Standing as silent, physical evidences of religious devotion, tabernacles embody the deep and abiding faith that pioneer Saints felt for Jesus Christ and his gospel. The more than 80 buildings that remain from earlier eras stand as edifying symbols to modern-day Saints.
Use of the term tabernacle by Latter-day Saints may be a biblical allusion to Isaiah’s prophecy that Zion would be like an Israelite tabernacle established before Christ’s Second Coming: “Look upon Zion … : thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken” (Isa. 33:20).
In keeping with this metaphor, the name for the grouping of several Latter-day Saint congregations is a stake. With the creation of each new stake comes, figuratively, another set of fastening cords that extend and strengthen the Latter-day “tabernacle” of Zion. Isaiah urged Zion: “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes” (Isa. 54:2).
As Latter-day Saints settled in the Mountain West, the first large meeting halls were interchangeably called tabernacles or meetinghouses. As settlements grew, tabernacles became more clearly defined as the meeting places for stakes. As the 20th century progressed to mid-century, a newer building type, the stake center, replaced the tabernacle. Functioning as stake assembly hall, office suite, educational facility, recreation center, and meeting place for priesthood, Relief Society, and auxiliary functions, the stake center often is a modern equivalent to the tabernacle.
Historically, tabernacles have ranged from simple log cabins (Kanesville, Iowa, constructed in 1847) or adobe (mud brick) buildings (the first tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, 1852) to classically inspired templelike structures (Bountiful, Utah, 1857–63), picturesque Victorian halls (Bear Lake, Idaho, 1884–89, and Provo, Utah, 1883–96), and buildings that hark back to the American colonies (Boise, Idaho, 1924–25). The last tabernacle built by the Church was the Ogden Tabernacle. Of steel and concrete, it features modern international architecture (1952–56).
In the Church’s tabernacles, there is evidence of faithfulness and devotion articulated by exacting design, craftsmanship, and handiwork. Talented Church members who were architects, builders, and artisans from Britain, Scandinavia, Europe, and the eastern United States bore their testimonies through their work. In addition, devotion has also been expressed for decades, sometimes over a century, in the cherished use and careful maintenance of these buildings. In recent times, some of these tabernacles have been restored as means of preserving our heritage. Pictured is a selection of the beautiful and skillful craftsmanship and architecture found in these historic houses of worship.
Brigham City Tabernacle
St. George Tabernacle
Bear Lake Stake Tabernacle
Brad Westwood is assistant department chair of Special Collections and Manuscripts at Brigham Young University. He teaches Gospel Doctrine in the Hobble Creek Sixth Ward, Springville Utah Hobble Creek Stake.