Chapter 5 Section C
The Nauvoo Temple
After their expulsion from Missouri, the “Mormon” refugees turned their faces toward the east, crossed the Mississippi and established themselves in and about the obscure village of Commerce, Hancock County, Illinois. The people demonstrated again their marvelous recuperative power, and without delay or hesitation set about establishing new homes and a temple. By the early part of June, 1839, dwellings were in course of construction, and soon the hamlet was transformed into a city. To this new abiding place the Saints gave the name Nauvoo,-which to them meant all that the name City Beautiful could convey. It was situated but a few miles from Quincy, in a bend of the majestic river, giving the town three water fronts. It seemed to nestle there as if the Father of Waters was encircling it with his mighty arm.
The best and most suitable site within the limits of the city as planned was selected, purchased, and duly set apart as the temple ground. The corner stones were laid April 6, 1841-the day on which the Church entered upon the twelfth year of its troubled yet progressive career. In the ceremonial of the day the Nauvoo Legion-a body of militia organized under the laws of Illinois,-took a conspicuous part, and two volunteer companies from Iowa Territory participated. The south-east corner-stone was placed in position under the immediate direction of the First Presidency, and over it the President pronounced the following benediction:
“This principal corner-stone in representation of the First Presidency, is now duly laid in honor of the Great God; and may it there remain until the whole fabric is completed; and may the same be accomplished speedily; that the Saints may have a place to worship God, and the Son of Man have where to lay His head.”
Sidney Rigdon of the First Presidency then pronounced the following:
“May the persons employed in the erection of this house be preserved from all harm while engaged in its contruction, till the whole is completed, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Even so. Amen.”
After a recess of one hour, the congregation re-assembled and the remaining corner stones were laid in the order indicated. The south-west corner-stone was laid under the direction of the High Priests’ organization, and the president pronounced the following:
“The second corner-stone of the temple now building by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in honor of the Great God, is duly laid, and may the same unanimity that has been manifested on this occasion continue till the whole is completed; that peace may rest upon it to the laying of the top-stone thereof, and the turning of the key thereof; that the Saints may participate in the blessings of Israel’s God, within its walls, and the glory of God rest upon the same. Amen.”
The north-west corner-stone was then lowered to its place under the superintendency of the High Council, with a benediction by Elias Higbee, as follows:
“The third corner-stone is now duly laid; may this stone be a firm support to the building that the whole may be completed as before proposed.”
The stone at the north-east corner was laid by the Bishops, and Bishop Whitney pronounced the following:
“The fourth and last corner-stone, expressive of the Lesser Priesthood, is now duly laid, and may the blessings before pronounced, with all others desirable, rest upon the same forever. Amen.”
Regarding the proper order of procedure in temple building, the prophet Joseph Smith wrote as follows in connection with the laying of the corner-stones at Nauvoo:
“If the strict order of the Priesthood were carried out in the building of temples, the first stone would be laid at the south-east corner, by the First Presidency of the Church. The south-west corner should be laid next; the third, or north-west corner next; and the fourth, or north-east corner last. The First Presidency should lay the south-east corner stone and dictate who are the proper persons to lay the other corner stones.
“If a temple is built at a distance, and the First Presidency are not present, then the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are the persons to dictate the order for that temple; and in the absence of the Twelve Apostles, then the Presidency of the Stake will lay the south-east corner stone; the Melchisedek Priesthood laying the corner stones on the east side of the temple, and the Lesser Priesthood those on the west side.”
The Nauvoo Temple was erected by the people, who contributed liberally both through tithes and freewill offerings of money and labor. Most of the work was done by men who tithed themselves as to time, and devoted their energies in the proportion of at least one day in ten to labor on the Temple.
The work progressed slowly but without marked interruption; and this fact becomes surprising when the many unfavorable conditions are considered. The Saints had found but temporary respite from persecution; and as the Temple rose opposition increased.
Interest had been aroused and energy stimulated in temple matters, through a revelation by which the Lord made known His will and the provisions of heavenly law concerning the sacred ordinance of baptism for the dead. It will be remembered that no provision for this rite had been made in the Kirtland Temple, for at the time of the erection of that structure nothing thereto pertaining had been revealed in modern times. On January 19, 1841, the Lord had spoken through the prophet, explaining the need of a holy house with its baptistry, largely and specifically for the benefit of the dead. So eager were the Saints to render vicarious service in behalf of their dead, that before the temple walls were much above the basement level, the construction of a font was in progress. On November 8, 1841, the font was ready for dedication, and the ceremony was performed by the prophet himself. Thus, long before the Temple was finished, ordinance work was in progress within its precincts, the font being enclosed by temporary walls. A description written by Joseph Smith follows:
“The baptismal font is situated in the center of the basement room, under the main hall of the Temple; it is constructed of pine timber, and put together of staves tongued and grooved, oval shaped, sixteen feet long east and west, and twelve feet wide, seven feet high from the foundation, the basin four feet deep; the moulding of the cap and base are formed of beautiful carved work in antique style. The sides are finished with panel work. A flight of stairs in the north and south sides lead up and down into the basin, guarded by side railing.
“The font stands upon twelve oxen, four on each side, and two at each end, their heads, shoulders, and fore-legs projecting out from under the font; they are carved out of pine plank, glued together, and copied after the most beautiful five-year-old steer that could be found in the country, and they are an excellent striking likeness of the original; the horns were formed after the most perfect horn that could be procured.
