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In Mormonism, a temple is a building designed as a house of God and often reserved for special forms of worship. A temple differs from a church meetinghouse, which is used for weekly worship services. Temples have been a significant part of Mormonism since its inception, and many Latter Day Saint sects have built temples, the most prolific being The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Latter Day Saint movement was conceived as a restoration of practices believed to have been lost in a Great Apostasy from the true religion of Jesus Christ. Temple worship played a prominent part of the Bible's Old Testmanent and temples are mentioned in the New Testament and also in the Book of Mormon.
On December 27, 1832 — a mere two years after the organization of the Latter Day Saint church — the movement's founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., reported receiving a revelation that called upon church members to restore the practice of temple worship. The Latter Day Saints in in Kirtland, Ohio were commanded to:
- "Establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God." (Doctrine and Covenants 1835 VII:36, LDS 88:119, RLDS 85:36b)
As plans were drawn up to construct a temple in Kirtland, the decision was made to simultaneously begin work on a second temple at the church's colony in Jackson County, Missouri. Surviving plans indicate that both temples would have the same dimensions and approximately the same appearance and both were to be at the "centerplaces" of cities designed according to Smith's plan for the City of Zion.
Conflict in Missouri led to the expulsion of the Mormons from Jackson County, obviating any possibility of building a temple there, but work on the temple in Kirtland continued. At great cost and after great sacrifice, the Latter Day Saints finished the Kirtland Temple in early 1836. On March 17, they held a lengthy dedication ceremony and reported numerous "spiritual experiences and visitations."
Conflict relating to the failure of the church's Kirtland Safety Society bank, caused the church presidency to leave Kirtland and move the church's headquarters to the Mormon settlement of Far West, Missouri. Far West was also platted along the lines of the City of Zion plan and in 1838 the Latter Day Saints began construction of a new, larger temple in the center of the town. They may also have dedicated a temple site in the neighboring Mormon settlement of Adam-ondi-Ahman. The events of the 1838 Mormon War and the expulsion of the Mormons from Missouri left these attempts at temple-building no further than excavating foundations.
In 1839, however, the Mormons regrouped at a new headquarters in Nauvoo, Illinois. They were again commanded to build a "House of the Lord" — this one even larger and greater than those that went before. Plans for the temple in Nauvoo followed the earlier models in Kirtland and Independence with lower and upper courts, but the scale was much increased. The new temple plan also benefited from the conversion to the movement of new members with more architectural training.
New conflicts arose, however, and in 1844 the president and founder of the church was assassinated. The Nauvoo Temple stood only half finished. Smith's death resulted in a succession crisis which divided the movement into denominations. The concept of temple worship has evolved separately in many of these denominations.
Temples have held numerous purposes in the Latter Day Saint movement, both historically and their differing expressions today. These purposes include:
- A House of the Lord — Joseph Smith, Jr. reported a revelation in 1836 explaining that the recently-dedicated Kirtland Temple was built "that the Son of Man might have a place to manifest himself to his people." (Doctrine and Covenants LDS 109:5). All Latter Day Saint denominations with temples still consider temples to be special houses of the Lord.
- A House of Learning — The Kirtland Temple housed the "School of the Prophets." The Independence temple houses the "Temple School."
- Center of the City of Zion — Latter Day Saints often view temples as central to the establishment of Zionic communities. Examples include: the Kirtland temple, the original (unfinished) Independence temple, the (unfinished) Far West temple, the (unfinished) Adam-ondi-Ahman temple, the original Nauvoo Temple, the (unfinished) Norway, Illinois temple, the (unfinished) Voree, Wisconsin temple, the Salt Lake Temple, the St. George Utah temple, the Mesa Arizona temple, the Laie Hawaii Temple, the unfinished Independence (Temple Lot church) temple, the Independence (Community of Christ) temple and others.
- Headquarters of the church — the Kirtland Temple served as the headquarters of the early church from its completion through the end of 1837. The Independence temple has served as the headquarters of the Community of Christ since its dedication in 1994.
- Sacred spaces for special ordinances — Beginning in Nauvoo, temples have also been conceived of by many Latter Day Saints as spaces in which to perform special ordinances such as the Endowment and baptism for the dead — see Ordinance (Mormonism).
- Sanctuaries dedicated to Peace — Latter Day Saints in the Community of Christ believe that the temple is dedicated to the furtherment of world peace.
Temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also called the LDS Church) is by far the largest denomination of the Latter Day Saint movement and it has been by far the most prolific builder of temples. In this church, temples are special houses of worship reserved to perform certain church ordinances and to conduct certain ceremonies and meetings. Temples and their associated ordinances are a vital part of the theology of the LDS church. Their importance is emphasized in weekly meetings, and regular participation in temple work is strongly encouraged of all worthy Latter-day Saints (LDS).
