Updated: May 18
Today we go back to 1893 and travel to Utah in North America and remember the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple .
What is the theology behind it? How did is survive the Utah War? Unusually not primarily a place of congregation, its purpose is to provide the endowment and sealing ordinances and to perform proxy ordinances for the dead. More is explained in the podcast below.....
The building was inspired by Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem. It is oriented towards Jerusalem and the large basin used as a baptismal font is mounted on the backs of twelve oxen, inspired by the book of Chronicles in the Bible. Chronicles is the final book of the Hebrew Bible and concludes the history-oriented books of the Old Testament. Part of the book covers the period when Solomon becomes king, builds and dedicates the Temple, reaping the benefits of prosperity and peace, a golden age in the history of Israel. When the church of the latter day saints was migrating to the Valley of the Salt Lake, after being directed there by the Belgian Jesuit priest and explorer Pierre-Jean De Smet (see podcast of Feb 4 )
Their leader, Brigham Young, designated the site for a future temple. Wilford Woodruff placed a stake in the ground to mark the spot that would become the centre of the future building. Within months the members of the church were invited gather and bring precious metals and other materials “for the exaltation . . . of the living and the dead,” Truman O. Angell Sr. was named as temple architect, assisted by William Ward, who received his architectural training in England and was skilled in stone construction. Sandstone was originally used for the foundation. During the Utah War, the foundation was buried and the lot made to look like a ploughed field to confuse the federal troops. After tensions eased in 1858 and work on the temple resumed, it was discovered that many of the foundation stones had cracked, making them unsuitable for use. The inadequate sandstone was replaced., and the walls were built out of quartz monzonite (which has the appearance of granite), The Impressive structure would be finished in 40 years.
The Church of Latter Days saints have what theologians might refer to as a high ecclesiology, the theological branch which explores the nature and structure of the Christian Church. As regarding the status of their buildings, Temples are considered sacred and therefore not open to casual visitors, A pass called ‘a temple recommend’ is required to enter. Visitors to Salt Lake City are often disappointed that there are no public tours inside the temple The Temple Square, where the building is located, is the most visited tourist site in Utah drawing up to 5 million people each year, many from the Mormon diaspora. However, the temple grounds are open to the public and are a popular tourist attraction. The first public photographs of the interior were published in the book The House of the Lord, by James E. Talmage. Since then, various photographs have been published, including by Life magazine in 1938.
Inscribed on the facade of the temple in gold lettering is the phrase "Holiness to the Lord in The House of the Lord." A central part of the Mormon faith is that if they remain faithful to sacred promises made in the Church's temples, their family relationships can be eternal, extending beyond death. So, building the temple was a top priority once they reached the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. The towers on either side of the temple represent different understandings of authority and priesthood in the tradition. The three towers on the east, represent the Melchizedekian priesthood.
Melchisedek, was a king and priest who appeared in the Book of Genesis. His appearance is the first time in the Hebrew Bible the term priest ‘Kohen’ was used. He represents the kingly and priestly functions of governance and sanctification. So, the three eastern towers are also understood in the Latter Days Saints community as representing the President and his counsellors. After Moses died in the Bible, it is believed the lesser Aaronic priesthood line continued. Named after Aaron, Moses’ brother, who lived in the eastern border-land of Egypt during the exile of the Hebrews. Moses resided in the royal court of Pharaoh having been discovered by the Pharaohs daughter in the Nile. Interestingly in the Muslim sacred text the Quran, Moses is brought up as a son of Pharaoh, the Jewish text does not go that far. When Moses asked Pharaoh to free the Israelites- ‘Let my people go’ Aaron served as his brother's spokesman to the Pharaoh. Fast forward many years, part of the Law (Torah) that Moses received from God at Sinai granted Aaron the priesthood for himself and his male descendants, and he became the first High Priest of the Israelites. It is not until Jesus Christ that the Melchizedekian priesthood is re-established. Three towers on the west of the Salt Lake temple represent the Presiding Bishop and his two counselors; the Aaronic priesthood. Salt Lake Temple is currently closed for four years as major renovations are underway, repairing seismic damage and improving accessibility