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The Kirtland Temple’s Influence on Later Temple Building

TitleThe Kirtland Temple’s Influence on Later Temple Building
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication1997
AuthorsRobison, Elwin C.
Book TitleThe First Mormon Temple: Design, Construction, and Historic Context of the Kirtland Temple
PublisherBrigham Young University Press
CityProvo, UT
KeywordsKirtland Temple; Nauvoo Temple; Salt Lake Temple

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Chapter 9 - The Kirtland Temple's Influence on Later Temple Building

The Kirtland Temple stands at the head of a line of temples con­structed by followers of Joseph Smith. Each time they moved, the Saints ini­tiated plans for building temples, plans that were not always realized. In each case, the temple was to be the focal point of the larger city plan. For example, Joseph Smith's “Plat of the City of Zion,” which accompanied the Indepen­dence Temple plans, shows twenty-four temples forming a complex in the center of the city. Just what one would do with twenty-four temples was not specified, but given that the Kirtland Temple was to be a “house of learn­ing . . . [and] a house of order” (D&C 88:119), educational and administra­tive uses can be understood as part of the temple functions. Furthermore, the dimensions and arrangement given in Doctrine and Covenants 94 for the Kirtland printing house are the same as those given for the Kirtland Temple, and both buildings are called, simply, “houses.” These similarities imply that if the printing house had been built as originally envisioned, it would have been considered a temple, also. These various functions may explain part of the need for multiple “temples” at what the Saints hoped would be the even­tual headquarters of the Church. Thus Joseph Smith's designation of twenty- four temples may refer to an administrative center not unlike the building complexes that serve in Salt Lake City as the headquarters of the LDS Church and in Independence, Missouri, of the RLDS Church.1

Missouri Temples

After being forced out of Jackson County, Missouri, the intended site of the Independence Temple, the Saints laid and dedicated the cornerstone for a new temple in Far West, Missouri. The Saints also began to raise funds for construction.2 However, persecution in this area rapidly overtook the Mor­mon communities, and the plans were never realized.

The Nauvoo Temple

The next temple built, and the only other temple fully designed under the leadership of Joseph Smith, was the Nauvoo Temple, which was begun in 1841 and completed in 1846. The Nauvoo Temple plans called for a building about 128 feet by 88 feet, approximately a 60 percent increase over the di­mensions of the Kirtland Temple. Because of the building’s increased size, the interstitial spaces between floors to each side of the arched ceiling were tall enough to hold a series of offices. The Nauvoo Temple was built of cut limestone, not rubble sandstone plastered over to look like cut stone. The general plan established in Kirtland was followed in Nauvoo, with the pro­portion of length to breadth roughly the same in both temples and as were the two large congregational spaces and sets of double pulpits intended for each space. This time, however, Joseph Smith could capitalize on the skills of a trained architect, William Weeks, who produced several preliminary ren­derings (fig. 9-2). Owing to the skill of Weeks, the original design of the Nau­voo Temple was not a combination of several architectural styles but was a far more coherent composition in the Greek Revival style.3

Specific elements in the Nauvoo Temple design can be attributed directly to Joseph Smith. The sun and moon motifs on the capitals and bases of the pilasters certainly were done under his direction. In addition, the pre­liminary concept of Gothic arches in the pediment window recalls the speci­fication of “gothic tops” for the windows in Kirtland. Happily, this Gothic detailing was eliminated in final designs, as it does not blend well with the boldly articulated Greek Revival shell. Joseph directed that the pediment be replaced with a full attic story on the facade to provide additional office space (fig. 9-3). Having commissioned the construction of one temple and various schoolhouses, offices, and homes, Joseph began to voice aesthetic opinions as well. Despite the architect’s objections, Joseph was determined to include round windows in place of the semicircular ones on the side elevation.4

The construction of the Nauvoo Temple was radically different from that of the Kirtland Temple. Weeks's detailed drawings eliminated the errors in design that can result from overlooking structural spaces. Furthermore, the initial construction phases were not marked by scarcity of materials and workers as they were in Kirtland although there were some problems. Tru­man Angell recalled that the foundations were “much botched” by the com­mittee that began construction.5 But this problem seems to have resulted from a lack of communication between the committee and the architect and not from a lack of architectural expertise.

The larger Nauvoo Temple was also designed for a more elaborate series of functions. Because baptisms on behalf of the dead had been insti­tuted, the basement was provided with a large baptismal font instead of a dirt crawl space. Like its Solomonic counterpart, this font sat on the backs of twelve oxen.6

A key functional difference between the Kirtland and Nauvoo Tem­ples is the provision for the expanded endowment ceremony, which was ini­tiated in Nauvoo. This ceremony portrays the history of the earth from the Creation up to the establishment of God’s law on earth. In the endowment, faithful Saints make personal promises to God. Prior to the completion of the Nauvoo Temple, Joseph Smith conducted endowments and sealings with close associates in an upper room of his red brick store. Joseph Smith was murdered before the Nauvoo Temple was completed, and Brigham Young later continued these ceremonies in the temple. The temple endowment marks a point of departure between the LDS and RLDS Churches. The RLDS Church rejects much of the doctrine, including temple ceremonies, that the LDS Church believes Joseph Smith established in Nauvoo.

