Sunday, February 20, 2011

Salt Lake Temple Symbolic Progression

One of the best parts of the older temples is the use of symbolic progression as one moves through the temple.  When you move from endowment room to endowment room the architecture of each room can be designed to compliment the endowment ceremony in meaningful ways.  I want to explain how some of this is achieved in the Salt Lake Temple.  Each room in the Salt Lake Temple is more than the previous room.  It symbolizes that as we progress in the gospel we become more.  We become better people, we gain more skills, we become more righteous and holy.  We become closer to God and we become more like Him.  I'm just going to show pictures of each endowment room and explain how it achieves this.

The Creation Room:
Salt Lake Temple Creation Room

Originally the creation room didn't even have murals (they were added many years later).  The lighting is very simple (newer lighting has been installed in the last few years, but it still has the simplest lighting).  There are no staircases and no natural light.  Also notice that there isn't even an altar in the room.  Although a nice, moving room, the creation room is very simple.  It is also the lowest in elevation (in the basement) and has the lowest ceilings of the endowment rooms.  This is the first endowment room in the temple.  It is our starting point - the creation of the earth and mankind.  The murals in the creation room also show progression from a disorganized world, to land and seas being formed, to plants being formed.  It is somewhat interesting that no animals are shown in the murals in the creation room despite the fact that animals were created during the creation.  This is used as a way to show progression in the garden room. 

The Garden Room:
Salt Lake Temple Garden Room

The next endowment room in the Salt Lake Temple is the Garden Room.  This room represents The Garden of Eden.  To get to the room, patrons go up a small rise from the creation room (a few feet).  The room is now larger and taller.  There are more lights are each is more ornate (in the picture they are slightly more involved, newly installed lights are really nice) and there is a large light at the top where the ceiling is recessed (recently upgraded with clear art glass incorporating sego lilies).  An altar is present, and although nice, is simpler than other altars in the temple.  3 staircases are now present although they are short and fairly simple.  Originally this would have had a small greenhouse behind the curtains that can be seen in the photo.  This would have brought natural light into the room.  Also notice that the door has glass on the top half and filling the arch above.  The murals now show the Garden of Eden in idyllic splendor with nice plants and animals all getting along.  Adding animals shows progression from the creation room.

 The Grand Staircase:

Grand Staircase, Salt Lake Temple
Upon leaving the garden room, patrons exit (if I recall correctly going down 1 step symbolizing the fall) onto a landing and then go up the grand staircase.  This is a fitting symbol of progression.  A stained glass window of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden is also seen. 

Grand Staircase, Salt Lake Temple
This staircase brings patrons to the first floor of the temple where they will enter the world room.  As they go up the staircase, the doors to the celestial room are visible before patrons turn to enter the world room.  This gives a glimpse of things to come. As a side note, Jesus Christ appeared to President Lorenzo Snow at the top of this staircase and told him he was to be the next prophet and to reorganize the first presidency.

 The Telestial or World Room:
Salt Lake Temple World Room

This room represents the fallen world that we all live in, yet at the same time it has to symbolize a progression.  The fallen state of the world is shown through fighting animals, trees competing for space or dying, a river eroding a hillside, etc.  The progression is shown in many ways.  Tall windows let natural light flood into the room.  In addition, the chandeliers are now clusters of ball lights instead of single lights.  The altar is more ornate.  The doors are taller.  The staircase is now more detailed and quite a bit taller.  The entire room is more spacious.  Also notice that the doors now have significantly more glass than in the garden room.  The color scheme is also slightly lighter than the garden room.  The murals also show progression because although representing a fallen world, they are more interesting than those in the garden room with more going on.  Notice that to leave this room one goes up a slight rise.