After the early events of the succession crisis, Brigham Young assumed control of the church's headquarters at Nauvoo. While he and the Quorum of the Twelve made contingency plans for abandoning the city, he may have hoped that it would not prove necessary. For example, in early 1845 he held a conference at the Norwegian colony at Norway, Illinois and announced a plan to build a Latter Day Saint town there with a temple for the use of the Norwegian Saints. Shortly afterwards, however, James J. Strang — a rival for the church presidency — visited the colony and converted nearly all the Norwegians to Strangite Mormonism.
Meanwhile Young urged the Latter Day Saints in Nauvoo to redouble their efforts to finish the temple. By the end of 1845, the building was far enough finished to allow a limited number of temple ordinances to be performed there and more were performed in early 1846, as the Mormons were abandoning the city. A small crew remained in the city and continued to work on the temple until April 30, 1846, when it was abandoned.
Upon reaching the Great Basin, Brigham Young began to build settlements based on the City of Zion plan and designated four of these to contain temples: Salt Lake City (1847), St. George (1871), Manti (1875), Logan (1877). All four were larger than the one left behind in Nauvoo, and all four included castellation motifs, symbollically representing "the Kingdom" and also the resolve of the Latter-day Saints to defend them. The St. George Temple was the first to be completed in 1877, followed by Logan (1884) and Manti (1888). Because of the Utah War and troubles between the church and the federal government over plural marriage, the Salt Lake Temple was not dedicated until 1893.
Latter-day Saint temple building halted until the presidency of Joseph F. Smith who announced two additional temples: Cardston, Alberta (1913) and Lā‘ie, Hawai‘i (1915). Cardston became the first Latter Day Saint temple dedicated outside of the United States. Smith broke with the previous tradition (established since Kirtland of building temples with upper and lower courts) and these temples. Temples previously had been ever larger, but the Laie Hawaii temple was smaller even than the Nauvoo Temple had been.
Both Cardston and Laie were dedicated under church president Heber J. Grant as was a temple in Mesa, Arizona. George Albert Smith dedicated the next temple in Idaho Falls, Idaho. David O. McKay dedicated five additional temples including one in Bern, Switzerland — which was the first temple dedicated in Europe and the first temple to use film recording of the endowment rather than live actors. Joseph Fielding Smith dedicated a temple in Ogden, Utah and Harold B. Lee dedicated its twin in Provo, Utah.
Spencer W. Kimball began a plan to build many more smaller temples according to standardized plans. Twenty-one temples were dedicated during his presidency, including the tiny Papeete Tahiti Temple — which was less than 10,000 square feet (900 m²). This trend has continued. Nine additional temples were dedicated in the presidency of Ezra Taft Benson and two in the brief presidency of Howard W. Hunter.
The current church president, Gordon B. Hinckley, has built seventy temples since coming into office. Most of these are according to small, standard plans, but one particularly noteworthy achievement was the rebuilding of a temple in Nauvoo, Illinois, known as the Nauvoo Illinois Temple. Today there well over 100 Latter-day Saint temples.
Temples have a different purpose from LDS meetinghouses. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today, temples serve two main purposes. (1) Temples are locations in which worthy Latter-day Saints can perform sacred ordinances on behalf of themselves and on behalf of their deceased ancestors. (2) Temples are considered to be a holy abode for Jesus where members can go to commune with God.
In addition to being a place to conduct sacred ceremonies (see below), the temple is also considered to be a holy abode for God, where the temple attendee or "patron" may seek God’s aid in understanding His will for that person at that time through personal revelation. Ezra Taft Benson, a former president of the Church, taught:
- "When I have been weighed down by a problem or a difficulty, I have gone to the House of the Lord with a prayer in my heart for answers. These answers have come in clear and unmistakable ways." (Ensign, August 1985, page 8).
Such personal revelation can be received as needed, but many feel that it is easier to receive such revelation when one is in a place as peaceful and apart from the world as temples are.
Nearly everything in the temple is symbolic, from the clothing worn (those who attend the temple dress in white, a symbol of purity), to the building and rooms, to the ceremonies themselves.
It is also within temples that "proxy" ordinances on behalf of the dead are performed, including
- Baptism for the dead
- Confirmation on behalf of the dead
- Ordination to the Priesthood on behalf of the dead
- Washing and anointing on behalf of the dead
- Receiving the Endowment on behalf of the dead
- Sealing on behalf of the dead
- Second Anointing
Latter-day Saints perform these proxy ordinances because they believe deceased non-Mormons are in a condition referred to as "Spirit Prison." They believe that Christ went to the righteous spirits in prison and organized a great missionary force to teach the gospel to the dead who, in turn, may be baptized by proxy in a temple. The deceased may also accept or reject the other ordinances done by proxy on their behalf.
