Nauvoo Temple

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Original Nauvoo Mormon Temple
Original Nauvoo Temple, ©2005 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Nauvoo Temple: The Original

The Nauvoo Temple was the second temple constructed by the small but growing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints|Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], the first having been built in Kirtland, Ohio. In 1839, the Latter-day Saints were pushed from their homes in Missouri by mobs. They sought refuge in Illinois and were given a charter to build a city on the banks of the Mississippi. The land was a swamp, and the people labored to drain the land and build a city. In 1841, the prophet and leader of the Church, Joseph Smith, announced that a temple should again be built. The command of the Lord is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants:

But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me. ... Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials ... for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name. And verily I say unto you, let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people (Doctrine and Covenants 124:31, 39-40).

The task was daunting; most of the members had lost everything when they were driven from their homes in Missouri. Some donated all of their life savings to the building of the Nauvoo Temple; others donated their time to help build it. Roughly 1,200 men worked in the stone quarries to cut giant limestone blocks out of the ground. The women were asked to donate their pennies to the temple fund as well as their time for sewing clothing and preparing meals for the men working on the temple. The Twelve Apostles recorded the effort made by the Saints to build the temple:

Many have volunteered to labor continually, and the brethren generally are giving one-tenth part of their time, or one-tenth part of their income, according to circumstances; while ... sisters ... are knitting socks and mittens, and preparing garments for the laborers, so that they may be made as comfortable as possible during the coming winter. (History of the Church, Vol. 4, p. 434)

Mercy Fielding Thompson told how the sisters began donating their pennies:

At one time after seeking earnestly to know from the Lord if there was anything that I could do for the building up of the Kingdom of God, a most pleasant sensation came over me with the following words. Try to get the Sisters to subscribe one cent per week for the purpose of buying glass and nails for the Temple. I went immediately to Brother Joseph. ... He told me to go ahead and the Lord would bless me. (Pearson H. Corbett, Hyrum Smith, Patriarch, p. 441)

More than one million dollars was donated to the temple fund by the time the temple was completed.

By 1844, Nauvoo (nicknamed the City of Joseph) rivaled Chicago as Illinois’ largest city. Neighbors felt threatened by the large number of Mormons and began to demand that the Saints leave Nauvoo. In late June, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob, and it was obvious that the Saints would not be allowed to stay in Nauvoo. The temple was not completed until May 1846, but by this time many of the Saints had left Nauvoo because of persecution. Individual rooms of the temple were dedicated as they were finished. This allowed nearly five thousand saints to receive sacred temple covenants before they were forced to leave. Only two years after its completion, the temple was almost completely destroyed by arsonists, and in 1850 a tornado toppled most of what remained of the temple. Over time, stones were taken from the temple to be used for houses and other buildings in the area.

Don L. Searle, an editor for the Ensign Magazine, had the following to say about the Nauvoo Temple:

As Latter-day Saint pioneers left Nauvoo in 1846, many looked back longingly at the temple they left behind. For some, the sight of the temple on the hill above the Mississippi River may have been their last mental picture of their beautiful city. If they could gaze on the same spot today, they would recognize the temple that stands there now. The new Nauvoo Illinois Temple has been made to look like the first one (“Nauvoo: A Temple Reborn,” Ensign, July 2002, 15).

Nauvoo in Ruins

"Ruins of the Temple at Nauvoo," lithograph by Frederick Piercy, 1853, Springville Museum of Art

On October 9, 1848, two years after the Saints were driven out of Nauvoo and forced to abandon their temple, the structure caught fire through an arson's hand. The building was destroyed, leaving only the west-facing wall and parts of the other three walls standing. These final remaining walls were demolished in a violent tornado that appeared on the temple hill in May 1850. The remaining walls were dismantled for safety reasons and the stones were used to construct other buildings in Nauvoo.

