On the morning of 6 April 1893, Wilford Woodruff entered the Salt Lake Temple through the southwest doors and proceeded to the fourth floor. At 10:00 A.M., with twenty-five hundred people in attendance, the first of a series of forty-one dedication services began. The dedication was the final step in a forty-year saga of sacrifice and labor surrounding the construction of the temple.
“The Heavenly Host were in attendance at the [first] dedication [service],” President Woodruff told the congregation in a subsequent dedicatory service. “If the eyes of the congregation could be opened they would [have] seen Joseph and Hyrum [Smith], Brigham Young, John Taylor and all the good men who had lived in this dispensation assembled with us, as also Esaias, Jeremiah, and all the Holy Prophets and Apostles who had prophesied of the latter day work. … They were rejoicing with us in this building which had been accepted of the Lord and [when] the [Hosanna] shout had reached the throne of the Almighty,” they too had joined in the joyous shout.
Elder George Q. Cannon had prophesied in 1871 that once the temple was finished, there would be “a power and manifestations of the goodness of God unto this people such as they have never before experienced.” And so there were.
The first day of dedication was stormy. “It had been predicted [that] the Devil would howl,” wrote Lucy Flake, “and sure enough he did, for Salt Lake City had never witnessed such a storm, wind, rain and snow, many houses and trees were blown over. … Hundreds of people stood in the snow for hours waiting for the temple doors to open.”
Outside, the storm raged all day. But inside the temple, peace and calm filled the assembly room, where the First Presidency—Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, and Joseph F. Smith—and the Quorum of the Twelve waited to begin the dedication services. The beauty and grandeur of this fourth-floor room was impressive, with its 10.9-meter-high ceiling, carved woodwork with white and gold trim, and a circular stairway in each of the four corners. Pulpits, arranged in tiers and upholstered in crimson velvet, dominated each end of the 36.5-meter room, with the pulpits in the east end representing the Melchizedek Priesthood and the ones in the west end representing the Aaronic Priesthood. Priesthood leaders sat in the tiers of white wooden seats, upholstered in crimson, that banked the pulpits. Other members sat on chairs in the broad, open space between the tiered ends of the room.
The Spirit was strong in the room, even before the meeting started. Members had been invited to join in a special fast day on 18 March 1893 to “encourag[e] a renewed feeling of unity and spiritual purity.” All had been encouraged to repent, cease bickerings, confess their sins, and forgive one another. “Never has there been so complete a union in the chief [councils] of the Priesthood,” said Francis M. Lyman of the Quorum of the Twelve. And members felt a similar unity as “all eyes were turned toward the Salt Lake Temple, and all hearts [were] set upon its dedication.”
Music invited the Spirit of the Lord into each heart. Accompanied by a large pipe organ that had been brought in especially for the dedication, a choir of three hundred members, the men dressed in dark suits and the women in white dresses, sang special hymns of praise written by Latter-day Saint composers for the occasion. “Did any of us really know before the talent of our musicians?” wrote Annie Wells Cannon. “The words alone, so appropriate and sweet, the music tender yet sublime and the most perfect rendition made a feast for the soul.”
Choir member Bardella S. Curtis saw “the veil between mortality and high heaven drawn aside.” Charles R. Savage, another choir member, wrote, “My soul was filled with peace and my whole nature replete with satisfaction. … I never felt nearer to the invisible powers than while in the Temple.”
Susa Young Gates, the official stenographer for the dedicatory services, attended the first session of the dedication. “I was sitting on the lower side of the east pulpits, at the recorder’s table,” she wrote. “Almost as soon as President [Joseph F.] Smith began to address the Saints, there shone through his countenance a radiant light that gave me a peculiar feeling. I thought that the clouds must have lifted, and that a stream of sunlight had lighted on the President’s head. … I looked out of the window, and somewhat to my surprise … there was not the slightest rift in the heavy, black clouds above the city; there was not a gleam of sunshine anywhere. … Whence had come the light that shone from the face of President Smith? I was sure that I had seen the actual Presence of the Holy Spirit, focussed upon the features of the beloved leader. … I cherish the occurrence as one of the most sacred experiences of my life.”
Sister Gates was not the only person to witness the light surrounding President Smith. An elder seated at the opposite end of the room saw a light of “yellowish or golden tint and exceedingly brilliant” appear around President Smith as he spoke.
After talks by all three members of the First Presidency, President Wilford Woodruff knelt on a “plush, covered stool” and offered the dedicatory prayer. “He offered the prayer seemingly with [the] strength of a man fifty years old,” wrote David John of the 86-year-old prophet, who read the 35-minute dedicatory prayer “unhesitatingly without glasses.” Nearly fifty years earlier, President Woodruff had dreamed that Brigham Young gave him the keys of the temple and told him to go and dedicate it. This event was the fulfillment of that dream.
Following the dedicatory prayer, Lorenzo Snow, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, led the congregation in the traditional “Hosanna Shout,” wherein everyone stood and shouted “Hosanna” three times while waving white handkerchiefs above their heads. “This shout of Hosanna thrilled the hearts of the vast multitude, and echoed grandly through the magnificent building,” wrote Emmeline B. Wells. “So exultant and enraptured were the saints in their rejoicing that their faces beamed with gladness, and the whole place seemed glorified and sanctified … on that never-to-be-forgotten occasion.”
