SALT LAKE TEMPLE
In July of 1847, soon after arriving in Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young surveyed the area with other leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–‐Day Saints. At a certain spot he paused, recognizing it as one he’d seen in vision. President Young lodged his cane in the dirt and affirmed,“Here we will build the temple of our God.”
This was not an idle declaration; the Latter–‐Day Saints had seen temples in Kirtland, Ohio and Nauvoo, Illinois destroyed by anti–‐Mormon forces. President Young had often heard variations of, “Brother Brigham, why is it whenever we endeavor to build a Temple, the bells of hell ring against us?” President Young, known to the Saints as The Lion of the Lord, would answer defiantly, “I want to hear them ring.”
Over the ensuing forty–‐six years the Saints would hear them ring often. The effort to build the Salt Lake Temple would require intense physical labor, financial sacrifice, and the dedication and faith of thousands of Latter–‐day Saint men and women in the face of opposition from the federal government, weather, physical and emotional distress, and the challenges of building with granite.
Brigham Young would not live to see his prophetic words from 1847 fulfilled. Though the Salt Lake Temple was the first to begin construction in Utah, the St. George Utah, Logan Utah, and Manti Utah temples would all be started and finished before its completion. President Young had seen the structure of the temple in a vision and he described it to Church Architect Truman O. Angell, “There will be three towers on the east, representing the President and his two counselors; also three similar towers on the west representing the Presiding Bishop and his two counselors; the towers on the east the Melchizedek Priesthood, those on the west the Aaronic Priesthood. The center towers will be higher than those on the sides, and the west towers a little lower than those on the east end. The body of the building will be between these.”
President Young presided over the groundbreaking on February 14th, 1853. Heber C. Kimball, first counselor of the First Presidency of Church, dedicated the site and excavation of the grounds began soon thereafter. On April 6th of that same year, the twenty–‐third anniversary of the formation of the Church, the cornerstones for the temple were laid. Salt Lake City was built around the temple grounds with streets laid out in a grid and named for their direction and distance from the temple site. The Salt Lake Temple would literally be the center of the city.
The foundation of the temple would be made from sandstone from nearby Red Butte Canyon. Over the next few years, the foundation was completed and construction was underway. However, in 1857, under the direction of President Buchanan, the United States Army marched toward Salt Lake, an undertaking which would come to be known as Buchanan’s Blunder.
Not knowing the intentions of Buchanan, Brigham Young ordered that the foundation of the temple be covered by dirt and hidden from the Army. By the time the Army arrived in 1858, the temple grounds looked like farmland. Members of the Church fled to other locations while the conflict with the Army played out.
The disagreement with the Army continued for a year, dissipating when the Army relocated south by Provo, Utah. Eventually building tensions that would lead to the Civil War demanded the Army’s presence elsewhere and they left in 1861.
The foundation was uncovered but cracks in the sandstone were discovered. Brigham Young ordered that the foundation be demolished and rebuilt using granite from Little Cottonwood Canyon, twenty miles southeast. Massive granite stones were transported via Oxen, a four–‐day roundtrip adding years to the construction.
By 1867 the foundation had only reached ground level. However, the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 helped speed production dramatically. The tracks leading through Utah Valley were moved southeast to accommodate the temple construction. This is part of the Trax system in Salt Lake City today.
Upon President Young’s death in 1877, the outer walls of the temple had reached just twenty feet, but marital practices lead to Church property being seized in the 1880s. Although the temple was never seized, this slowed construction. However, the Saints pressed on, using their own money and precious metals, jewelry, and material possessions to help in the design and construction of
the temple’s interior and symbolic artistry.
On April 6, 1892 fifty thousand people crowded into Temple Square, nearby streets and rooftops. The capstone was laid on the central eastern spire and a twelve–‐and–‐a–‐half foot copper figure of the Angel Moroni was placed on top of it. The Salt Lake Temple was the first to use the Angel Moroni in this fashion. Cyrus E. Dallin, a non–‐Mormon Utah artist, had created the sculpture. Dallin stated the creation of the Angel Moroni brought him closer to God than anything else in his life.
The temple was completed exactly one year later. In the upper assembly room Wilford Woodruff knelt in prayer and dedicated the building to the Lord. Outside the temple on that day, April 6th, 1893, harsh winds blew torrential snow and rain, symbolic of the struggles that had been overcome in the creation of the lofty building with its six towers and intricate craftsmanship and artistry. Thousands of Saints filled the temple as Brigham Young’s prophetic vision was finally realized.
In 1999 The Church announced a formal naming convention for its temples. In the United States and Canada, the name of the temples would be the City and State where they are located, e.g. the Boston Massachusetts Temple. However, for reasons never explained, the temple nearby Church headquarters would remain the Salt Lake Temple, perhaps signifying its uniqueness.
Written by Bryce Clark