Menu

As Angel Moroni statue returns atop Salt Lake Temple, Bishop Caussé, others focus on Christ, covenants

The house of the Lord ‘lies at the center of strengthening our faith and spiritual fortitude because the Savior and His doctrine are the very heart of the temple,’ Bishop Gérald Caussé says

On April 6, 1892, after the exterior of the new Salt Lake Temple was finished, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a ceremony during which the temple’s capstone — including a 12-foot, gold-leafed statue of the angel Moroni — was placed atop the center-east tower.

Church leaders directed the estimated 40,000 attending to give the Hosanna Shout, as Latter-day Saints across the Salt Lake Valley anticipated the long-awaited coming of the house of the Lord there and the sacred ceremonies, ordinances and covenants performed therein.

Nearly 132 years to the date later, the Church held a much smaller, more subdued private gathering Tuesday morning, April 2, on Temple Square in Salt Lake City as the Angel Moroni statue returned to its place atop the Salt Lake Temple’s center-east tower after a four-year absence during the temple’s extensive and ongoing renovations.

Angel Moroni is back in place atop the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

As it was lifted up by a crane against a blue-sky backdrop and restored to its same central-east tower location, those attending the private ceremony — which included several dozen workers from the renovation project — and others who had the good fortune of passing by the plaza at just the right time applauded its placement.

And once again, those gathered focused not so much on the statue as on the much-anticipated opening of the house of the Lord, wherein the saving and exalting ordinances of temple worship and work can resume.

In temples worldwide, Latter-day Saints receive instruction and make covenants in what is known as the temple endowment, and they perform ordinances such as proxy baptisms and confirmations for deceased relatives as well as husband-and-wife and family sealings for both the living and the deceased.

Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, Church historian Emily Utt, Elder Larry Wilson and Mark Woodruff speak prior to the Angel Moroni being raised atop the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

‘The center of strengthening our faith’

Tuesday morning’s gathering on the Main Street Plaza between the temple, the Relief Society Building and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building included several brief messages — from Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, descendants of Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff, and a Church History Department representative.

“We gather today under the direction of the First Presidency as disciples who love the Lord, His holy house and what it represents,” said Bishop Caussé, who also acknowledged the presence and efforts of workers, engineers and architects of the renovation project.

“The temple renovation is a labor of love and devotion that contributes to the ongoing Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ and honors the heritage of the pioneers who settled in the Salt Lake Valley and the people who have come to worship and serve here from all over the world.”

Photos are taken by construction workers as the Angel Moroni is raised atop the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Presidents Young and Woodruff — the second and fourth Presidents of the Church — played key roles in the Salt Lake Temple. The former both identified the temple’s location soon after the Latter-day Saints’ arrival and oversaw the groundbreaking and early construction, while the latter dedicated the iconic house of the Lord after its 40-year construction.

“An important part of this project has been to strengthen the foundation of the temple,” Bishop Caussé said. “President Russell M. Nelson spoke to the world about the need to fortify our spiritual foundations in 2021 when he reminded us of the sacred use of the house of the Lord and said, ‘The temple lies at the center of strengthening our faith and spiritual fortitude because the Savior and His doctrine are the very heart of the temple. Everything taught in the temple, through instruction and through the Spirit, increases our understanding of Jesus Christ.’”

‘Center our lives on the Savior and the covenants we make’

Elder Larry Y. Wilson, an emeritus General Authority Seventy and one-time executive director of the Church’s Temple Department, is a descendant of President Young.

Elder Wilson spoke of how Brigham Young — upon arriving in the Salt Lake Valley and before laying out a single field or home — selected the location for the Salt Lake Temple then organized the city around it, establishing the temple as the center of their life and worship.

