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Salt Lake Temple

Published / by Matthew Berrett / Leave a Comment

Written by Matthew Berrett

Placed by: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Geographic Coordinates: 40°46’14” N 111°53’29” W

Marker Transcription:

“The temple is used by Church members for marriages and other sacred ordinances designed to strengthen families, both now and for eternity. Begun in 1853, it was completed 40 years later. Granite rock used in its construction was hauled 23 miles by ox-drawn wagons from Little Cottonwood Canyon. The walls are nine feet thick at the ground level and narrow to six feet thick at the top. The east center tower is 210 feet high and is topped by the statue of an angel heralding the restoration to earth of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the latter days.”

Extended Research

Photo Credit: Church History Library. Wilford Woodruff Journal page dated July 28th 1847.

Four days after Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake Valley, he took members of the church’s governing Quorum of Twelve Apostles with him to a site for a new temple. The original idea for a temple block included forty acres, perfectly placed so the city would grow and develop in all directions from its central location: North, South, East, and West. The location of the temple was not merely a religious center, but as Young envisioned it. It would serve as the geographic center for the entire Salt Lake Valley.[1]

The construction of the Salt Lake Temple also parallels the events that led to the development of the territory and eventually to statehood for Utah. The Salt Lake Temple’s long forty year construction process reflects the political strain that developed between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the U.S government.

Beginning of Construction

After the initial selection of a temple block in 1847 the actual construction of the temple began in 1852 when workers completed a wall surrounding ten square acres, a scaled down version of the forty acres Young originally envisioned. The groundbreaking and eventual cornerstone ceremony took place on 6 April 1853. The temple cornerstones were cut out of what is now known as Red Butte Canyon, located just east of the University of Utah.[2]

Design of the temple had started long before the actual dedication of the cornerstones. Truman O. Angell was the chief architect on the temple under the supervision of Church leaders including, Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff.[3] Young would often visit Angell and give instruction on how the temple should be constructed but would leave the interpretation of what he said up to Angell and the other architects. One of Young’s visits was documented as follows:

Sketch of temple spires.

“Brigham Young drew upon a slate in the architect’s office a sketch, and said to Truman O, Angell: “there will be three towers on the east, representing the President and his two counselors; also three 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 centre 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 and pillars will be necessary to support the floors.”[4]

Photo Credit: Church History Library. Truman Angell journal page of payments for workers.

The Romanesque and Gothic design can be attributed to Brigham Young and his missions to England. Young, served missions in England from 1839-1841 and fell in love and even obsessed over English history and architecture.[5] Young was especially enamored with Westminster Abbey in London. He even purchased an architectural guide to the Abbey itself.[6] Young sent Angell to Europe to study English and European architecture. Angell eventually returned with a negative attitude toward European architecture, but he used what he learned from his trip and developed his own style. Angell, for example, relied more on the design of the Nauvoo Temple than what he had learned in England and Europe.[7] Upon returning, Angell became more and more involved in the temple construction process. Angell kept meticulous details of the dimensions of each room, as well as the payments to each stonecutter who worked on the temple.[8] His journals reveal the commitment that Angell had to the construction process of the temple. A similar devotion was found among all of the workers of the temple.

The Utah War

The construction of the temple came to a halt in 1857 when word reached Salt Lake City that the U.S military was on their way to “subdue an alleged rebellion” in the territory of Utah.[9] In response the workers buried the foundation of the temple so as to keep the sacred ground from becoming desecrated by the incoming army. Young also charged all Latter-day Saints to evacuate the city and to be prepared to burn it to the ground if the army invaded.[10] Fortunately the army marched peacefully through an abandoned city in 1858, and construction on the temple resumed thereafter. After uncovering the buried foundation the workers discovered that the sandstone cornerstones had cracked under the weight of the dirt of the reburial. The workers thus knew that stronger cornerstones needed to be found and the old sandstone cornerstones needed to be completely replaced.

Post War Construction

Photo Credit:

Heber C. Kimball, first councilor to Brigham Young, asked his fellow Saints after the discovery of the cracked sandstone: “Shall we have the Temple built of stone from Red Butte, adobes, rock or the best stone the mountains afford?” He insisted that the Latter-day Saints “build a Temple of the best materials that can be obtained in the mountains of North America.”[11] The ‘best material’ was found in the Cottonwood canyons located nineteen miles southeast of the city center, where large caches of granite rock were located and were the perfect stone from which to build a temple.[12] By 1860 teams were hauling large granite stones from little Cottonwood canyon to the temple block.[13] The granite blocks were so large and heavy a team of four oxen took three to four days to travel from the canyon to the city center with one large boulder. The construction process thus took longer than expected.[14] The first showings of the walls from the deep foundation of the temple were not seen above ground until the end of the 1867 building season.