The Terrestrial Room:
Salt Lake Temple Terrestrial Room (back)
Salt Lake Temple Terrestrial Room (front)

Patrons go straight from the world room to the terrestrial room.  This room represents the Terrestrial Kingdom of God (2nd highest of 3 heavens) or the better world we can experience while still alive if we follow God's commandments.  The room shows obvious progression with ornate chandeliers, moldings, columns, details window arches, a Tiffany art glass window, a nice altar, this time surrounded with a large platform.  A staircase is also present with intricate carvings on it.  The color scheme of the room is the brightest yet with pastel blue and pink and cream.  A large painting is hung in this room (the temple rotates which painting hangs here so I can't say which one), usually of Jesus Christ as a fitting symbol of the only way to attain this state and more even further in life and towards life with God.  Interestingly, the chandeliers were originally clusters of ball lights like those seen in the world room.  This made it so the lights followed one theme and got nicer.  Also, the windows used to let natural light in, but have since been blocked by the sealing room annex (a hallway is now on the other side of the windows).  The terrestrial room is taller, larger, and higher than previous rooms.  Like the other rooms, the architecture here shows us that as we progress in the gospel and follow God's plan we increase in every way.  You might also notice that above the stained glass window there is a detailed carving with flowers and I think fruit, a small hint of what is to come in the celestial room.

The Celestial Room:
Salt Lake Temple Celestial Room

The endowment ceremony always ends in the celestial room, no matter the temple.  In the Salt Lake Temple, the celestial room's architecture is used in an effective way to reinforce the teachings of the endowment.  The room is the largest, highest, tallest, and most ornate of the endowment rooms.  The lighting now consists of eight chandeliers with clusters of more ornate pointed lights (instead of spheres).  Windows and Tiffany art glass windows along the top are also used to bring in light.  Mirrors and glass are used a lot.  Columns, arches, etc. are all far more ornate than in the terrestrial room.  Also, along the ceiling there is a lot of carved fruit and flowers.  Vines, trophies, flowers, etc. are painted on the walls.  Birds are carved into the walls.  The color scheme is bright and glorious with gold details.  When I first went to the Salt Lake Temple I didn't know how the terrestrial room's architecture could be outdone (and I had seen pictures of the celestial room).  Then I stepped into the celestial room and saw how much nicer a room could get.  It is breathtakingly beautiful with so many intricate details.  It is a wonderful representation of the highest heaven where we can dwell with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.  No picture does this room justice.

Although not endowment rooms, the sealing rooms and Holy of Holies in the Salt Lake Temple continue the theme of progression.  Notice that from the celestial room you can see (and walk into if you want) the sealing rooms.  To enter each you go up either 2 steps or up a short staircase.  The staircase has a cupid statue as a symbol of love.  Each sealing room is even more ornate than the celestial room, and two of them contain art glass windows.  The sealing rooms have the most ornate altars and have high ceilings.  This shows that as we are married for eternity in temples, and sealed together as eternal families, we grow, progress, fulfill God's plan, and become qualified to enter the highest part of the highest heaven.  In the photo, the second doorway from the right (next to the open sealing room) leads into the Holy of Holies.  This room is the most ornate of all with a short staircase leading from the doorway to another doorway into the room.  The room has a tall dome with art glass windows along the top and a stained glass window of the First Vision.  You can see a picture of it in my post on temple stained glass windows here

I love how the architecture of the Salt Lake Temple has been used to give a progression with patrons moving higher from room to more ornate/tall/spacious/bright/light/detailed/etc. room.  I love how the endowment feels when presented in this way.  Unfortunately, most temples have patrons in a single endowment room for the entire ceremony and then finally entering the celestial room.  This gives these temple their own unique ways to symbolize the progression (generally through the lights getting turned on brighter partway through the ceremony), but I think the temples with 4 endowment rooms before the celestial room are able to show this best.  In my opinion, the Salt Lake Temple does this best with the most areas of progression used.

Please comment and let me know what you think.  If there are details you noticed that I didn't mention, or other insights you had, please comment and let us all know.


Bert said...