Emma continued to live in Nauvoo after Joseph's death and the departure of most of the Saints. In 1860, her son Joseph Smith III claimed to receive revelation that he was to take his father's place as prophet and president of a group called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In 1866, Smith moved to Plano, Illinois, and members of this church began moving to Independence, Missouri.

Emma had remarried in 1847 and lived in Nauvoo until her death in 1879.

The homes and businesses the Saints were forced to abandon were used by others who moved into Nauvoo. In the 1950s, preservationists began to purchase the properties, including the temple site, and restore them. Some are owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; several are owned by the Community of Christ.

Nauvoo Temple: Rebuilt

Nauvoo Mormon Illinois Temple
Nauvoo Illinois Temple, ©2005 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

In the closing session of the April 1999 General Conference, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley, gave the following announcement, “I feel impressed to announce that among all of the temples we are constructing, we plan to rebuild the Nauvoo Temple.” The news was received with joy and tears by members and even those not of the Latter-day Saint faith. The rebuilt Nauvoo Temple would stand as a memorial to the great legacy of those pioneers who suffered so much in order to build a beautiful house to their God, only to be driven from their homes in the middle of winter. Of the excitement to rebuild, President Hinckley later stated:

Excitement filled the air. Men and women came forth with a desire to be helpful. Large contributions of money and skills were offered. Again, no expense was spared. We were to rebuild the house of the Lord as a memorial to the Prophet Joseph and as an offering to our God (“O That I Were an Angel, and Could Have the Wish of Mine Heart,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 4).

On October 24, 1999, a groundbreaking ceremony was held. The Church had been able to obtain a building permit that allowed them to rebuild the temple on the exact same plot where the original temple had once stood. Builders labored tirelessly to try and recreate the original look of the Nauvoo Temple. Original architectural drawings were found and used to help in the process. The Church estimates that nearly 2,500 people helped build the temple. Of those, 150 were volunteers, and over 24,000 hours of work were donated to the building of the temple. Keith Stepan, who oversaw the building of the Nauvoo Temple, said that 95 percent of the outside of the temple was exactly as it was originally. The inside was harder to replicate, because there was not much information about it, but a few drawings were found and careful attention was paid to make sure that furnishings and artwork were made of items available in the 1800s.

A cornerstone laying ceremony was held on November 5, 2000. On that occasion President Hinckley stated,

I would hope that every time you pass that cornerstone [of the new temple] you will think of Him whom it represents, Him whom it symbolizes, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the foundation of this work. And upon that foundation rests the structure of apostles and prophets, the priesthood of God, with all of the authority inherent therein. And the building of the temple on top of that, all fitly framed together (“President Hinckley and the Nauvoo Temple,” Ensign, July 2002, 24).

So many people were interested in the progress of the building of the temple that a “temple cam” was set up. It took pictures every minute that were published on the Church’s internet site. As the temple neared completion, it was announced that an open house would be held during May and June 2002. Approximately 250,000 free open house tickets were given away, but more wanted to attend, so another 50,000 were printed. During the open house, hundreds of volunteers helped lead people through the temple.

June 27, 2002, was set as the date for the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple. Thirteen different sessions were held to accommodate the large number of Saints who wanted to attend. The dedicatory services were also broadcast via satellite to thousands of locations worldwide, so that those who were not able to attend the service in the temple were still able to participate in the historic event. The date itself was special as well, the anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum. Said President Hinckley:

On the recent 27th of June, in the afternoon at about the same time Joseph and Hyrum were shot in Carthage 158 years earlier, we held the dedication of the magnificent new structure. It is a place of great beauty. ... It is a fitting and appropriate memorial to the great Prophet of this dispensation, Joseph the Seer. How grateful I am, how profoundly grateful for what has happened. Today, facing west, on the high bluff overlooking the city of Nauvoo, thence across the Mississippi, and over the plains of Iowa, there stands Joseph’s temple, a magnificent house of God (“O That I Were an Angel ...", 4).

External Links

Videos about Nauvoo and the Nauvoo Temple