We are pleased and honored that the United States Postal Service would select the Arnold Friberg painting of the Salt Lake Temple as a postal card commemorating the Church Sesquicentennial.
On Wednesday, 28 July 1847, less than a week after the first Mormon pioneers had completed their weary trek into the desolate Salt Lake Valley, President Brigham Young led some associates to the north end of the valley. He identified the location that would be the site of the new temple and the Church headquarters in the center of the city. For nearly half a century, the shaping of that sacred edifice out of native materials, with handmade tools, required the faith, dedication, labor, and sacrifice of the entire Mormon community.
It may seem surprising that plans for such a monumental structure were made even before the pioneers had moved out of their wagons. The temple was as central to the lives of the Latter-day Saints as planning and building a new home in the West.
The Salt Lake Temple was not the first temple built by the Church. Before the Latter-day Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, two temples had been completed—one in Kirtland, Ohio, and the other in Nauvoo, Illinois. Both buildings were abandoned, however, as members of the Church were forced by hostile neighbors to move west. Finally, in the unsettled valleys of the Rocky Mountains, the Latter-day Saints were able to establish a permanent home where they could find refuge and erect a temple.
Beginning with the selection of the site on the fourth day in the valley, until his death in 1877, President Brigham Young, the second prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, directed the planning and construction of the Salt Lake Temple. At the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone in 1853, President Young revealed that he had seen the temple in vision five years before when he selected the site. The size and general shape of the structure, including the six spires, were prescribed by him. (See Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City, Deseret Book Company, 1941, p. 410.) Think of this—Brigham Young was President of the Church, governor of the territory, Indian agent, and director of many economic endeavors, yet he gave preeminent attention to the construction of two temples, one in St. George and the other in Salt Lake City.
Why such an emphasis on temples? Temples are structures of special significance to Latter-day Saints. For our regular worship we build meetinghouses, places where both members and nonmembers may congregate. But temples are dedicated buildings preserved for the most sacred ordinances of the Church.
It is impressive to know that two generations of craftsmen labored on this temple during forty years of construction; that the huge quarried stones, each weighing between 2,500 and 5,600 pounds, were initially conveyed twenty miles to the temple block by ox-drawn carts; that masons sometimes worked on a single stone an entire month. But its principal architect, Truman Angell, made the design and construction of the temple his lifetime work. Impressive as these facts are, this temple—like all others—was not erected as an architectural monument. It was dedicated as the house of the Lord. That title is most significant.
When the Savior walked the earth, he made a startling statement: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). Many, in reading that statement, have assumed Jesus was without a permanent home or residence. There was another explanation. The temple of Solomon, the pattern of which was given by revelation, dedicated as the house of the Lord, had been destroyed. In its place another temple had been erected, but it too had been desecrated. As he threw the money changers from the temple and its precincts, he rebuked: “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matt. 21:13). Yes, the Son of Man had no place to lay his head because there was no dedicated, acceptable house of the Lord.
On 6 April 1853, when the cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple was laid, there still was no dedicated, acceptable house of the Lord. So in his dedicatory remarks, President Brigham Young said: “What are we here for, this day? … To lay the foundation of a temple to the Most High God, so that when his Son, our Elder Brother, shall again appear, he may have a place where he can lay his head” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 417).
To Latter-day Saints, the Salt Lake Temple and all other temples symbolize a place of residence for the Son of God, a house of the Lord.
On this day we pay reverence, yes, reverent homage, to the foresight and vision of our pioneer forefathers. We give thanks to God for his blessings and bestowal of privileges in connection with the sacred temple ordinances. We express appreciation to Arnold Friberg for his painting of the temple and to the national and local postal officials who have provided this commemorative issue of the Salt Lake Temple postal card. May this historic event cause us to recall our sacred heritage is my humble prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.