Nauvoo’s Holy Temple


Gordon B. Hinckley

Nauvoo’s Holy Temple

I am glad to be here on this great occasion. I am glad to be here with President Hunter, and we are greatly honored to be in his presence. We listen to what he has to say with sincere interest. I am happy to be here with Brother Ballard, and the brethren of this area presidency, and with all of you.

One purpose of our gathering today, of course, is to unveil a sun stone which was once a part of the Nauvoo Temple. As state senator Laura Kent Donahue has indicated, it is now the property of the state of Illinois and the state of Illinois has graciously loaned it to us, placed it in our custody. I hope we have built the kind of enclosure around it which will preserve it for many generations yet to come. I express appreciation to the state and its officers. I express appreciation to Senator Donahue who had a very prominent part in making it available, and to Mr. Roy Ufgus.

He has been a tremendous friend to this church and has had a very prominent part in the acquisition of the properties which we now own in Nauvoo, Carthage, and other areas.

We reflect today in a particular way on the final project of the Prophet’s building of “Nauvoo the Beautiful.” The temple which rose on this ground was to be the crowning jewel of this city. When it was completed in 1846, a year and a half after the Martyrdom, it was looked upon as perhaps the finest building then in the state of Illinois. It stood on this eminence, a structure of gleaming limestone. Its tower reached 165 feet in the air, and it could be seen for many miles up and down the river, from the far interior of Illinois, and from far into Iowa. It was the last thing that our people saw as they began their long journey west.

That fading picture, as they moved over the Iowa prairie, was a reminder of all they had left behind—their snug and solid homes, their well-kept farms, the burial places of their loved ones, including the burial sites of their Prophet and Patriarch. They wept as they paused and looked eastward to the temple. They were leaving forever the city built by their consecrated labors to face an unknown wilderness.

One of them wrote in his diary as he looked back this way:

The silvery notes of the Temple bell
That we loved so deep and well
And a pang of grief would swell the heart,
And the scalding tears in anguish start
As we silently gazed on our dear old homes.

(E. Cecil McGavin, The Nauvoo Temple, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1962, p. 104)

The construction of this building was announced in October 1840. Actual construction began in the spring of 1841. Daniel H. Wells, then a nonmember, donated the site on which the building stood. Work was well along when the Prophet and Patriarch were killed in June of 1844. There was a brief pause and then the labor was picked up again at an accelerated pace.

But there was no peace for the people of Nauvoo. Not satisfied with having killed the Prophet and Patriarch, their enemies continued to harass them. They knew they would have to leave if they were to find peace. They knew they would have to abandon this sacred house of God. Nevertheless, they were determined to complete it and dedicate it.

The fall and winter of 1845 was a terribly busy season. Wagons were being manufactured in blacksmith shops. Fifteen hundred of those wagons were completed by November that year, and another two thousand were in various stages of construction. My own grandfather, then in his late teens, was living here with an uncle, having been orphaned. He here learned the blacksmith’s trade. He became a blacksmith and a farrier. He learned how to shape hot iron on an anvil. He learned how to shoe horses and oxen, how to build wagon wheels and iron tires and axles. That was a precious skill in those frontier days. While all of this preparation for exodus was going on, work was also moving feverishly to complete the temple.

As the year grew to a close, as Brother Ballard has indicated, the sacred ceremonial work began. It was carried forward feverishly, through night and day, until the Saints left.

The first companies crossed the river February 4. It was so cold the river subsequently froze. Some were able to cross on the ice. Others later were taken over in ferries. There was a veritable stream of them, for Nauvoo was then the largest city in the state. Though they were leaving the temple behind, Brigham Young determined that it should be dedicated. Six of the Brethren were asked to return and take care of this. They were Wilford Woodruff, Orson Hyde, John Bernhisel, and Brigham Young’s brothers, Joseph, John, and Phineas.

On the evening of 30 April 1846, a private dedicatory service was held, the reason for that private service being that the Brethren were fearful that a public ceremony scheduled for the next day might be broken up by enemies of the Church.

The next morning, Orson Hyde delivered the formal prayer of dedication.

Later that year, a citizen of Boston, Mr. J. H. Backingham, visited the abandoned city. He wrote:

“The rise and progress of Nauvoo, will be, if it should ever be written, a romance of thrilling interest. No one can visit Nauvoo, and come away without a conviction that … the body of the Mormons were an industrious, hardworking, and frugal people. In the history of the whole world there cannot be found such another instance of so rapid a rise of a city out of the wilderness—a city so well built, a territory so well cultivated. … Joe Smith [as he spoke of him], the Prophet-leader, was, although an uneducated man, a man of great power, and a man who could conceive great projects” (in Richard N. Holzapfel and T. Jeffery Cottle, Old Mormon Nauvoo, Provo, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1990, p. 27).

That statement, I may say, was representative of a number of those who came here in those days and observed what was happening.

After the Saints left, the temple, which stood where you are seated this day, was occupied by their enemies, who defiled it with boisterous, profane language and vile and contemptible behavior. Then the building was gutted by fire on 9 October 1848. This fire was the work of hateful arsonists, one of whom was almost trapped in the blaze he had set and nearly lost his life carrying out his evil work. A tornado did further damage on 27 May 1850, and the remaining walls, no longer safe, were taken down in 1865.

The general design was that of the Prophet. Pilasters around the outside, thirty in number, rested on moon stones. Crowning these pilasters were sun stones of the kind you’ll see today. And above these were engravings of the stars.

The inspiration for this unique decorative feature isn’t totally known, but I suggest that it doubtless came from Paul’s writing to the Corinthians in which he said:

“There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

“So also is the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:40–42). Such are Paul’s words.

These kingdoms, or gradations of heavenly glory, had also been affirmed to the Prophet in a glorious vision received 16 February 1832, which we know as section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

This building was to be concerned with the things of eternity. It was to stand as a witness to all who should look upon it that those who built it had a compelling faith and a certain knowledge that the grave is not the end, but that the soul is immortal and goes on growing. In March of the year he died—1844—the Prophet had amplified this doctrine in a monumental address which he delivered in the grove which was just below the temple site. The text of that address has become an important doctrinal document in the theology of the Church. It is known as the King Follett Sermon.

I am grateful, my brothers and sisters and friends, that the Church again owns this sanctified ground on which stood a special house of the Lord, dedicated to His holy and eternal purposes. I am grateful that through the courtesy and kindness of officials of the state of Illinois, we are now permitted to place and display one of the sun stones of the structure which stood here. As the generations pass, it will be looked upon by millions who will visit these precincts, coming from over the earth, as the Church continues to reach out in its divinely appointed mission of teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.

The essence of a very important part of that work is a fulfillment of the declaration given to Joseph Smith by Moroni the angel on the night of 21 September 1823, almost seven years before the Church was organized.

Said the Lord: “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

“And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.

“If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (D&C 2:1–3).

That work of redemption, in behalf of the dead as well as the living, now goes forward in a score of languages in forty-five working temples across the world.

Today, this Sabbath day, in many thousands of congregations, perhaps as many as twenty-one thousand, in many areas of the earth, our people have sung or will sing the praises of the builder of the temple that once stood here:

Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.

(Hymns, 1985, no. 27)

Nauvoo was occupied by the Saints for the brief period of only seven years. They came in 1839; they left in 1846.

For one brief, shining moment this to them was the city of Joseph. The sacred Nauvoo Temple was the house of the Lord, built with consecration, love, faith, and skill. May there remain ever green in our hearts and minds, and in those of all of the generations who will follow, appreciation, respect, and love for those who built here so well and with so lofty a purpose, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

I will now proceed to the sun stone and unveil it.