Historic Tabernacles


Latter-day Saint pioneers used their finest skills and architecture in the building of early tabernacles as places of worship.

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.

Provo Tabernacle

Provo Tabernacle

A steep roof and corner turrets give the exterior of the Provo Tabernacle a distinctive look.

A pipe organ

A pipe organ provides a stunning backdrop to the elaborate, hand-carved rostrum of the Provo Tabernacle. The sego lily, honored here as the centerpiece of this intricate carving, provided nourishment to starving pioneers in 1847.

Gothic-style stained glass windows

Sunlight, passing through the colored glass of the Gothic-style stained glass windows in the Provo Tabernacle, bathes the spacious interior with a warm glow, creating an atmosphere of worship.

Logan Tabernacle

Vivid stained glass windows

Vivid stained glass windows welcome visitors into the Logan Tabernacle.

Organ pipes

The dramatic sweep of organ pipes dominates the interior.

Brigham City Tabernacle

Brigham City Tabernacle exterior

An impressive tower and rhythmic pinnacles dominate the exterior of the tabernacle. Below: This classical cornice with its crisp traditional detail adds refinement to the building.

The lathe-turned balusters

The lathe-turned balusters of the stairway to the rostrum; the repetition of quatrefoils, four-leafed decorations; and the pine benches painted to resemble oak show the skill of local craftsmen who built the Brigham City Tabernacle.

St. George Tabernacle

The St. George Tabernacle

The St. George Tabernacle has a distinctive red sandstone exterior.

A false doorway Three chandeliers were made to duplicate those in early photographs

Behind the pulpit is a detailed false doorway decorated with pinnacles and pilasters. As part of the recent restoration on the tabernacle, three chandeliers were made to duplicate those in early photographs.

Bear Lake Stake Tabernacle

Bear Lake Stake Tabernacle

Top to bottom: The tabernacle is a fine example of Romanesque Revival architecture with its round arched windows and doors and buttressed walls; using combs and brushes, skilled craftsmen made pine look like oak.

[photo] Background: Within the richly ornamented brick walls of the Provo Tabernacle, curved oak pews create a feeling of peace and harmony.

[photos] Located on Logan’s central block, the tabernacle contrasts rough stonework with smooth, light-colored trim. Background: Organ pipes decorated with gold leaf and stenciled patterns.

[photo] These carved wooden theater seats, now in the St. George Tabernacle, were originally used in the Salt Lake Temple.

[photo] Background: The arched wooden ceiling and the semicircular spread of organ pipes gives a spectacular feeling of space to the interior of the 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.

John Telford is an associate professor of photography in the Department of Visual Arts at Brigham Young University. A member of the Hidden Valley Second Ward, he serves on the high council of the Sandy Utah Hidden Valley Stake.