The Alberta Temple, planned in 1912 and dedicated in August 1923, sits on a very gentle slope on a very flat prairie, its natural stone and compact lines reminiscent of Old Chief Mountain behind it. Architects Hyrum Pope and Harold Burton rose to the site’s challenge by making the temple quadrilaterally symmetrical and psychologically approachable from any direction. Solid and comfortable on its site, it lacks the distinctive towers of earlier temples that clearly signaled which end was the front. In creating a temple that harmonizes with its landscape rather than challenging and dominating it, the architects set an important part of the mood of this particular temple. (See “First of the Modern Temples,” p. 6, this issue.)
They did something else, too. They oriented the temple to the four main compass points, a custom with centuries of symbolism behind it. In ancient Jerusalem, temples were constructed so that the rising sun on the day of the equinox fell through the main doors and illuminated the altar. Why? “This strict orientation to the points of the compass demonstrated that the temples were related to the movements of the heavens rather than to the local streets or landforms.”1 As Hugh Nibley pointed out, “A temple … [is] a scale-model of the universe,” quite literally the place where “one get[s] one’s bearings on the universe.”2
Geographical orientation is a symbol of spiritual orientation. A temple not only reflects cosmic order, but it also creates it. A fixed point in a confusing and shifting world, the temple gives man his orientation by (1) teaching him the true story of how the world was created, (2) teaching him his true identity, and (3) teaching him how obedience to the true laws that govern the universe will give him power over himself and his environment.