Workers completing Salt Lake Temple in 1893 pose for picture on spire below Cyrus Dallin's sculpture.
Workers completing Salt Lake Temple in 1893 pose for a picture on the spire below Cyrus Dallin's sculpture. | Courtesy Church Historical Department

“By orienting the city and daily life around the house of the Lord,” Elder Wilson said, “Brigham Young established a legacy that we carry forth today as we center our lives on the Savior and the covenants we make in His holy house.”

Elder Wilson continued: “As Brigham Young focused the Latter-day Saints on the meaning and purpose of the temple, he worked with fellow Church leaders to organize the work. He called Wilford Woodruff to be the first temple president in the Church. Together they organized the work of temple covenants in St. George, Utah. Brigham Young’s action in following Joseph Smith’s instruction to organize the temple ceremonies is an example of how revelation so often works. It’s line upon line and precept upon precept — a continually unfolding process. After Brigham Young’s death, Wilford Woodruff continued the charge from Joseph Smith.”

‘We are going to have our families with us’

Mark Woodruff, President Nelson’s executive secretary, is a descendant of Wilford Woodruff.

“While President Woodruff knew the work would continue to be perfected over time, he also knew that families are central to God’s plan for His children and needed to be connected for eternity through sealing ordinances that take place in the temple,” Mark Woodruff said.

Workers prepare to place the Angel Moroni statue on top of the Salt Lake Temple on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. | Ryan Jensen

“After the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, President Woodruff said: ‘We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents and run this chain through as far as you can get it.’”

Mark Woodruff concluded with this teaching from his ancestor: “The glory of the whole matter is that when we get through, we are going to have our families with us ... in the morning of the resurrection, in the family organization of the celestial world, to dwell forever and forever.”

Angel statue ‘reminds us that the heavens are open’

Emily Utt, a historic sites curator for the Church, spoke of Cyrus Dallin — the sculptor who created the statue that has graced the temple and overlooked the Salt Lake Valley from the concluding years of the 19th century well into the 21st century.

The Angel Moroni statue is lifted and placed atop the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Just days before the statue was first placed in 1892, Marriner Merrill of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles saw the completed statue and thought it should be called Moroni. “By April 6, when the statue was placed atop the Salt Lake Temple, Moroni had become the statue’s accepted name,” Utt said.

Dallin had said the process “brought me nearer to God than anything I ever did. It seemed to me that I came to know what it means to commune with angels from heaven.”

Added Utt: “Though not a member of the Church, Dallin recognized that God speaks to His children,” Utt said. “His angel atop the temple reminds us that the heavens are open and we can return to Him.”

Angel Moroni is raised atop the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

President Nelson and the Salt Lake Temple

In the October 2018 general conference, President Nelson announced plans to renovate and preserve the Church’s four pioneer-era temples — in Salt Lake City, St. George, Logan and Manti, Utah.

On April 19, 2019, President Nelson announced a closure date for the Salt Lake Temple later that year — Dec. 29 — and an anticipated closure of approximately four years for renovations. The projected completion date has most recently since been amended to sometime in 2026.

Photos are taken as the Angel Moroni is raised atop the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“We promise you that you will love the results. They will emphasize and highlight the life, ministry and mission of Jesus Christ in His desire to bless every nation, kindred, tongue and people,” said President Nelson at the news briefing announcing the project.

“One of the many evidences of the Restoration of the Savior’s Church is the building of temples across the world. Temples are precious to us, because in them, Church members and their families participate in sacred ceremonies and ordinances that are the crowning facet of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The Moroni statue was removed in May 2020; its replacement is seen as the latest in a series of milestone moments moving toward the completion of the renovation project.

President Russell M. Nelson tours the renovation work at the Salt Lake Temple.
President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tours the renovation work at the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 22, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

In May 2021, President Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, toured the under-renovation Salt Lake Temple, walking inside the spacious rooms and outside on scaffolding alongside the towers. He spoke of that experience in October 2021 general conference and added his counsel, encouraging Latter-day Saints to make time for the Lord by being in His holy house.