The Transcontinental Railroad

Photo Credit:

The completion of the transcontinental railroad in May 1869 both delayed construction on the temple and hastened its completion. Brigham Young initially asked that all able men, even those who were working on the temple, stop and help complete the transcontinental railroad. The railroad offered paying jobs and proved a boost to Utah’s economy.[15] Young also recognized that with the development of the main rail line, smaller lines would eventually reach the Salt Lake valley and from there they would extend towards Little Cottonwood Canyon where large amounts of granite could be loaded and brought back to the temple block. The first railroad branches reached Cottonwood canyon in 1873.[16]

The Capstone

Photo Credit:

After the passing of Brigham Young in 1877, his successors oversaw the slow pace of temple construction. By the time Wilford Woodruff became Church president in 1887, the temple walls were still being built. By 1892 the three spires on the West and the East ends of the temple were completed and the famous golden statue of the Angel Moroni was set in place. The Angel Moroni is an important figure in Mormonism, believed by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to be the messenger sent from God to the faith’s founder, Joseph Smith to direct him where to find the golden plates, which Smith then claimed to translate into the Book of Mormon.The angel Moroni statue measures twelve and a half feet high, and was designed and sculpted by C.E. Dallin.[17]

Following the addition of the angel, Woodruff announced that the interior of the temple would be completed in one year’s time. The dedication date for the completed structure was then set for the 6th of April 1893, making it forty years to the day of the original cornerstone dedication in 1853.

The Dedication, April 6th 1893

Just as promised, the first dedicatory session of the Salt Lake Temple started on Wednesday, 6 April 1893. The interior paint of the temple must have still been drying when the first session began, given that the interior workers finished the day before the dedication. The first session was attended by the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and other authorities of the Church and their families. Within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all temple dedications involve a prayer to sanctify and protect the temple.[18] After the dedicatory prayer the temple becomes operational for religious ceremonies and practices only for members of the faith who meet given requirements.[19]

The Exterior

The gothic look of the Salt Lake temple has made it one of the most unique and noticeable buildings in the city and state. Millions of people flock to Temple Square each year to see the temple for themselves. Temple architects wanted to make sure that visitors recognized that the temple was a different kind of building. The exterior was to be “widely different” from “cathedral, tabernacle, mosque or synagogue.”[20]

On the walls of the temple there are found carvings of the earth, moon, sun, stars, and clouds, all designed to remind worshipers that the work that goes on inside the temple is to lift thoughts and actions away from the world and towards deity. Also the constellation of Ursa Major is found on the West side on the center spire. The symbolism behind the constellation most commonly found in the Northern Hemisphere is meant to suggest to those that might have lost their way that the temple is a constant guiding beacon just like Ursa Major.[21] An “All seeing eye” and an opened scroll with the statement “I am Alpha and Omega” along with another carving of hands grasped together in fellowship are also found on the exterior walls of the temple, all meant to symbolize the nature of the worship performed within the walls.[22] All of these carvings were handmade out of granite stone and placed on the exterior of the temple.[23] The entirety of the Temple building is symbolic of a fortress ready to defend those who enter into the building – a fortress to protect the beliefs and to help them separate themselves from the busy city. The temple block also serves as another barrier from the world.[24]

The Salt Lake Temple is a religious building completed in the 19th century and still used today in the 21st century. Weddings and other sacred rituals are performed inside to help members of the faith to remember their God and how to return back to his presence. Being able to go inside is a sacred responsibility that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are asked to take seriously. Visitors are welcome to visit and learn more about the temple at the visitor centers located on Temple Square.

[1] Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff Journal and Papers 1828-1898 (Salt Lake City: Church History Library, 1847) 80-81.

[2] Paul Richards, The Salt Lake Temple Infrastructure: Studying it Out in Their Minds (Provo: Brigham Young University, 1996) 206-208.

[3] Charles Mark Hamilton, “The Salt Lake Temple: An Architectural Monograph” (PhD diss., Ohio State University, 1979)

[4] Hamilton, “The Salt Lake Temple,” 61.

