ST. GEORGE, Utah — As Elder Hugo E. Martinez, first counselor in the Church’s Utah Area presidency, and his wife, Sister Nuria Alvarez de Martinez, walked media representatives through the elegant grounds, hallways and ordinance rooms of the soon-to-be-dedicated Red Cliffs Utah Temple, they shared personal experiences.
In welcoming media on Monday, Jan. 29, for the inaugural tour of the temple just a few days before its public open house begins Feb. 1, Elder Martinez, a General Authority Seventy, recalled meeting missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the first time as a young married couple.
Although Sister Martinez said she knew little about the gospel of Jesus Christ at that time, she was touched by the teaching about eternal families. “I knew I wanted that for myself,” Sister Martinez said.
Elder Martinez testified that the temple is all about families. “My wife, Nuria, and I worked together very diligently to make these blessings available to our family. It is about families today and our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Elder Martinez, a General Authority Seventy, was assisted in the media tour of the Red Cliffs temple by Elder Jonathan S. Schmitt, a General Authority Seventy who is an assistant executive director of the Temple Department, and Sister Tamara W. Runia, the first counselor in the Young Women general presidency.
The media tour signals the beginning of the open-house period when the Church invites all to visit this sacred house of the Lord prior to its dedication. “We are rolling out a virtual welcome mat,” Sister Runia said.
2 temples for St. George
The open house for the Red Cliffs temple comes just six weeks following the rededication of the St. George Utah Temple by President Jeffrey R. Holland, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, on Dec. 10, 2023.
The St. George Utah Temple, the Church’s oldest still in operation, was built by stalwart Latter-day Saint pioneers who sacrificed to erect a house of the Lord at the same time they were struggling to subdue an often harsh desert landscape.
Elder Schmitt’s fourth-great-grandparents were among the first settlers of Toquerville, a town just northeast of St. George, in 1858. “I can only imagine that their minds would be blown by the fact that there is not just one but now two temples here in the St. George area within 5 miles of each other,” Elder Schmitt said.
Building a second temple in St. George is due to the number of faithful members, said Elder Martinez. There are 640 stakes and 2.2 million Latter-day Saints within the state, and the St. George area is growing rapidly.
Two temples in the city is an amazing thing, Elder Schmitt commented, “but it’s a testament of the faith of thousands of people in this area in southern Utah. The faith that they have, the strength that they have, building upon the faith of generations gone by.”
‘Where heaven and earth connect’
Throughout the tour, Elder Martinez, Elder Schmitt and Sister Runia stopped to discuss the purpose and significance of several of the rooms and ordinances and to share personal insights.
In touring the Red Cliffs temple for the first time, Elder Schmitt said he was touched to see an original painting of Angels Landing, which he recently hiked with his family during a family reunion. The renowned trail — located in Zion National Park, not far from St. George — leads from the belly of a gorge to the top of a tall rock formation that provides panoramic views of Zion Canyon below.
In many ways the Red Cliffs temple is like Angels Landing, Elder Schmitt said.
Thousands of years ago, when a physical temple was not on the earth, prophets of God would climb mountains to commune with God, Elder Schmitt explained. “Isn’t it wonderful that this Red Cliffs Utah Temple will be an ‘angel’s landing’? This is the place where heaven and earth connect. This is the place that people will come when they have questions, when they’re seeking knowledge, when they’re seeking light, when they’re seeking inspiration. This is the place where people will come when they’re feeling heavy and they need their burdens to be lifted.”
In one of the four sealing rooms, Sister Runia and her husband, Brother R. Scott Runia, recalled the death of their oldest son at age 31. Their son left behind a wife and four young children. Brother Runia echoed Elder Schmitt’s testimony that the temple is a place where heaven feels near. It was a place where they found peace following their son’s death and are reminded they will be able to hug him again, he said.
Sister Runia referred to the temple as a “thin place,” or a place where the veil between heaven and earth is thin, fluid or transparent. “For me, the place that has become the most thin is when I am in the house of the Lord,” she said.
‘The temple is a home’
Sister Runia explained that the temple is not simply a building. “The temple is a home. It is the house of the Lord.” As a home, it is also about relationships, especially God’s relationship with His children, she said.
Much of the architecture, paintings and decorative motifs in the Red Cliffs temple — from the rust, coral and sage undertones to the native bearclaw poppy, succulents, Indian paintbrush, cottonwood leaves and pomegranates — reflects the southern Utah desert landscape.
“We hope you feel like this is your temple,” Elder Schmitt said. The nods to the local environment are meant “to help you feel at home.”
Temples are also a symbol of God’s love, Sister Runia added. “In fact, all of the symbols that we see inside the temple point us to Jesus Christ and help us to feel His love through ordinances and covenants in a beautiful way.”
Commenting on the increase in temple building through the Church, Elder Schmitt said, “in this day and age, the Lord has made it very clear through His living Prophet, that we’re bringing temples to the people.”
Every temple brings light, not only to the community, but also light to the world. “It is the house of the Lord, and we should not take it for granted,” he said.