Sunday, April 8, 2012

Temple Symbols - Olives

A few days ago I was looking over the interior photos of the Kansas City Missouri Temple that are currently posted on the LDS church's newsroom website.  The photos are very nice and I encourage you to view them.  One repeated element of this temple is olive branches.  There are olive branches in the exterior precast panels, carved into art glass, added to custom railings and light fixtures, sculpted into carpets, gold leafed onto walls, and painted in the temple.  A large stained glass window of an olive tree stands behind the recommend desk, flanked by olive branches sculpted into the adjacent panes. The furniture in the temple also features olive branches (the sealing room sealer's desk is covered in olive branches).  There are also bowls in the celestial room with olive branches on them.  Olive branches are the unifying symbol in this temple.  I want to take a little time to discuss how olive branches are used in temple architecture and how they are an appropriate symbol.

I thought that olive branches had been used a lot in temple architecture, but discovered very few examples of their use.  I suspect (and hope) that I have missed a few places where they are used.

The Winter Quarters Nebraska Temple contains various temple symbols.  In the baptistry there are three panes with sculpted glass.  They are a fig branch, an almond branch, and an olive branch (left).  All 3 are symbolic.  The Winter Quarters Nebraska Temple also has olive branches on the front doors.  You can see these in the photo on the right.

The Salt Lake Temple also has olive branches.  The front doors have olive branches on the metal plate behind the doorknob seen in the picture below.  You can see the original of this photo here.
Olive branches and trees make an excellent temple symbol.  Olives represent peace.  They are a symbol of God's covenants with man (a dove brought an olive branch to Noah showing that the flood was over).  Olive oil is used in priesthood ordinances and so olives are a symbol of the priesthood and Christ.  Olive oil can provide light and olives symbolize light.  Olive trees represent Israel, God's chosen people, and all mankind (see Jacob 5 in The Book of Mormon where the tame olive tree represents Israel and the wild olive tree represents everyone else and God is concerned about saving both).  Olive oil is also a symbol of royalty and was used to anoint kings and priests.

In the temple, olives signify that temple work is done by the priesthood, concerns all of humanity, brings us peace and heals us.  It establishes the government of God.  Olives are indeed a great temple symbol.

I like how extensively the olive symbol was used in the Kansas City Missouri Temple and hope that olives, olive branches, and olive trees will continue to be used in temple architecture.  I also find olives fitting for Kansas City.  The temple is a 5 minute drive from Liberty Jail in Missouri where the prophet Joseph Smith and others were imprisoned for a time.  It is in a state where a lot of violence, murders, etc. were done against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and where Mormons were driven from the state.  The olive branch helps show that this tragic past has been overcome and points to the fact that we believe that Jesus Christ will come to Missouri as a part of his second coming and that Zion, the New Jerusalem will be built not far from here in Independence, Missouri.  The peace of the gospel and the Millenial reign of Jesus Christ will more than overcome the past.

Those are my thoughts.  Please write and let us know what you think and particularly where else olives are used in temples.


Tracy Keeney said...

A wonderful post!
Another beautiful symobolic meaning of the olive tree, is it's symbolism of the atonement.
Christ suffered in the garden of Gethsamane-- Gethsamane being the transliteration of the Hebrew word for "oil press". Gethsamane was a grove of olive trees, where there were also "presses" made of very large stones, the weight of them "pressing" on the olives to extract the oil. It was no coincidence that Christ went to the garden of Gethsamane(The garden of the oil press)where he took upon himself the sins of the world, the weight of which "pressed" on him so greatly that he bled from every pore. The oil being pressed from olives is a great metaphor for the blood being pressed from the Lord.
I live in Kansas City and have worked up at the open house, have gone on several tours with family and friends, and will host tours on Wednesday night with my husband.
The tour guides sometimes point out the olive branch motif, but I have yet to hear them bring up this beautiful point about Gethsamane. In fact, on a tour yesterday, the tour guide mistakenly said the "tree" in the stained glass was NOT an olive tree, but was "the tree of life". I suppose the tree of life COULD have been an olive tree. But the tree in the stained glass behind the recommend desk IS very clearly an olive tree--- it actually HAS olives on it, and the trunk is very obviously the distinctive trunk of an olive tree. A google image search will show many photographs of olive trees where anyone interested can see what an olive tree looks like and see how the stained glass depiction of the tree behind the recommend desk of the Kansas City temple is very clearly an olive tree.