“The oxen and ornamental mouldings of the font were carved by Elder Elijah Fordham, from the city of New York, which occupied eight months of time. The font was enclosed by a temporary frame building sided up with split oak clapboards, with a roof of the same material, and was so low that the timbers of the first story [of the Temple] were laid above it. The water was supplied from a well thirty feet deep in the east end of the basement.”
Beside the baptistry, other parts of the Temple were prepared for temporary occupancy while yet work on the walls was in progress, and on Sunday, October 30, 1842, a general assembly was convened therein. This is recorded as the first meeting held in the Temple. At later dates other meetings were held within the unfinished structure; and notwithstanding the violent opposition of foes without, and yet more effective hindrances caused by the apostate spirit manifested by a few within the Church, the work was vigorously prosecuted.
It was not permitted that Joseph Smith the prophet, nor Hyrum Smith, one-time counselor in the First Presidency and later Patriarch of the Church, should live to see the completion of the building. On the 27th of June, 1844, these men of God fell victims of the bullets of assassins, at Carthage, Illinois. Though heavy the blow and cruel the affliction suffered by the Saints in the martyrdom of their leaders, the work of the Church showed scarcely perceptible hindrance. Within two weeks after the dread event, construction on the Temple was resumed, and from that time till the completion the work was prosecuted with increased vigor and determination. A few months prior to his martyrdom, Patriarch Hyrum Smith, acting as one of the Temple Committee, had made a call on the women of the Church, asking from them a weekly subscription of one cent apiece, the money to be used in purchasing material, particularly glass and nails, for the Temple. It is recorded that “there was soon a great anxiety manifest among the sisters to pay their portion, and nearly all paid a year’s subscription in advance.”
The Church archives for 1844 and 1845 contain numerous references to the progress of the work. On the 24th of May, 1845, the capstone was laid, with impressive ceremony, under the direction of President Brigham Young and other members of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, beside whom there were in attendance many general and local authorities of the Church. After the top-stone had been duly laid, the President said:
“The last stone is laid upon the Temple, and I pray the Almighty in the name of Jesus to defend us in this place, and sustain us until the Temple is finished and we have all got our endowments.”
Then followed the solemn and sacred shout: “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! To God and the Lamb! Amen! Amen! and Amen!” This was repeated a second and a third time; and in conclusion the President said: “So let it be, thou Lord Almighty.”
The somber clouds of persecution were gathering and thickening about the devoted people. Under counsel from their leaders the people prepared once again to leave their homes; and this time they resolved to go beyond the boundaries of civilization. A general exodus was imminent; and as early as February, 1846, this had begun. Most of the Saints, however, remained for a short time; and with these the completion of the Temple was the main purpose and object of life. Though they knew the sacred edifice would soon be abandoned, they labored diligently to complete it, even to the smallest detail.
By October, 1845, the building was so well advanced that large assemblies therein were possible. The general autumnal conference of the Church for that year was held within the walls; and the congregation present on October 5th numbered fully five thousand souls. During December, 1845, and the early months of 1846, many of the Saints received their blessings and endowments in the Temple, for which purpose parts of the structure had been duly consecrated; but not until the end of April was the building as a whole ready for dedication.
The Nauvoo Temple was constructed for the most part of a close-grained, light-gray limestone, a material at once hard and durable, yet easily tooled, and therefore readily adapted to ornamental finish. The entire building was one hundred and twenty-eight feet by eighty-eight feet, and sixty-five feet high in the clear. The top of the spire was one hundred and sixty-five feet above the ground and bore the figure of a flying herald sounding a trumpet. The plan of construction was that of a solid and stable four-walled building, two and a half stories high, with a hexagonal tower at the front rising in four terraces and a dome. Over the front center door, and immediately beneath the base of the tower, appeared an inscription:
THE HOUSE OF THE LORD
Built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Holiness to the Lord
On the outside were thirty pilasters, nine on each side and six at each end. At its base each pilaster presented in hewn relief the crescent moon, and ended above in a capital of cut stone depicting the face of the sun allegorically featured, with a pair of hands holding horns. Above the capitals was a frieze or cornice in which appeared thirty star-stones. In the late hours of April 30, 1846, the Temple was privately, yet officially, dedicated, in the presence of such general authorities of the Church as could be convened. President Joseph Young of the First Council of Seventy offered the dedicatory prayer. The semi-private character of the dedication was due to the thought that possibly there would be interference in a public ceremony, so active was the spirit of intolerance and persecution. On the day following, that is to say May 1, 1846, services of a general and public nature were held in the Temple, under the direction of Elders Orson Hyde and Wilford Woodruff of the Council of the Twelve Apostles.
The Saints had met the requirement made of them by the Lord in the building of another House to His name. Ordinance work continued a few months more, even though the exodus of the people was in progress. In September, 1846, the Nauvoo Temple was in possession of the mob; and the people whose energy and substance, whose sweat and blood had been spent in its rearing, were driven into the wilderness or slain. For two years the once hallowed structure stood as an abandoned building; then on November 19, 1848, it fell a prey to the wanton act of an incendiary. After the conflagration, only blackened walls remained where once had stood so stately a sanctuary. Strange to say, an attempt was made by the Icarians, a local organization, to rebuild on the ruins, the professed intent being to provide for a school; but while the work was in its early stages a tornado demolished the greater part of the walls. This occurred on May 27, 1850. What remained of the Temple has been taken away as souvenirs or used as building material for other structures. Stones of the Temple have been carried into most of the states of the Union and beyond the seas, but upon the site where once stood the House of the Lord not one stone is left upon another. Before the demolition of the Nauvoo Temple was complete, the Latter-day Saints had established themselves in the vales of Utah, and were already preparing to build another and a greater sanctuary to the name and service of their God.