Sunday, March 13, 2011

LDS Temple Architecture Myths

As members of the church we often get a certain picture of what a temple should be like.  The architecture can be limited by preconceived notions of how a temple should be.  I wanted to dispel some temple architecture myths and highlight temples that are different. (By the way, a commenter on this blog was mentioning some of these and his comments led me to write this post.  Please comment, you may have a similar effect on me :)

Myth # 1: All temples must have an Angel Moroni statue.
This is blatantly false.  Many temples have been built without Angel Moroni statues.  Three didn't even have towers (Cardston Alberta, Laie Hawaii, and Mesa Arizona).  Others had towers, but were built before the Atlanta Georgia Temple when Angel Moroni statues became common (because a newspaper said the new temple wasn't to temple standards without one).  Until that point, only the Salt Lake, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Seattle Washington, and Jordan River Utah Temples had Angel Moroni statues (the original Nauvoo Temple had an angel statue but it was not identified as Moroni).  Several have been built without the statue since, only to have the statue added later.  An Angel Moroni statue is a powerful symbol that we should be free to add to our temples for religious reasons, but is not essential for a temple to be a temple.

Myth # 2: Angel Moroni statues must face east.
This is false.  The Nauvoo Temple (and statue) face west.  The Dallas Texas Temple and statue face south, the Spokane Washington Temple recently had its Angel Moroni statue turned from east to west after President Hinckley didn't like how it looked.  The Seattle Washington Temple and statue face west, the Taipei Taiwan Temple and statue faces west, and the Manhattan New York Temple and statue faces southwest.  The myth developed because most Christian churches face east and so do most temples (this is a symbol of Christ coming from the east at the second coming) but is not essential.  Also, President McKay had the Moroni statue of the LA Temple turned to face east even though the temple faces southeast (I think).  This led to a conversion and spread the myth, even though the east facing statue was clearly for a specific reason.

Myth # 3: Sealing rooms must have facing mirrors, giving an eternal effect.
This type of mirrors is nice, but the St. George, Manti, and Salt Lake Temples have some sealing rooms that don't even have mirrors.  I'm sure other temples break this rule.  The fact is, eternal mirrors are a nice decorative feature to use, but not an essential part of the room.

Myth # 4: Temple baptismal fonts must be on the backs of 12 sculpted oxen and be in a basement.
Several temples were built without oxen supporting fonts (even the Tabernacle in the Old Testament lacked oxen, they were added for the Temple of Solomon) and other temples were built with only 6 oxen and a mirror to give the effect of 12 oxen.  During the design of the Ogden and Provo Temples, the design team looked in the necessity of the oxen and decided they were not essential (although those temples used oxen) and noted that in future temples oxen might not be used.  A lot of 70s and 80s temples (Atlanta, Sydney, and most pacific island temples) were then built without oxen (most, if not all have had oxen later added, and the plan was always to add oxen at a later date).  In these cases, a font similar to a meetinghouse font was used.  As for fonts being in basements, the Doctrine and Covenants reads: "the baptismal font was instituted as a similitude of the grave, and was commanded to be in a place underneath where the living are wont to assemble".  This means it needs to be underneath, but due to high water tables this doesn't necessarily mean in the basement, just on the lowest floor and if possible underground.

Myth # 5: Temples must get lighter as one progresses from room to room
Although light colors are the easiest way to express symbolic progression, light colors are not essential.  The Cardston Alberta Temple has rooms actually getting darker because the woodwork is getting finer and more expensive.  It turns out that the best woodwork is generally dark so the celestial room and sealing rooms in this temple are dark wood.  Windows still bring light in.  I like that this temple has a unique way to show that these rooms represent better and holier things and places.

There are some architectural myths I have identified relating to LDS temples.  Please comment about these or point out others I've missed.


Clark Herlin said...

Good article. I really liked it, although I would suggest you cite where you got your information, just so you are not called out on it :).

I am going through the Nauvoo Temple this week with my wife and my parents, so expect a blog on that temple (and I want your feedback on it, too!) Follow me on and see if you can spread the word :)

William Thompson said...

Another popular temple architecture myth, specific to the Salt Lake Temple, is that when the temple was being designed Brigham Young requested - apparently for some unknown reason - special shafts be included in its construction, and that when the temple was renovated years later these shafts miraculously accommodated elevators. However the modern day elevator (invented by Elisha Otis in 1852) was not unknown to the early saints, and in fact some later drawings for the Salt Lake Temple identify these shaft specifically for Elevators - Church History Dept. also has a copy of a proposal from the Otis Elevator Company to install elevators.

I have heard that and other temple design/construction myths repeated many times (incl. during church meetings), but only recently did I learned it was a myth after listening to a program on the Mormon Channel; Legacy: Episode 39 ( The same episode also addresses some other popular temple myths/unsubstantiated stories (incl. the source of the china used in the stucco of the Kirtland Temple; the destruction of the original tower of the St. George Temple; and one about the Laie Hawaii Temple) and is well worth listening to.

William Thompson said...

To your point about the location of baptismal fonts, it is interesting to note that when you enter the Cardston Alberta Temple (and I've heard the Laie Hawaii Temple is similar), either through the main entrance or the baptistery entrance, you actually have to go upstairs to get to the baptistery, and even then the font itself is still yet above the level of the baptistery floor such that you have to go up a number steps to get into the font (as can be seen in pictures published of the Cardston Alberta Temple baptismal font). The temple is located on the high point of the property (the site slopes away from the temple on all 4 sides); the main entrance, the baptistery entrance at the back of the temple and all its rooms (except for higher ordinance rooms) are all located well below the level of the baptistery floor. I can’t be positive, but I’m not even sure the font is below the relative grade of the site at that location.

Along the same lines as the direction the Angel Moroni is facing; an architectural element that I have pondered the significance and location of is the inscription found on every* modern temple "Holiness to the Lord. The House of the Lord." (*to my knowledge I know of no modern temple that does not have this inscription found somewhere on it - either currently or originally). The words are typically found at the entrance to the temple - to remind those entering it to be mindful of whose house they are entering and the reverence one should hold for it. However, another location where this inscription seems to also appears quite regularly is on the east (or nearest east) elevation of a temple - whether the entrance is there or not (e.g. Seattle, Provo, Ogden, Nauvoo and others I'm sure). However, like the Angel Moroni, I'm not sure it's critical - for instance the main entrance to the Cardston Alberta Temple (with the inscription) is located on the west, but no inscription is found on the east side of the temple. Although, the entrance to the Baptistery is technically on the east side of the temple, the doors and inscription just happens to actually be facing north - I suppose it could be argued that the inscription is still found on the east side of the temple however. I'd be curious to know of other temples that include this inscription on the east elevation (when no entrance located there) or any temples that do not include any such inscription on its east elevation at all.

In reviewing the plans for the Calgary Alberta Temple (currently under-construction) one of the things that I came to appreciate and gain a greater testimony of about temples and temple ordinances is that the ONLY essential element of temples and temple ordinances is that they require the Priesthood - otherwise they're just another building (as impressive as they maybe). And while temple design and ordinances have changed over time, the one thing that has remained consistent and unchanged from the Tabernacle of Moses and Solomon's Temple to Kirtland and temples being built this day is that they were/are built, dedicated and operated under the direction and authority of the Priesthood of God. Understanding this, I appreciated more the uniqueness of many of our temples - while they may incorporate different and varying symbols and architectural styling’s suitable or specific to a geographical area or period of time, we need not be worried they are still very much the House of the Lord so far as the proper Priesthood keys are exercised within them.

Don said...

Regarding William Thompson's first comment: When I was a student at BYU, I took a religion class in which the professor mentioned that the room that James E. Talmage used to write Jesus the Christ was later destroyed when elevators were installed in the Salt Lake Temple.

Scott said...

The elevator myth is an odd one as elevators were invented long before the Salt Lake Temple was even started and were known to the saints. Also, the elevators only take up a small portion of the towers, so if the shafts were miraculously planned for elevators than they were really over sized.

I think the Talmage room still exists, at least it is shown in the new model of the SL Temple on Temple Square.

Another myth is that wiring conduits were miraculously designed for the SL Temple. Well, the conduits were originally for larger gas lines for gas lamps. Also, most lines go through wood floors which were installed last after the switch to electricity was completed.

The Tolmans said...

I would like to hear what you know about the temple murals in the older temples. When the temples were finished where they there or did they come later? I know for example that in Manti the world room murale panting could not have been done tell the 1940s because of when the artest lived. Was there another murale in it's place or where the walls covered in pictures like in the veil room of the slc temple before they took them down and redid the room?

The Tolmans said...

To the elevator comments the slc temple building plans had a spot for the elevator, even labeled elevator, so they knew where they where going to put the elevator. For any one who has ever been in slc temple you will also know the elevator is in the center of the temple and not in one of the towers. As you walk out side and look in to the towers you can still see the stair cases and rooms that occupy the towers. So the talmage room is still there.

The Tolmans said...

The other interesting thing to point out in these older temples regarding elevators are that they where all finished after the elevator was invented. I dough that the saints had the money to get a elevator when first building the first three in utah. It looks like the first three temples in utah where designed with out elevators and that they where added later. if you look at St. George for example where the elevator occupies now there use to be three sealing rooms that all aline with one another. i believe they tore these out and put in a elevator. just as they did on the south side of the temple in taring out all the sealing rooms and adding bathrooms and heating cooling units. the same looks to be true in Manti the elevator only goes to a few floors but it looks like one of those rooms used to be a sealing room. this temple also had a sealing room gutted and converted into a heating cooling unite room.

Scott said...

I should write about mural history. It depends on the temple. St. George originally didn't have any.

As for things miraculously fitting in temples - when the Logan Temple was gutted and remodeled they tried to put ducts in the center posts in the corner spiral stair cases only to find that the stone posts are solid. So spaces were definitely not miraculously included in the plans for that temple.

Anna Bruen said...

I'm glad William Thompson mentioned that the only "essential element" of a temple is the proper Priesthood authority. That is exactly what I was thinking, too.

R. Workman said...

As for the baptismal font in the Laie Hawaii Temple, the font truly is UP a flight of stairs from the entrance (it is half a story above the dressing rooms). However, the temple is built on a hill so that portion of the temple is still technically below ground. Just a point of interest.

D1Warbler said...

As I recall, the baptismal font in the Manhattan Temple is up some stairs from the entry level due to the fact that the Church doesn't own the area under the building the Temple is housed in. There is a small seating area at the base of the stairs and you walk up to the font which is above you. The murals in that Baptistry are lovely!

Dave said...

"Also, President McKay had the Moroni statue of the LA Temple turned to face east even though the temple faces southeast (I think)."

You think right. The Los Angeles Temple does face southeast and the Angel Moroni statue does face east. The statue originally faced southeast, like the temple, but Pres. McKay had it turned to face east.

In the Sylmar Earthquake of 1971, the temple escaped damage except for the statue, which remained anchored on the tower but fell over into a horizontal position. Scaffolding is stored within the tower itself, and this scaffolding was used to right the statue.

Whizzbang said...

I had heard that originally in the St. George Temple the upper floor was designed to be like a hotel for patrons coming from aways away to stay the night in. Now they have these rooms that are occupied for something else but originally they were for patrons to sleep in. I would like to know if that is true