Thanks for the post. I have never paid enough attention to some of these details to appreciate the thought that went into the design.

Clark Herlin said...

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Tolman said...

The Idaho Falls Temple has a similar progression. You still move through the Creation Room, The Garden Room, The World Room, The Terrestrial Room, and finally The Celestial Room. And very similarly, each room you enter you go up a step or two, and when you come out of the Celestial Room, you come down a big staircase and walk past where you started on the main floor. At least that is how I remember it, it has been a few years since I've gone through session in IF.

Slim said...

We went through the Manti temple today and it has the same progression. You walk into the creation room which is 'small' and a little dark, and as you progress through the temple each room gets brighter and bigger.

Although from the Terrestrial room to the Celestial room it gets smaller (some of the space is for the old sealing room they do not use anymore). I also think the detail in the Terrestrial room is the same as in the Celestial room. Both are beautiful rooms, and even more so when you think all that craftsmanship was done before power tools and was done by hand.

Idaho Falls is also like this, like Tolman said.

I've been through the Los Angeles and Nauvoo temples, and I know you go room to room, but I can't remember if you progress upward or not. The symbolism in all these temples are amazing.

Dale R. Hilton said...

Thank you so much for this post. I will share this post with my family.
But what is the endowment? Brigham Young said:
Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell. (JD 2:31)
The endowment is designed to give “a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God” (TPJS, 324) by way of instruction and covenants. As noted by Brigham Young, important elements of the endowment include the key words, signs, and tokens. These elements are used to convey absolute truths although they may do so by way of relative truths which are subject to change. Thus, the means by which these important elements are expressed, as well as other components of the endowment– such as penalties, and the dramatic presentation of the endowment– are less essential (relative truths). The significance and purpose of the endowment (an absolute truth) remains unchanged. How God chooses to reveal the message and meaning of the endowment can change according to His direction. Thanks to continuing revelation, the endowment can be modified as our understanding changes.
Each time I have been to the Temple, I have received a spiritual manifistation of the Holy Ghost.
I testify that I know The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. Dale R. Hilton

Nelson said...

Thank you for all the beautiful pictures and the history. I have often wondered how the rooms looked in the beginning. I thought the murals were original. They look very old in some places. Do you know anything about the symbolism of the baby angels above the veil area in the Celestial Room? I can guess, but as we believe that we are not infants in spirit form, I thought perhaps there was some history behind those images.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering about the room you designate as the Holy of Holies, up a short staircase from the Celestial Room. Currently, this room is open to all who go through an endowment session.

I visit the SLC Temple frequently and this room is always open. I have been in it many times. I was told it is used as a sealing room. This raises some questions: Has the Holy of Holies been moved? Or has the policy of restricting who enters the room been changed?

It seems odd to me that the Holy of Holies would be accessed through the Celestial room. It's use would then be limited to times other than when endowment and sealing sessions are taking place.

Tom said...

You are correct; the small room accessed by stairs in the southeast corner of the Celestial Room is open to temple patrons. This room used to be the office of the Temple President--now a sealing room.

You may be confused by the description given of steps. The Holy of Holies IS off of the Celestial Room...also accessed by some steps. It is the center of three rooms on the south side of the Celestial Room.

Facing east towards the large mirrors, as you leave the Terrestrial Room is the first of the three rooms. It is a sealing room that used to be designated for sealings of those who had died.

The second room is accessed by steps. This is the Holy of Holies and is ALWAYS closed. Access to those going through the temple isn't allowed.

The third room is also a sealing room that originally was the sealing room for the living. Next to this room is the steep stairway leading to what used to be the office of the Temple President. It is now open to the public and might be a sealing room. I couldn't say for sure.

Beyond these three rooms are the council rooms for the General Authorities. There is a corridor that gives access to all of these. The corridor also leads to the Dome Room and to the Holy of Holies.

See pages 192-195 of Talmage's "The House of The Lord."