“Nothing will strengthen your spiritual foundation like temple service and temple worship,” he said, adding, “I plead with you to seek — prayerfully and consistently — to understand temple covenants and ordinances.

“Spiritual doors will open. You will learn how to part the veil between heaven and earth, how to ask for God’s angels to attend you, and how better to receive direction from heaven. Your diligent efforts to do so will reinforce and strengthen your spiritual foundation.”

The Salt Lake Temple in April 1892, when the capstone was set.
The Salt Lake Temple in April 1892, when the capstone was set. The temple was finally completed and dedicated in April 1893. | Charles R. Savage, Utah Historical Society

A brief look at the temple’s beginning and dedication

On July 28, 1847, just four days after arriving in the great Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff — joined by Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards and several others — walked from their north camp to a section of land between two creeks in the heart of the valley.

There, Brigham Young identified the site for the temple, saying, “Here we will build a temple to our God.” Wilford Woodruff planted a stake into the ground to mark the spot.

However, construction didn’t begin immediately, with attention turned to settling the Saints, planting crops and preparing for the arrival of thousands more who would be coming in the coming months and years.

| Charles Carter, Courtesy of Church History Library

On Feb. 14, 1853, ground was broken for the new temple, with President Young casting the first shovelful of earth aside for the building of the house of the Lord. And it would take four decades to complete the temple — well beyond the 1877 death of Brigham Young and into the tenure of President Wilford Woodruff, the Church’s fourth President.

A year after the capstone ceremony and 41 years since the groundbreaking, President Woodruff dedicated the Salt Lake Temple on April 6, 1893. “We pray that our covenants and contracts which we make with Thee and with each other may be directed by Thy Holy Spirit, be sacredly kept by us, and accepted by Thee and that all the blessings pronounced may be realized by all Thy Saints who come to these altars,” he said in the dedicatory prayer.

The Angel Moroni statue is lifted off the ground before being placed back on top of the Salt Lake Temple on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. | Ryan Jensen

Temples and the Angel Moroni statue

While the Salt Lake Temple was the Church’s first to have a Moroni statue atop a tower or spire, the statue represents the ancient prophet who appeared to Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration, and gave him the golden plates that were interpreted and became the historical record and tome of scriptures known as the Book of Mormon.

The next two temples with a similar Moroni statue were the Los Angeles California Temple, dedicated in 1956, and the Washington D.C. Temple, dedicated in 1974, giving the Church of Jesus Christ three such-adorned temples — one at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City and one each at two important port cities on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the statue was commonly placed on a number of temples, and over the next few decades, similar statues were added to older temples. However, not all temples featured an Angel Moroni statue, and now most new temples that are being constructed — or reconstructed — are without the statue.

The Angel Moroni statue is lifted at Temple Square before being placed on top of the Salt Lake Temple on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. | Ryan Jensen

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reaffirmed the primary purpose of its temples is to draw people closer to God and His Son, Jesus Christ, through worship, instruction and unifying sacred ordinances, with the temples’ exterior and interior designs and elements secondary to that purpose.

The latest version of the Church’s “additional resource” document — titled “Angel Moroni Statues on Temples” — says: “While the Angel Moroni statue occupies a prominent place on many temples throughout the world — symbolizing the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ — it is not a requirement of temple design. Some temples may include the statue, while others may not.

“A temple’s design, both internal and external, is secondary to its primary purpose, which is for people to draw closer to God and His Son, Jesus Christ, by participating in sacred ceremonies that teach of God’s plan and unite families forever.”

Workers prepare to place the Angel Moroni statue on top of the Salt Lake Temple on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. | Ryan Jensen
Related Stories
April 2019: President Nelson details plans for Salt Lake Temple during its 4-year closure for renovation
President Russell M. Nelson: ‘Make Time for the Lord’
Sarah Jane Weaver: How President Nelson’s ministry is an example of the importance of ordinances and covenants
Newsletters
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed