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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

LDS Church History no. 1 - The Original Nauvoo Temple

From 1841-1846, the main focus of the lives of the Prophet Joseph Smith and all the Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois was the construction of the House of the Lord.  Originally quarried from stone located just a few miles from the Temple, that quarry is now buried under water.

This article will focus more on the interior layout of the original Temple, as we have previously discussed the meaning of the exterior stonework, as well as the interior rooms of the newly-built restoration of the Temple.

The original architect was William Weeks.  To say "architect" is misleading, because Joseph Smith retained the title of Chief Architect for himself, as he was the President of the Church, and the one to whom the revelation of what the temple would look like came. To demonstrate this point, the History of the Church gives us insight.  In the sixth volume, page 196, Joseph writes,

In the afternoon [5 February 1844], Elder William Weeks (whom I had employed as architect of the Temple,) came in for instruction.  I instructed him in relation to the circular windows designed to light the offices in the dead work of the arch between stories.  He said that round windows in the broad side of a building were a violation of all the known rules of architecture, and contended that they should be semicircular - that the building was too low for round windows.  I told him I would have the circles, if he had to make the Temple ten feet higher than it was originally calculated; that one light at the centre of each circular window would be sufficient to light the whole room; that when the whole building was thus illuminated, the effect would be remarkably grand.  'I wish you to carry out my designs.  I have seen in vision the splendid appearance of that building illuminated, and will have it built according to the pattern shown me.'

As seen in the above cross-section, the original Temple had two large Assembly Rooms, one above the other, used for meetings and the October 1845 Semi-Annual General Conference.  Above each of the Assembly Rooms were various offices, seven on each side, with a total of 28 offices underneath the attic, 14 on each of the floors above the Assembly Rooms.  The Endowments were conducted in the attic story of the temple. 

The Nauvoo Illinois Temple is an exact blueprint of the original as compared in the following two photos:

The above is a copy of a daguerreotype taken around 1847 by Louis R. Chaffin.  Notice the small building on the bottom left of the photo.  It was probably the Temple Recorders Office. 
When I was in Nauvoo the week of 14 March 2011, I marveled at the size of the temple, but most especially the fact that the early Saints built the temple with no modern-day equipment, and all within five years.


These are the eastern pulpits of the rebuilt Nauvoo Temple's Assembly Room.  The original Assembly Room took up the remainder of the first floor of the Temple after entrance through the vestibule.  The Assembly Room had two four-tiered pulpits, one on each end, with gilded lettering.  Many have wondered what the lettering on the original pulpits stated.  We have two completely different sources giving the answer.  One is J. H. Buckingham, who apparently was a non-Mormon.  He lists the following letters and meanings when he toured the Nauvoo Temple in the late 1840s (Buckingham, Papers in Illinois History and Transactions, 1937; "Illinois as Lincoln Knew It", Illinois State Historical Society, Springfield, Illinois, p. 172).  On the east end of the pulpits was set in gilded letters (from the highest pulpit to the lowest) P.H.P. (President of the High Priesthood); the next lower had P.S.Z. (President of the Seventies in Zion); the next lower had P.H.Q. (President of the High priests Quorum); and the table at the bottom P.E.Q. (President of the Elders Quorum).  The second source for the meanings of the gilded lettering of the original Nauvoo Temple pulpits comes from a Latter-day Saint who happened to be in the Temple on 1 May 1846, when it was publicly dedicated.  His testimony agrees with Mr. Buckingham.  The Mormon spoken of was James A. Scott.  He wrote in his journal the meaning of the letters (Journal of James A. Scott, p. 4, LDS Church Archives).  These initial do not appear in the current Assembly Room's pulpits, unfortunately.  Painted in gold letters in the arch above the Melchizedek (east) pulpits were the words "The Lord Has Seen Our Sacrifice - Come After Us."  It is also unfortunate that these words are not seen in the new Temple.

The west end of the Hall also had pulpits like the east end.  The west end's pulpits were reserved for the Aaronic Priesthood, and bore the initials: P.A.P. (President of the Aaronic Priesthood) at the highest pulpits; the next lower had P.P.Q. (President of the Priests Quorum); the next lower had P.T.Q. (President of the Teachers Quorum) and the table at the bottom P.D.Q. (President of the Deacons Quorum).

On 17 September 1846, the mob took control of the Temple.  Nearly a month later, first reports were given (in the Hancock Eagle, 5 October 1846) of the desecration of the House of the Lord at Nauvoo.

The damage done to the Temple is considerable.  Some who have examined it say that less that $1,000 will not cover the damage.  Holes have been cut through the floors, the stone oxen in the basement have been considerably disfigured, horns and ears dislodged, and nearly all torn loose from their standing.  Names have been chiseled in the wood engraving in the upward passage, in a very careless manner - clearly portraying the mechanical ingenuity and refinement of the authors.

The House of the Lord stood for just two years and one month before it was burned down by Joseph Agnew, an arsonist.  The town of Nauvoo stood vacant of mobocracy from 1846 until 9 October 1848, when Joseph Agnew burned the building.  From A Comprehensive History of The Church by Elder B. H. Roberts, we read on pages 22 and 23 of volume 3, "One Joseph Agnew, confessed to being the incendiary."  In Roberts' footnote to this statement, he writes that he was told this "upon the Authority of M. M. Morrill, mayor of Nauvoo, at the time of [my] visit to the city in the summer of 1885."
An account of the arson was written in The Nauvoo Patriot on 19 November 1848:

On Monday the 19th of November, our citizens were awakened by the alarm of fire, which, when first discovered, was bursting out through the spire of the Temple, near the small door that opened from the east side to the roof, on the main building.  The fire was seen first about three o'clock in the morning, and not until it had taken such hold of the timbers and roof as to make useless any effort to extinguish it.  The materials of the inside were so dry, and the fire spread so rapidly, that a few minutes were sufficient to wrap this famed edifice in a sheet of flame.
It was a sight too full of mournful sublimity.  The mass of material which had been gathered there by the labor of many years afforded a rare opportunity for this element to play off some of its wildest sports.  Although the morning was tolerably dark, still, when the flames shot upwards, the spire, the streets, and the houses for nearly a mile distant were lighted up, so as to render even the smallest objects discernible.  The glare of the vast torch, pointing skyward, indescribably contrasted with the universal gloom and darkness around it: and men looked on with faces sad as if the crumbling ruins below were consuming all their hopes.
It was evidently the work of an incendiary.  There had been, on the evening previous, a meeting in the lower room: but no person was in the upper part where the fire was first discovered.  Who it was, and what could have been his motives, we have now no idea.  Some feeling infinitely more unenviable than that of the individual who put the torch to the beautiful Ephesian structure of old, must have possessed him.  To destroy a work of art, at once the most elegant and the most renowned in its celebrity of any in the whole west, would, we should think, require a mind of more than ordinary depravity: and we feel assured that no one in this community could have been so lost to every sense of justice, and every consideration of interest as to become the author of the deed. (Nauvoo Patriot, 19 November 1848)

Despite the burning of the Nauvoo Temple, President Wilford Woodruff was satisfied that the Lord had accepted the Saints' sacrifice.  He said, "The Saints had labored faithfully and finished the temple and were now received as a Church with [their] dead.  This is glory enough for building the Temple. (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, vol. 3, 3 May 1846, Family and Church History Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 46–47)"

The west facade of the House of the Lord (with the Spire and Angel Moroni) stood until at least 1860, according to Presiding Patriarch John Smith, eldest son of Patriarch Hyrum Smith (John Smith to Joseph F. Smith, 18 April 1860, LDS Church archives; also "Sons of the Martyrs' Nauvoo Reunion - 1860", BYU Studies, volume 20, issue 4, p. 356).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You do not mention that Brigham Young tried to sell or lease the Temple to the Catholics, but it fell through. Or that it was then listed for sale in the newspapers and was eventually sold to a member of the Church. Later it was resold to another group that used the building for meetings. This is important historical information.