[5] Hamilton, “The Salt Lake Temple,” 53.

[6] Hamilton, “The Salt Lake Temple,” 54.

[7] Hamilton, “The Salt Lake Temple,” 56-57.

[8] Truman Angell, Record Book 1853-1881 (Salt Lake City: Church History Library, 1871) 55-152.

[9] James Talmage, The House of the Lord: A Study of Holy Sanctuaries Ancient and Modern (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1912), 126.

[10] Richard Poll, and William MacKinnon, “Causes of the Utah War Reconsidered,” Journal of Mormon History 20 No. 2 (Fall 1994): 42.

[11] Talmage, “The House of the Lord,” 128.

[12] Hamilton, “The Salt Lake Temple,” 65.

[13] Richards, “The Salt Lake Temple Infrastructure,” 206.

[14] Talmage, “The House of the Lord,” 129.

[15] Thomas Stevens, “The Union Pacific Railroad and the Mormon Church, 1868-1871: An in Depth Study of the Financial Aspects of Brigham Young’s Grading Contract and its Ultimate Settlement” (MA Thes., Brigham Young University, 1972), 102-106.

[16] Talmage, “The House of the Lord,” 133.

[17] Talmage, “The House of the Lord,” 162.

[18] Samuel Brown, “A Sacred Code: Mormon Temple Dedication Prayers, 1836-2000.”Journal of Mormon History 32, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 177.

[19] Talmage, “The House of the Lord,” 148.

[20] Talmage, “The House of the Lord,” 160.

[21] Richard Oman, “Exterior Symbolism of the Salt Lake Temple: Reflecting the Faith That Called the Place into Being.” BYU Studies Quarterly 36, Iss. 4. (1996): 12.

[22] Oman, “Exterior Symbolism,” 21.

[23] Talmage, “The House of the Lord,” 163-165.

[24] Oman, “Exterior Symbolism,” 10.

For Further Reference

Primary Sources

Wilford Woodruff journals and papers, 1828-1898; Wilford Woodruff Journals, 1833-1898; Wilford Woodruff journal, 1847 January-1853 December; Church History Library

Angell, Truman Osborn 1810-1887. Record book, 1853-1881. 1-152.

Angell, Truman Osborn 1810-1887. Journal, 1867 April-1868 April.

Secondary Sources

Brown, Samuel. “A Sacred Code: Mormon Temple Dedication Prayers, 1836-2000.” Journal of Mormon History 32, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 173-196.

Hamilton, Charles Mark. 1979. “The Salt Lake Temple: An Architectural Monograph.” PhD diss., Ohio State University, 1979.

Oman, Richard G. “Exterior Symbolism of the Salt Lake Temple: Reflecting the Faith That Called the Place into Being.” BYU Studies Quarterly: Vol. 36: Iss. 4, Article 2 (1996): 7-68.

Poll, Richard D, and William P. MacKinnon. “Causes of the Utah War Reconsidered.” Journal of Mormon History 20, no. 2 (1994): 16-44.

Richards, Paul C. “The Salt Lake Temple Infrastructure: Studying It Out in Their Minds.” In BYU Studies Quarterly 36, no 2 (1996): 203-221.

Stevens, Thomas M. “The Union Pacific Railroad and the Mormon Church, 1868-1871: An in Depth Study of the Financial Aspects of Brigham Young’s Grading Contract and Its Ultimate Settlement.” MA Thesis., Brigham Young University, 1972.

Talmage, James E. The House of the Lord: A Study of Holy Sanctuaries Ancient and Modern. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1912


“Building Zion.” Chapter 16

“Church History Topics.” Angel Moroni.

 Flitton, Alexandra, Alexandra Flitton, Myrna Clawson, Jessica Doxey, Kenny Howcroft, Jennifer Simpson, Mustapha Hadjrabia, Jerry Christopherson, and David Hilton. “Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know About the Salt Lake Temple.” Temple Square. September 27, 2018.

Oman, Richard G. 1996. “Exterior Symbolism of the Slat Lake Temple: Reflecting the Faith That Called the Plance into Being.” BYU Studies Quarterly: Vol. 36 : Iss. 4, Article 2. 7-68.

Richards, Paul C. 1996. “The Salt Lake Temple Infrastructure: Studying It Out in Their Minds.” In BYU Studies Quarterly, 203-221. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University.

“Salt Lake Temple.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.