Pioneer Temples

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Courtesy Clayton Vance

Six temples belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often referred to as Pioneer Temples. Often these six temples are further and more accurately divided into two groups: two temples of the Restoration and four Pioneer Temples. The six temples are the Kirtland Temple, the Nauvoo Temple, the St. George Temple, the Logan Temple, the Manti Temple, and the Salt Lake Temple. The distinguishing characteristics shared by all six include who built the temples and under what conditions. Members of the Church consecrated their skills, time, and means to build these temples, often under intense opposition. These temples were literally built by the hands of the Church members. They cut stone from quarries, carved wood and stone, drove nails, glazed windows, made carpets, sewed curtains and clothes, prepared meals, knitted socks and mittens, and tithed their time and money. The driving forces for the Saints were their commitment to God’s command to build temples (“My people are always commanded to build [temples] unto my holy name,” see Doctrine and Covenants 124:39–40) and their understanding of their need for the blessings available through the temples. Joseph Smith said, “We need the temple more than anything else.”[1]

The Kirtland Temple and the Nauvoo Temple, Temples of the Restoration

These temples each contained two assembly halls as well as classrooms and office in the attic. Both were in use for a short period of time before the Latter-day Saints were forced to move due to persecution. Both buildings fell out of the hands of the Church; the Kirtland is owned and operated by the Community of Christ and the Nauvoo was destroyed by arson and tornado. It was rebuilt in 2002.

Kirtland Temple

The temple, more often called the Lord’s House, included a lower hall for worship and an upper hall for education. Both assembly halls featured pulpits on either end with initials representing priesthood offices. Built in Kirtland, Ohio, it was dedicated on March 27, 1836. On Easter Sunday, April 3, 1836, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple and accepted His house. Priesthood keys were restored through three ancient prophets: Moses (the keys to the gathering of Israel), Elias (the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham), and Elijah (the sealing keys).

The main floor was used for worship services, the second floor for instruction, and the third floor for school and quorum meetings. Joseph Smith received much revelation in this temple.

The ordinances received in the Kirtland Temple were only a partial endowment. The full endowment was later given in Nauvoo.

Nauvoo Temple

The Nauvoo Temple, built in Illinois near the Mississippi River, was dedicated on May 1–3, 1846, with portions of the building being previously and privately dedicated as they were completed. It was the first temple designed for the recently restored sacred ordinances for the living and the dead.

“Even though the Saints knew they would soon be forced to leave Nauvoo and lose access to the temple, they were willing to spend approximately one million dollars to fulfill their Prophet's vision of erecting the House of the Lord. By December 1845, the rooms in the temple were sufficiently completed that endowments could be given there. During the next eight weeks 5,500 persons received these blessings even as they were hurriedly preparing for their exodus to the West. Brigham Young and other officiators stayed in the temple day and night.”[1]

Unlike the Kirtland Temple, the Nauvoo Temple had a full basement that housed a baptismal font, which was used to perform baptisms for the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:29).[2] The temple was in use for less than three months before the main body of the Church had to abandon their temple as they were expelled from the state.

Pioneer Temples

“Only four days after entering the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young selected the site for the temple there. Temporary provisions were made for giving the Endowment until this temple could be completed, and an adobe Endowment house opened on Temple Square in 1855. President Young explained that not all ordinances could appropriately be performed there, however, so in the mid-1870s he encouraged the Saints to press forward with the construction of other temples in Utah.”[3]

These temples were built by the Utah pioneers with the endowment as a main emphasis. They each feature progressive-style endowment rooms where instruction was given by live presenters. The walls in each of these rooms were adorned with murals depicting different stages in men and women’s eternal progression. Large priesthood assembly rooms remained a feature in these temples but were located above the endowment rooms. Each of these temples included a Holy of Holies, which may have also been used for sealing rooms. It was necessary to have such a room set aside for the use of Brigham Young as he traveled from settlement to settlement, and especially because the Salt Lake Temple wasn’t completed until long after the other Pioneer Temples were in operation. Currently only the Salt Lake Temple has a Holy of Holies.[4] [5]

The height of the east and west towers (excepting the St. George) represent the priesthood while battlements along the north and south walls give the appearance of a castle fortified against the forces of evil.

St. George Temple was the first completed in Utah and was dedicated on April 6–8, 1877; the Logan Temple was the second and dedicated on May 17–19, 1884. The fourth, the Manti Temple, followed four years later, dedicated on May 21–23, 1888. After forty years of construction, the Salt Lake Temple was dedicated on April 6–24, 1893.

Twenty-six years later, the next temple to be dedicated was the Laie Hawaii Temple (on November 27–30, 1919), which began an effort to bring temples to the people beyond the headquarters of the Church in Utah.

  1. Journal History of the Church, May 4, 1844