The still-standing group of people in the assembly room sang “The Spirit of God like a fire is burning! The latter-day glory begins to come forth; The visions and blessings of old are returning, And angels are coming to visit the earth” (Hymns, 1985, number 2). Many wept uncontrollably and could not finish the hymn.
This spirit prevailed throughout the remaining dedicatory services. Forty-one sessions were held over a two-week period in order for as many worthy members as possible to attend the sessions. In all, more than seventy-five thousand people attended the ceremonies, many of them later remembering the powerful spiritual feelings they experienced.
For example, on Monday, 17 April 1893, Brother Andrew Smith, Jr., a member of the Tabernacle Choir, opened his eyes as President Cannon read the dedicatory prayer. He said of the experience, “I saw a bright light appeared above his [President Cannon’s] head and behind him from his shoulders upwards. This light remained in that position a few moments and then raised until I could see the face of a personage in the midst of it. It was the countenance of President Brigham Young. I turned my gaze away for a moment … and then I beheld the person of President John Taylor. … I also saw a personage whom I took to be Hyrum Smith … then Orson Pratt, whom I at once recognized. … When the prayer was concluded and just before and during the sacred hosanna shout, I noticed a bright halo of light surrounding several of the brethren. … I was overcome and wept for joy. Having my head bowed for a short time I saw nothing more for a few moments. On raising it again I saw a brilliant light over the head of each member of the First Presidency while they sat upon the stand. Whichever way any of the speakers turned while addressing the people, the light followed every movement made by them.”
Eleven-year-old George Monk attended the temple dedication with his mother and grandmother. He saw “a man appear at the south-east circular window of the assembly hall of the Temple.” When he told his mother, he was surprised to hear her say she could not see him. As the meeting continued, he saw “two other [angelic personages moving] … across the upper part of the hall from south to north … and five others [who] had entered the large compartment and were ranged upon the wide ledge which runs along the wall under the row of circular windows.” He described them as “the prettiest men” he had ever seen. Just prior to the benediction, he said, “Mamma, look at that one under the clock, he is the prettiest of them all. See! he is holding up both his hands like this.” Then George held up his own hands to show his mother. In all, he saw eight angelic personages and described them as “dressed in loose flowing white robes” and “most, if not all, had long and somewhat wavy hair.”
Hans Jensen Hals viewed a similar heavenly manifestation and recorded it in his journal. “I and [my] family and two hundred members of the ward had the privilege to be at the dedication services and had a splendid time. Rich instructions [came] from the authorities [of the Church]. Angels of God were seen coming in the south-east window and sitting on the corners. Two of them moved across the large hall over the people and went out the north window.”
While outside the temple, others saw a “glow of glorious light surround the Temple and circle about it as if it were an intelligible Presence.”
For many members, leaving the temple after the dedication services was “like coming down from heaven to earth.” Thomas Sleight wrote that he hoped “the heavenly feeling might not entirely leave me.” Many members felt the same; and when they returned home, they shared their testimonies with others and filled the pages of their journals with accounts of their experiences.
Brother Sleight recorded that during the dedicatory prayer on April 7, everyone “joined in mentally with [President Joseph F. Smith, who read the prayer,] making their humble offering and petition to the Great Eloheim in the name of Jesus Christ. I felt that I stood in the presence of God and a feeling of reverence came over me that I never experienced before.”
Elder Rudger Clawson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote in his journal that while he and his wife, Lydia, were waiting for the dedication service to begin on the evening of April 8, Lydia “heard beautiful singing that seemed to come from the South East Corner of the room. At first she thought there must be a choir there, but of course there was not. She heard the singing twice.”
Eight-year-old Alice Minerva Richards recorded that during the meeting on April 7, she “heard beautiful music, beyond anything [she had ever] heard elsewhere … and saw angels.” When she returned home, she told her younger brothers and sisters about her experience.
Other members left the temple dedication with a renewed commitment to repent. A boy known for his rowdy behavior saw “a bright halo about the head of President Woodruff.” He said that “the spirit of the temple was so strong with him that he went home and started a reformation among his companions.”
“This has been a pentecostal time with me,” wrote Elder B. H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy. “The Lord has shown me my inner parts, myself; and there I have found such grained and gnarled spots that I have been humbled to sincere repentance.”
The dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in April 1893 was indeed a time of sanctification. Many lives were changed. The great temple, built to endure through the Millennium, required many Saints to sacrifice their time, money, and talents during the forty years of its construction. Our Father in Heaven poured out spiritual blessings upon those early Saints for their sacrifices.
“Some say that places so beautiful, so chaste, so sacred are fit dwellings for angels,” wrote Annie Wells Cannon of the temple during the week of the dedication.
And indeed it was.
The author thanks Richard N. Holzapfel, who gathered much material for this article. Footnotes are available in English from International Magazines, 50 East North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.