Because Latter-day Saints believe that temple ordinances are sacred, they are usually hesitant to discuss details of the ordinances outside of the temple, especially with members of other faiths. They also believe they are under covenant with God not to reveal certain portions of the ceremonies. The consequent secrecy surrounding ordinances has generated speculation, controversy and misunderstanding of temple ceremonies in part due to use of language unfamiliar to non-Mormons. Because it is not discussed, some Latter-day Saints allege that those who publicize purported details of temple ceremonies are either disaffected, former or excommunicated Church members or non-Mormons who have trespassed on private property and made unauthorized recordings or transcripts which, many believe, violate copyright law of published materials.
See also Ordinance (Mormonism)
Requirements for entering LDS temples
An LDS church manual called Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple explains that Latter-day Saints "do not discuss the temple ordinances outside the temples." Further, the manual states:
- "It was never intended that knowledge of these temple ceremonies would be limited to a select few who would be obliged to ensure that others never learn of them. It is quite the opposite, in fact. With great effort the church urges every soul to qualify and prepare for the temple experience."
However, to experience the temple first hand, one needs to convert to the faith, and then (after a year's membership) obtain a temple recommend to enter. The recommend is obtained from and signed by the member's bishop after passing a one-on-one "worthiness" interview, in which one's commitment to the gospel is reviewed. The recommend is also signed by the member's stake president after a second one-on-one worthiness interview.
Qualifications for "worthiness" include a willingness to keep the church's commandments — including standards of chastity, obedience to the Word of Wisdom, Law of Tithing and observance of the Sabbath day. In addition a member must have a basic understanding of gospel doctrines — including a testimony of God, Jesus Christ, and the Restoration of the Gospel. Members do not have to be perfect, but must show they are striving to keep the commandments.
Temples in Other Latter Day Saint denominations
Although the most prolific builder of temples within the Latter Day Saint movement is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, several other Latter Day Saint denominations have built or attempted to build temples.
The Community of Christ, the second largest Latter Day Saint denomination, maintains two temples. Unlike those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, these temples are open to the public, and do not involve sacred rituals, except at certain times for Communion and a daily prayer for peace. The oldest temple maintained by the church is in Kirtland, Ohio. This temple was the first temple built by Latter Day Saints. In its 1994 World Conference, the Community of Christ dedicated a temple in Independence, Missouri.
During the life of Joseph Smith, Jr., he dedicated a location in Independence, Missouri for the building of a special temple, which was to be the center of a New Jerusalem. The lot for this temple is owned and maintained by the Church of Christ (Temple Lot). Although the church planned to build a temple on the site in the early 20th century, and even excavated a foundation, efforts were abandoned during the economic woes of the Great Depression and due to a schism which resulted in the establishment of the Church of Christ with the Elijah Message. Today, the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) has no plans to construct a temple of its own. Instead, the church believes it is the steward of the location until the various sects of the Latter Day Saint movement re-unite into a single organization before the Second Coming of Jesus.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) began to construct a temple at their headquarters in Voree, Wisconsin in the mid-1840s. Another temple may have been planned for Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, prior to their expulsion. The church has made no attempt to build temples since the death of their prophet, James J. Strang.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) made news in 2004 by embarking on the construction of a temple at their new settlement near Eldorado, Texas. The foundation of the FLDS temple roughly matches that of the original Nauvoo Temple. This is the first time any of the fundamentalists sects have attempted to build a temple of their own.
The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days reportedly believe that when the end time arrives, they will enter the Manti Temple (owned by the LDS church) and assume control of it. At that time all of the wicked outside of the temple will be destroyed and only the righteous, inside the temple will survive.
Temple Comparison Chart
The following reference chart shows the relative sizes of various temples in the Latter Day Saint movement. (Note that the LDS church has many more temples than are shown.)
- Elwin C. Robinson, The First Mormon Temple: Design, Construction, and Historic Context of the Kirtland Temple, BYU Press: 1997.
- Richard O. Cowan, Temples to Dot the Earth, January 1997, ISBN 155517339X
- Laurie Smith Monesees, The Temple: Dedicated to Peace, Herald House: 1993.
- Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple, June 1980, ISBN 0884944115
- Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple, Intellectual Reserve
- http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_masons.shtml Mormons and Masons: The Ancient Origins of Mormon Temples
- http://home.uchicago.edu/~spackman/temple A large list of books and articles on LDS temples, history, ritual, and symbolism, organized topically.
- http://home.uchicago.edu/~spackman/templeprep An LDS Temple Preparation FAQ
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Mormon Family History and Genealogy Search - LDS Family History Centers and Temples
- List of LDS Temples
- Endowed from on High: Temple Preparation Seminar: Teacher’s Manual
- Official LDS website's brief explanation of temples
- A typical LDS temple baptistry from MeridianMagazine.com
- Jim Radfords LDS Art Gallery: Temple Pictures with photos of numerous LDS temples
- Jeff Lindsay's FAQ about the LDS Temple and Masonry
- A large list of books and articles on LDS temples, history, ritual, and symbolism, organized topically.
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