The plaque reads: John the Baptist, the biblical the prophet who baptized Jesus Christ, conferred the priest hood of Aaron upon Joseph Smith (Left) and Oliver Cowdery (right) on May 15, 1829 on bank of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. This priesthood, which holds the authority to baptize for remission of sins and entrance into the kingdom of God, had been absent from the earth for centuries. Its latter-day restoration by John the Baptist made the blessings of baptism again available to all mankind.
I will admit I have mixed feeling about that statement. I think Mr. "J" would disagree.
Certainly one of the main points of being in Salt Lake City is to see to LDS sites. The old ones, like the Temple and Tabernacle, have some interesting and stunning architecture, although the Temple is not nearly as large as I envisioned it. The most fascinating thing for me, though, is to see how these and all the other LDS buildings totally dominate downtown.
Visitors should be prepared, however, for the fact that non-LDS members may not enter LDS temples.
Surrounding the Salt Lake Temple is 10-acre Temple Square which houses the temple along with the Mormon Tabernacle, the Assembly, and beautiful gardens. The temple was completed in 1893 after 40 years of construction. The Tabernacle, an architectural marvel of its time, was built from 1863 to 1875.
Temple Square is the figurative and literal center of the city. The city is layed out in a grid. All directions begin at the southeast corner of the Temple Square Block- the intersection of South Temple and Main Street. If for example an address is 1350 South 500 East it is 13 and a half blocks south of Temple Square and 5 blocks east. The blocks are large- seven blocks equal a mile.
Temple Square is also the center point of the majority religion, the Mormons, officially The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints (shortened to LDS). It is a force of life here that cannot be ignored and provides the strong family centered lifestyle and a little bit of a culture shock for new residents.
Surrounded by a tall sandstone wall Temple Square consists of 5 buildings, all of which are open to visitors except the Temple.
The Salt Lake Temple itself was begun almost as soon as the pioneers arrived in the valley, though it took close to 40 years to complete. In 1857 what had been built was razed and plowed under rather than allow the US Army that came to quell the supposed "Mormon Rebellion" to destroy or perform sacrilege on it. The granite that forms the temple's outside walls was mined from the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon 20 miles south. Before a railroad was built the granite blocks were painstakingly transported by ox cart. It was finally completed in 1890 and celebrated widely. It is the largest of the 131 temples the church has scattered across the world. As with all LDS temples only members of the church in good standing are allowed inside.
Directly west of the Temple is the egg-shaped Tabernacle. This is a large assembly hall finished in 1869 (pre-railroad). It seats about 8,000 uncomfortably and is open to all. The principle builder had built ships and used ship building techniques to fashion a roof supported by the outside pillars providing a completely open hall without interior support. However the acoustics were horrible. Eventually a U-shaped balcony was added for more seating. This improved the acoustics but the many pillars to support it left difficult sightlines for some of the outer main level seats. I guess you can't have everything. The famous Tabernacle organ is found here. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings here every Sunday morning. (Though during the busy summer season they move across the street to the larger conference center). Besides being where Mormon leaders addressed their congregated followers each April and October in "General Conference", the Tabernacle has been used as a civic assembly hall hosting national and world leaders, as home of the Utah Symphony, as concert hall and has hosted various other functions as needed. As the city has grown and other facilities have taken over, including the church's own new Conference Center, the Tabernacle has had less to do. But it is still a venerable old and beloved building.
The other meeting house on the square is the Assembly Hall. Built of left over blocks from the Temple it is the site of various smaller assemblies. Fitted with spires on each corner and peak it is a striking building. The interior is exquisitely designed and provided much entertainment for me as a young child as speakers droned on and on. Every Friday and Saturday night free concerts are held here.
There are two Visitors Centers on opposite corners of the square where information about the Mormon religion can be answered.
The Square connects via the Plaza to the adjoining Church Office Building block, all of which are beautifully landscaped with seasonal flowers, fountains and, at Christmas time, lights and nativities.
This is the heart of the LDS Church and serves somewhat as a Mecca for faithful members all over the world. Marriages being one of the ordinances performed in the Temple, most days of the week you may see wedding parties gathered on the east side for photographs. For many years it was also the number one tourist attraction for the city, I don't know if that is still true. Visitors will be greeted by Sister Missionaries serving here full-time and voluntarily from all over the world for a period of 18 months. They are friendly, and willing to answer any questions. Some people are uncomfortable with this. But they will not bite, nor follow you relentlessly if you don't want them to. If you aren't interested in hearing about religion just say so and you will be left alone. They will still share any other information about the buildings and Square activities that you wish to hear.
My pictures are from a recent Spring time excursion to see the flowers.
When I worked downtown I would often take my lunch to eat on the grounds of the Square. It is a quiet place of reflection and peace.
I also had the opportunity when I was younger, before they had full time missionaries , to help guide tours. It was a wonderful time to meet people from all over the world, to share in their curiosity about the square, the buildings and the religion. I would get to sit in the Tabernacle waiting for tour groups. Sometimes the organist would be there practicing and I would get a private recital. The largest pipes are still original, they were carved from trees found in the Pine Valley Mountains north of St George. They are the lowest bass notes and are not used often. The story of the building of the Tabernacle is one of the labor and sacrifice of those early pioneers, who would take a day out of ten to help carve the stones or lay the wood. They would drill holes in the joists and then pound in wooden nails. Then they would wrap the joint with wet leather. The leather would shrink as it dried holding the beams tight. When the building was renovated and restored in 2005-7 they found that leather still tough and strong and doing what it was put there to do.
