joseph and Hyrum and other great leaders of our dispensation.”

The Church may “yet discover that Kirtland is our most significant Church history site,” President Ballard said.

“In Kirtland were revealed basically all of the priesthood offices that we have in the Church today. This was the schooling period for the leaders of the Church. About one-half of the revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants were revealed there, far more than at any other location. There in Kirtland is where the School of the Prophets began. There is where Joseph made his Bible translation. There is where the Pearl of Great Price was largely translated. There is where the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was printed.

“More heavenly manifestations occurred in Kirtland than in any other place. For example, in Kirtland the Father and the Son appeared or were seen in vision four times, and the Savior was seen at least six more times by Joseph Smith. In Kirtland is where significant keys were given. The Church headquartered in Kirtland longer than in anywhere else except Salt Lake City.”

Kirtland significance

In August 1833, the Lord commanded early Latter-day Saints in Kirtland to “commence a work of laying out and preparing a beginning and foundation of the city of the stake of Zion here in the land of Kirtland beginning at my house” (Doctrine and Covenants 94:1).

According to the Church History Department, the revealed design of the temple was 55 feet wide by 65 feet long, with “a large first-floor assembly room for administering the sacrament, preaching, fasting, and praying, and another large hall on the second floor for a school of the elders.”

Limestone from a nearby quarry was used for the temple’s walls, and the Church opened a sawmill to supply wood for the interior.

In the dedicatory prayer for the temple, the Prophet Joseph noted that “through great tribulation and out of our poverty” the Saints gave of their substance to build the temple, so that “the Son of Man might have a place to manifest himself to his people.”

Joseph received the dedicatory prayer, recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 109, by revelation. After the prayer, early Church members participated in the Hosanna Shout and sang “The Spirit of God,” a hymn written by William W. Phelps for the dedication.

During April 2020 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson explained that the Hosanna Shout is “a sacred tribute to the Father and the Son, symbolizing the reaction of the multitude when the Savior made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem” and is now given at the dedication of every temple.

Nauvoo significance

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited Nauvoo in May 2021, reflecting on the “devoted service and exceptional sacrifices” of early Latter-day Saints during a “tender but turbulent” time in Church history.

“I treasure the sacrifices and dedication of our faithful early members who worked closely with the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Elder Cook said. “Despite poverty and other challenges, it is inspiring to contemplate what they accomplished.”

Elder Quentin L. Cook, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, walks the grounds near the temple during a tour the Historic Nauvoo in Nauvoo, Illinois on Saturday, May 29, 2021. | Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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,” he said.

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.”

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.”

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