Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Washington D.C. Temple Doors

Temple doors tend to be nice, but a few excel.  For instance, the Salt Lake Temple doors are more ornate than most and include symbols.  I was going to write about all temple doors with symbols, but have decided to just write about the Washington D.C. Temple doors.  

Washington D.C. Temple southeast doors.
Washington D.C. Temple northeast doors
Washington D.C. Temple main entry doors
I'll start with a little background.  When the church decided to build a temple in Washington D.C. (started 1968, completed 1974) they decided that it needed to be easily recognizable as an LDS temple.  They decided that mimicking elements of the Salt Lake Temple would accomplish this.  To the church's credit, it didn't just make a copy of the Salt Lake Temple but rather made a very modern interpretation of it.  So while the temple has 2 sets of 3 symbolic towers with tiers, they don't look like those on the Salt Lake Temple.  Similary, the temple has a priesthood assembly hall which echos the form of the Salt Lake Temple assembly room while being unique.  The Washington D.C. Temple was also given a statue of the Angel Moroni (This wasn't standard then as only L.A. and Salt Lake had these statues at the time) but the statue wasn't a copy of the Salt Lake statue but instead a unique sculpture.

Looking at the Washington D.C. Temple from afar you'd think it lacked most of the symbolism seen on the salt lake temple - namely sun, moon, star and earth stones, the big dipper, etc.  Indeed the stone facade lacks these ornaments; however, they are still present on the Washington D.C. Temple.  They show up on the doors.

These doors have eight symbols.  (Please click on the links to see the full doors)  On the left side from bottom to top we see a star, a planet, concentric circles representing eternity, and the sun complete with a face.  On the right side we have from bottom to top: the big dipper and north star, the earth, seven concentric pentagons representing seven dispensations, and the moon.  I really like these doors because they are beautiful art done in a unique style.  Each of these symbols have special symbolism. 

The sun medallion essentially combines the Nauvoo Temple sun stone (which had a face) and the Salt Lake Temple sun stone style (which incidentally was shown to have a face at one point) while at the same time being a unique symbol.  The moon medallion is round like the Salt Lake Temple’s but it has a crescent shape vaguely reminiscent of the Nauvoo Temple moon stones.  The concentric circles is an adapted form of similar Salt Lake Temple symbols.  The Salt Lake Temple doesn’t have the pentagons or planets, but early plans did call for Saturn stones.  The Salt Lake Temple does have earth stones, however the decision to make the temple out of granite means that they have no detail, so it is nice to see an Earth medallion with details on the D.C. Temple.  The bottom two symbols are also borrowed from the Salt Lake Temple which has many stars (which can represent heaven, a degree of glory, Christ as the morning and evening star, people who rely on the light of Christ, and several other things depending on context) as well as the big dipper which is used to imply the north star or us getting our bearings on life and charting a course for eternity.  It is nice that these doors have the north star included. (The north star can also be a symbol of eternity as it is unchanging).

I really appreciate the detail, symbolism, beauty, artistry, artistic style and uniqueness of the Washington D.C. Temple doors.  I like how they adapt (and add) symbols and brought them from stone to metal.  Another advantage of these doors is that the symbols are brought to a level where you can see and contemplate them easily (In other words they are at eye level).  Other temples have been given symbolic doors and I hope we will from time to time see these unique details in temple designs.

This is an addition to the original post
The artist who created the Washington D.C. Temple doors is Franz Johansen.  He also made the large relief sculpture on the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City.

Here is a new picture of the door handles.  The interior doors have door handles made to look like the east and west sides of the temple with a central tower and two flanking towers, but the exterior door handles look like this.

Washington D.C. Temple exterior door handles
Here are pictures of each of the door medallions.  Each set has the medallion from the main entry doors on the left and the medallion from either the northeast or southeast doors on the right.  I noticed that the symbols are organized.  The top level has the sun and moon, major sources of light in day and night.  The next level has concentric circles and concentric pentagons in circles, so it is where shapes are put.  The next level has the planets and the earth, so it is dealing with planets.  The bottom level has stars on one side, and the big dipper and north star on the other (in an eight pointed star).  So the bottom level is filled with stars.  The organization is nice and suggests that considerable thought went into these doors.
Washington D.C. Temple door sun medallions
Washington D.C. Temple door moon medallions
Washington D.C. Temple door concentric circle medallions
Washington D.C. Temple door concentric pentagon medalions
Washington D.C. Temple planets medallions
Washington D.C. Temple door planet Earth medallions
Washington D.C. Temple door star medallions
Washington D.C. Temple door Big Dipper and Polaris medallions


Jon said...

Fascinating! I had no idea about the existence of earthstones or the degree of connection between the Salt Lake and Washington D.C. temples.

Scott said...

Well Jon, I'll have to write about earth stones soon. They are not as well known because the Salt Lake Temple granite didn't allow the details of continents to be carved, so they are just blank. Washington D.C. and 1 other temple I know of have them with actual details.

Travis Brinton said...

Thanks for this information. I never knew that the pentagons were representative of dispensations. Where did you learn that?

By the way, it looks like you switched up the descriptions of the left and right doors.

Scott said...

I learned it from an ensign article. Here is the link which I am going to add to the original post:

Hallie said...

Have you noticed that the last symbol, the big dipper is also the Seal of Melchizedek.

Scott said...

I suppose it is. I don't think the artist realized that as the big dipper is clearly the focus (and no one talked about the Seal of Melchizedek until the San Diego Temple was built). That doesn't mean it isn't that symbol, just that the artist didn't realize what he was adding. It is kind of neat how symbols work their way into places.

UnseasonablyWarm said...

Hi Scott - your post was very helpful to me! I am an artist in AZ (mainstream stuff and LDS related stuff) and I just finished my Washington DC Temple "1.0". I loved your photos of the 8 door medallions and information about them. I linked your blog in my latest entry. A better artistic rendition will come later this year of the Washington DC temple (2.0) with the 89 door medallions even better represented. Here is the link to the blog entry with a photo of the 1.0 finished artwork:

UnseasonablyWarm said...

Correction to the above; 8 door medallions. Not 89!

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

I just stumbled upon this blog and it's awesome!! Thank you for all this valuable information especially about the Washington DC Temple!!

Scott said...

I'm glad I could help you find out about the door medallions and that you like my blog.

Anonymous said...

I am a little disappointed that no one sees messages in these medallions. My father's only religion was Freemasonry, and I read his 18th-century books. There was a lot of mathematical symbology, especially of pentagrams and suns with twelve or more beams. And since baptism for the dead was probably carried out in a temple in Rome, on the Capitoliine, where Michaelangelo placed an outline of its base in the cobble stones. (Still there), Anyway, there are eight keys of the priesthood: Prophecy, Resurection, Gathering, Sealing, Eternal Marriage and Seed, Baptism, Healing, Teaching (I think).

Dominique Richardson said...

do you happen to know what the medallions are made out of?