It was common for pioneer families to set aside some ground near their houses to bury family members and so it was with Joseph Smith’s family. Gravestone markers were not always used – maybe a lilac bush or a tree. In the Smith family cemetery, 28 family members and friends have been interred. Joseph and his brother Hyrum were buried secretly underneath the foundation of an old springhouse – reconstructed, today. Along with Joseph’s wife, Emma, they now lie in a triple tomb next to the Homestead. The graves of Joseph’s father and mother are marked, as well as are some of the children of Joseph’s son, Joseph III, and Joseph III’s first wife.
With the murder of Joseph Smith in June of 1844, the stage was set for a bottle royale over the leadership of the Mormon Church. Smith had not laid down a clear method of succession though evidence shows he may have favored his son, Joseph III, when he became older – he was only 12 at the time of his father’s death. Most in Nauvoo eventually came to accept Brigham Young, who was the leader of the Quorum of the Twelve, the highest council in the Church under the Prophet. Young took most of the Mormon Faithful to Utah in 1846, but there was still a sizable minority that elected to stay in the Midwest. They were scattered across Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. In 1860, many of these groups came together to form the Re-Organized LDS Church under Joseph Smith III’s leadership.
That church has a long and interesting history not unlike the Utah church. Property of the Smith family remains with this church – now the Community of Christ – so while the Utah LDS church owns many of the old Mormon historic sites, as well as the restored temple, some of the most important sites are outside their orb. Both churches maintain large visitor centers complete with audiovisual programs presenting history with a slight slant.
Here at the Community of Christ center, walking tours are given to the nearby sites pertaining to Smith and his family and are led by well-versed church volunteers. The tours are very recommended. It is also interesting to watch the interplay between members of the Mormon schismata. There is also an informative bookshop and gift shop at the center.
In front of the Temple and next to the Temple Visitor Center is a statue depicting Joseph Smith, Jr. and his brother Hyrum as they are making their ride to Carthage to face charges of inciting riots in the destruction of the dissenter’s printing press in Nauvoo. They were not to return for on June 27, 1844 both were murdered.
Temple visitor centers are there to explain the role of temples within the Mormon belief system – baptism for the dead, eternal marriage, for example, can only take place within a temple. The Nauvoo Visitors Center is built as part of the contiguous Joseph Smith Academy – which serves as the headquarters for the LDS restoration efforts in Nauvoo and houses many of the volunteers who come to take part in the huge summer productions that are put on by the Church. The Academy used to be a Catholic girls’ school.
Hours of operation: May-Aug M-Sa 9-6, Su 11-5 Sep-Apr M-Sa 9-5, Su 12:30-5
Originally, the second temple built by the Mormons – the first being in Kirtland, Ohio – it was really the first temple to offer the fully ‘revealed’ rites that developed during the Nauvoo period of the Church by Joseph Smith. The building began in 1841, serving as a public works project for many of the poor members of the Church. About 1200 men worked either on the temple site or in the limestone quarries. The temple was not finished until almost a year after Joseph Smith’s murder - May 1846 - and served the Mormon Faithful for only a very short time. Temples fill a very important role in the latter Mormon theology. Inside, members of good standing - so-determined by their local bishop – can be married for time and eternity; have their families sealed to them for perpetuity, as well; be baptized for the dead – an after death opportunity to become Mormon. Knowing that they were leaving for the Far West where there would be no temple, the Faithful took the opportunity to utilize the House of the Lord before moving into the unknown.
After the Mormon exodus, the interior of the temple was gutted by arson in 1848. A tornado toppled the ruins in 1850 with the stone being used by locals as building material thereafter.
Early in the 1960’s, both the LDS and RLDS – now Community of Christ – churches moved to buy up lands and historic buildings in Nauvoo in an effort to restore the historical heritages of their roots. With the groundbreaking for a restored temple in October 1999, the historical preservation took on a more concerted religious bent. At 54000 square feet, the 15 story limestone structure is by far Nauvoo’s largest building. It is modeled after the original and no expense was spared. The result – the 113th LDS temple – is history recreated on a grand and dramatic scale. The temple is an emotional building – even more so at night with the dramatic lighting – and to the Faithful, I can only imagine the meaning taken on.
As with all LDS temples, entry is only permitted to members of good standing.