It is fun to look on the Temple for some of the little designs the builders put there. Look for the Big Dipper, the sun and moon stones.
Besides the five buildings on Temple Square there are a number of statues and monuments. One of the more prominent ones is the Seagull Monument just east of the Assembly Hall. It is dedicated to the seagulls who ate the crickets who were devouring the tender and much needed crops that first year after the pioneers arrived. These crops were essential to the survival of the pioneers. They had no food reserves, any help was a three month trip across the plains. To those involved it was a miracle that the seagulls arrived and gorged on the crickets and thus saved the crops. (My anthropology professor once shared the joke that in doing so the seagulls decimated a tribe of natives who used the crickets as a food staple).
Another landmark is the Nauvoo Bell. The Mormons had built a city on the banks of the Mississippi. For over 5 years it was a thriving and industrious town, rivaling Chicago for size. The heart of that town was also a temple. It broke the hearts of many who left that town under duress following the slaying of their leader Joseph Smith. The story is that they brought the bell that had hung in the Nauvoo Temple tower with them across the plains. It now hangs in a carillon on the west side of the square and is rung every hour on the hour.
By the Seagull Monument is the statue of a handcart pioneer. Too poor to purchase a wagon and oxen, handcart pioneers put what they could of their personal belongings and enough food to last them across the plains into a cart and then walked and pulled it for the 3 month long journey.
Between the Temple and the South Visitors Center is a nice fountain surrounded by several statues of Joseph Smith the founder of the church, and his brother Hyrum (who was killed at the same time). Also depictions of two of the most important events of the "restoration of the gospel", that of the return of John the Baptist to Joseph and his friend Oliver Cowdery and also the apostles Peter, James and John both of these reportedly to "restore" the priesthood of God to the earth.
These Life-size bronze statues of the martyred Church leaders stand upon granite bases between the Salt Lake Temple and the South Visitor's Center. The statues were erected on Temple Square in the spring of 1911, and had been completed four years earlier by Mahonri M. Young, grandson to President Brigham Young, reported the June 27, 1911, issue of the Deseret News.
The article further stated that dedication ceremonies were intended for the afternoon of June 27 - the 67th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith - but were postponed until President Joseph F. Smith returned from business in Washington, D.C.
The statues, which face west toward the Three Witnesses monument, bear tablets providing brief histories of the Prophet and his brother Hyrum.
Well-known to Mormons is the story of how seagulls saved the crops of Utah's early settlers from an invading horde of crickets. In the spring of 1848, 5,000 acres of crops had been planted, and a good harvest was expected, according to the Nov. 19, 1960, issue of the Church News.
On Oct. 1, 1913, the Seagull Monument was unveiled on Temple Square, just east of the Assembly Hall - "Erected in grateful remembrance of the mercy of God to the Mormon pioneers." President Joseph F. Smith dedicated the monument and addressed the gathering.
The monument, sculpted by Mahonri M. Young, consists of a granite pedestal weighing nearly 20 tons, and a granite column more than 30 feet high. On top of the column is a granite ball on which two bronze seagulls covered with gold leaf are perched with wings outstretched. A pond and fountains surround the monument. Panels on the side of the monument briefly tell the story of the arrival of the saints in the Salt Lake Valley.
The plaque reads:The Mormon pioneers planted crops in the spring of 1848, after suffering great hunger during their first winter in the Salt Lake Valley. As the crops ripened, hordes of devouring crikets descended upon them from the foothills east of the valley. The Saints fought them with clubs, fire, and water. As they despaired of saving the next winter's food, their prayers for deliverance from almost sure starvation were answered when thousands of sea gulls came to feed on the crickets. The Sea Gull Monument commemorates this modern-day miracle. The sea gull is now the Utah State bird.
Presently facing the Joseph and Hyrum Smith statues south of the temple is a monument to the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon - Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris.
The monument, with oval, bronze plaques of the Three Witnesses, was unveiled April 2, 1927, by Josephine Smith, great-granddaughter to Hyrum Smith, reported the May 1927 issue of the Improvement Era. President Heber J. Grant offered the dedicatory prayer. The article states that the First Presidency and several thousand general conference visitors were present at the unveiling.
The monument, by Avard Fairbanks, is 10 feet, six inches high. Under the plaques, also in bronze, is the full text of their testimony, which can also be found in the front of copies of the Book of Mormon. On the west side of the monument is a large bronze relief of the Apostle John, with a quotation from John 14:6-7.
This beautiful Gothic-style building with lovely stained-glass windows were construction began by Latter-day Saint pioneers in 1877. This is where they have many artist give concerts and admittance is free.
The Assembly Hall, constructed of granite stone left over from the building of the temple, was completed in 1880. It is a place of public worship, in which visitors are welcome. Although the building is used mainly for conferences of Latter-day Saint congregations located in Salt Lake City and for other Church meetings, it is also available for various cultural and civic functions. The Gothic Revival structure is 68 feet wide and 120 feet long, and the center tower is 130 feet high. The auditorium holds almost 2,000 people, with choir seats for 100. The truncated spires were originally chimneys.
Call 1-801-240-3318 for more information.
Open daily 9:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M.
Friday and Saturday 7:30 P.M.
No charge for admission, but limited to those eight years of age and older.
Admission is free
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