Brian said...

Thank you for another insightful post in an incredibly educational blog.

I was not able to find any examples of olive branches at the Vancouver BC Temple, but the interior is meaningfully decorated with local flora. Regardless, you have opened my eyes to the meaningfulness of symbols on and in the temples, and I will be a lot more attentive on future visits to temples.

Do you take suggestions or requests for blog subjects? I have a question about temple dedications that I haven't been able to find answers to, but you seem to be far more effective at researching temple subjects than I am.

leslie said...

In some traditions the tree of life is an olive tree. Think of its longevity.

Cortney said...

I was also a tour host for the Kansas City Temple and it is truly beautiful. I too love the symbol of peace it has to offer in it's depiction of the olive branch. I heard through rumor that yes, it was symbolizing a forgiveness and peace between the church and the persecution that took place in this region. I don't know if that was the exact purpose in using the olive branch (though I don't doubt it was) but in the dedication ceremony Elder Walker spoke of how the Kansas City Temple is a symbol of healing from that time, a reminder that all is forgiven.

Anonymous said...


I have not seen you post for a while. I would love to hear your thoughts of Temple doors that face East. As I walked out of the Temple after my wedding (Salt Lake Temple so I was not necessarily going East because of the way the Annex is situated) I had the distinct feeling that so many of the doors face east because, like Adam and Eve, we are cast westward, out of Paradise with the commission to multiply and replenish the Earth and to go and to labor in a fallen world. The early, Antique Temples, (until Mesa, AZ) had their doors facing East, and many of the modern built Temples do the same thing as if to invoke the same type of thing. I know it is not a rule, but I think that it is an interesting parallel that we are sealed in the Temple, given the command to bring posterity into this world, and then cast out with the commission to begin life and to toil and labor. Just a thought.

The Tolmans said...

hi scott was doing some research for a firend and stumbled upon out conversation about the holy of holies. was wondering if you could direct me to the byu articles about the higher ordinances that may have taken place in the holy of holies. you could email me the links at if its not to much to ask.

Scott said...

I have been sick for a long while so I haven't kept up the blog. East facing doors are mainly symbolizing Christ coming from the east at his second coming. This is more of a general Christian thing and is seen in numerous churches from other faiths. East facing doors are not necessary although most temples do face east in keeping with Christian tradition.

Scott said...

I have been sick for a long while so I haven't kept up the blog. East facing doors are mainly symbolizing Christ coming from the east at his second coming. This is more of a general Christian thing and is seen in numerous churches from other faiths. East facing doors are not necessary although most temples do face east in keeping with Christian tradition.

Anonymous said...

Well I feel dumb for saying anything. Sorry.

Brian said...

I finally found olive leaf depictions in the Vancouver temple - on lamp shades in the celestial room. Almost all plant depictions are of a local flower, so I took time comparing and was surprised to see the olive branches embroidered on the lamp shades.

Brownie said...

To Mr. or Ms. Anon walking westward out the doors:

If you are the one that feels dumb for saying anything: don't. That is fantastic insight and one that I have heard expressed a couple times before.

I can vividly recall my own time coming up the elevator prepared to leave the Salt Lake Temple. It felt as though the weight of it all settled on me all of a sudden and I can assure you that Adam felt similar feelings. The east-west directions have significant meanings in all of Christendom as Brian pointed out; but because the Garden commonly called Eden (it was actually as a Garden EASTWARD in Eden) has such a central purpose to our faith, you are correct in assuming that the east facing doors have significant symbolism. It would make sense for many Temples to be constructed a different way. My wife and I worked in Rexburg (east facing) and we were always impressed that the Temple was constructed that way because it was not the most natural feeling. But, it is certainly not a law of the Church.

Symbols are not definitive in meaning. They are generally layers that you can access as you spiritually mature. A freshman seminary student will look at the Salt Lake Temple and see the basic symbols of stars, suns, moons, worlds, etc... and think of basic Kingdoms. As he later progresses through the Temple and Priesthood he will see those as states of being, essences if you will. The non-member will see them as being a symbol of the Great Creator. No one is wrong.

Anonymous said...

I believe the stained glass in the Recife Brazil temple has olive leaves. That is what they look like to me. It is beautiful glass!!