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    “Kirtland Temple,” Church History Topics

    “Kirtland Temple”

    Kirtland Temple

    In an August 1833 revelation, the Lord commanded the Latter-day Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, to “commence a work of laying out and preparing a beginning and foundation of the city of the stake of Zion here in the land of Kirtland beginning at my house.”1 For the next three years, the Saints consecrated much of their time and talents to construct the House of the Lord, later known as the Kirtland Temple.2

    Early photograph of the Kirtland Temple

    Early photograph of the Kirtland Temple.

    The First Presidency at that time—Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams—saw the building in vision in 1833 and presided over the laying of the temple cornerstone at a ceremony held on July 23. The revealed design called for an interior 55 feet wide by 65 feet long with a large first-floor assembly room for administering the sacrament, preaching, fasting, and praying, and another large hall on the second floor for a school of the elders. The exterior resembled the New England Protestant style, but the interior introduced unique features, particularly the arrangement of two series of four-tiered pulpits on each end of the assembly rooms for seating the presidencies of the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods.3

    Photograph of the pulpits in the second-floor assembly hall of the Kirtland Temple

    Photograph of the pulpits in the second-floor assembly hall of the Kirtland Temple.

    A limestone quarry a few miles from the temple provided stone for the temple walls, and a sawmill built and operated through the consecrated service of the Saints supplied wood for the interior. Skilled carpenters, including Jacob Bump, Truman Angell, and Brigham Young, applied their craft to beautify the building. Children gathered discarded shards of crockery and china for mixing into the stucco finish applied to the temple’s exterior.4

    As the temple neared completion, Joseph Smith met in the structure with Latter-day Saint men who had been ordained to the priesthood in January and February to prepare for the dedication. The assembled men prayed together, experienced spiritual manifestations, partook of the sacrament, and participated in sacred rituals, including ceremonial washing and anointing. On January 21, 1836, Joseph Smith experienced a vision of celestial glory now found in Doctrine and Covenants 137.

    On March 27, 1836, the Saints assembled for the temple’s dedication. The Saints partook of the sacrament and listened to several sermons. Joseph Smith offered a prayer of dedication that he had received by revelation (now D&C 109), which the Saints followed by giving the Hosanna Shout and singing “The Spirit of God like a Fire Is Burning,” a hymn penned by William W. Phelps for the occasion. The dedicatory prayer, Hosanna Shout, and Phelps’s hymn became standard elements of subsequent dedicatory proceedings of Latter-day Saint temples.5

    At the dedication ceremony and at meetings in the following weeks, Latter-day Saints experienced dramatic outpourings of the Holy Spirit and remarkable spiritual events within the temple that fulfilled a promise in earlier revelations that the Lord would “endow” the Saints with “power from on high.”6 Most notably, a vision of Jesus Christ and several Old Testament prophets seen by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery inaugurated the worldwide gathering of Israel and restored a fulness of the sealing power.7

    The temple functioned as a center of the Kirtland Saints’ worship, hosting Sabbath, prayer, and fasting meetings. Church leaders and missionaries assembled for study in subjects including reading, writing, history, and geography. The last session of the Kirtland School of the Prophets (also called the School of the Elders) was held in the temple.8

    A year after the temple’s dedication, a financial crisis beset the Saints in Kirtland.9 Angry at Church leaders, a faction led by dissenter Warren Parrish attempted to seize the building. Months later, an unknown arsonist tried to set fire to the building. Threats of violence and other troubles led Church leaders and many Saints to leave Ohio for Far West, Missouri. The relatively few Saints remaining in Kirtland continued to worship and congregate in the temple.10

    After Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, most members of the Kirtland congregation embraced the “New Organization,” a movement that eventually became the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, led by Joseph’s son Joseph Smith III. In 1880, a court recognized the heirs of Joseph Smith as those holding title to the building, and two decades later, the RLDS Church (later Community of Christ) secured ownership through a legal claim of continuous use (known as adverse possession). Community of Christ has cared for the building since that time.11

    Notes

    1. Revelation, 2 August 1833–B [D&C 94],” in Revelation Book 2, 64–65, josephsmithpapers.org; see also Doctrine and Covenants 94:1.

    2. The official name for the temple was the House of the Lord; Joseph Smith and other Latter-day Saints also referred to the House of the Lord in Kirtland as “the Chapel” and, in rare instances, “the temple.” See “House of the Lord,” josephsmithpapers.org.

    3. Keith W. Perkins and Mark L. Staker, “Kirtland, Ohio, 1831–1838,” in Brandon S. Plewe, ed., Mapping Mormonism: An Atlas of Latter-day Saint History (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2012), 31.

    4. No known historical accounts describe early Latter-day Saints intentionally breaking china to decorate the walls. Children’s efforts to gather discarded china may have been the source of this later folklore. Mark Lyman Staker, Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2009), 437.

    5. See Topics: Temple Dedications and Dedicatory Prayers, Solemn Assemblies.

    6. “Revelation, 1 June 1833 [D&C 95],” in Revelation Book 2, 59–60, josephsmithpapers.org; Doctrine and Covenants 95:8; see also Topics: Endowment of Power, Sealing.

    7. Visions, 3 April 1836 [D&C 110],” josephsmithpapers.org; see also Doctrine and Covenants 110.

    8. See Topic: School of the Prophets.

    9. See Topic: Kirtland Safety Society.

    10. David J. Howlett, Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014), 29–33.

    11. Howlett, Kirtland Temple, 39–47.