The endowment ceremony was conducted in the Nauvoo Temple in the long central area of the attic that was flanked by offices.7 Unlike the roof of the Kirtland Temple, whose king-post trusses divided the attic space into five separate areas, the Nauvoo Temple roof was framed with a queen-post truss, which leaves the central portion of the attic undivided. Curtains orga­nized the large attic space into cubicles sized appropriately for the endow­ment, eliminating the need to divide up the larger congregational spaces in the rooms below.8 An unusual access complication was thus created: the basement and attic had precisely defined functions that were not open to public viewing, while the two main congregational spaces (the upper one of which was never finished) were intended for public meetings.

The awkwardness of this division was never realized, however, because the Nauvoo Temple was still incomplete when the Saints were driven out of the city.9 Most of the Saints left under duress in February 1846, while a skeleton crew of carpenters and joiners under the supervision of Truman Angell finished the structure10—the commitment to complete the temple against all odds, originally demonstrated in Kirtland, was fully evident in Nau­voo. The temple was finally dedicated in a secret session on April 30, 1846, and in a public session the following day. It must have been with some emo­tion that Wilford Woodruff (who later became the fourth president of the LDS Church), Orson Hyde, and Joseph Young, along with Angell and his crew, closed the doors after the dedication ceremonies and essentially abandoned the temple on which they had worked so long and hard. The crew then joined the ten thousand Saints and their leaders who had already settled on the banks of the Missouri River and were making preparations for the trek west.

The Nauvoo Temple survived the following summer but must have sustained substantial superficial damage when the city was attacked by the “Carthage guerrillas” in September and the remaining six hundred Saints were driven across the Mississippi River. The extent of such damage is largely a moot point as an arsonist’s fire gutted the structure in November 1848. The blackened walls were leveled by a tornado in May 1850, and in later years, local inhabitants used the site as a quarry.

The Salt Lake Temple

The next temple employing the Kirtland pattern of two stacked con­gregational rooms was the Salt Lake Temple, whose site was designated July 28, 1847, only four days after Brigham Young arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. This temple became the first to function as a city’s focal point, a function envisioned in 1833 by Joseph Smith in his “Plat of the City of Zion.”11 When William Weeks found conditions in the frontier religious community not to his liking, Truman Angell, who had finished major portions of the temple in Kirtland and supervised the final phase of construction in Nauvoo, became the official architect of the Salt Lake Temple.

Originally designed to follow the basic pattern established in Kirt­land, the Salt Lake Temple was to have had two main congregational spaces, each provided with sets of pulpits at each end.12 Similar to that of the Nauvoo Temple, the plan for the Salt Lake Temple included a baptismal font in the basement and offices in the mezzanine floors beside the arched ceilings of the main spaces. A departure from the pattern was necessary, however, because the roof pitch was not high enough for additional rooms in the attic to be used for temple ceremonies. The original intent seems to have been to use either one of the main rooms or the mezzanine offices for temple ceremonies.

An obvious difference between the Salt Lake Temple and the Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples is the multiple towers at each end representing offices in the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. However, the most significant difference from the Kirtland-Nauvoo tradition is the Salt Lake Temple’s rad­ical change in style. Rather than employ current architectural fashion (rela­tive to the skills of available craftsmen), the Salt Lake Temple follows a nonacademic design best described as castellated Gothic. The Gothic period is characterized by decorative battlements, or crenellations, on the roof para­pet and by squared towers topped by pointed spires. A rather successful design composition, the temple’s thick stone walls beautifully communicate its pio­neer heritage, while the castellations perhaps reflect an unconscious desire to defend it against the fate that befell the Nauvoo Temple (fig. 9-4).13

The temple’s unique design is generally attributed to Truman Angell, for he drew the initial designs and plans (fig. 9-5). However, the design’s attri­bution is more complex than is generally conceded. First, the heavy, massive wall buttresses are very different from the lighter, more planar ornament used by Angell in the Kirtland Temple. Second, the overall proportions of the Salt Lake Temple are more pleasing than are those of other buildings designed by Truman Angell, for example, Angell’s plans for a state capitol in Fillmore, Utah, and for a temple in St. George, Utah. These two structures are awk­wardly designed and reflect the work of someone with little training in aes­thetic composition. The oversized, stilted dome of the Fillmore capitol and the squat, undersized spire designed (but never built) for the St. George Temple show that Angell’s main skill was in working with his hands and not in designing. On the other hand, the Salt Lake Temple design with its sturdy, but well-proportioned, towers bespeaks a sensitive aesthetic eye, although one that was academically untrained. The person who had painted and glazed the Kirtland Temple, who had succeeded Joseph Smith as a prophet and who directly supervised Angell’s work—Brigham Young—is surely the one who envisioned the very successful design of the Salt Lake Temple.

One of Angell’s assistants, William Ward, described the beginnings of Brigham Young’s involvement in the temple’s design:

Brigham Young drew upon a slate in the architect’s office a sketch, and said to Truman O. Angell: “There will be three towers on the east, representing the President and his two Counselors; also three similar towers on the west representing the Presiding Bishop and his two Counselors; the towers on the east the Melchisedek priesthood, those on the west the Aaronic preisthood [sic]. The center towers will be higher than those on the sides, and the west towers a little lower than those on the east end. The hody of the building will be between these and pillars will be necessary to support the floors.” Angell... drew the following vertical section according to Brigham’s instruc­tions. ... The second story like the first. The construction of the roof was left to Mr. Angell.14

The most immediate source for the Salt Lake Temple's Gothic style would have been the Early English period of architecture. In 1856, Brigham Young sent Angell to England on a mission partly to study architecture. Angell described the purpose of that mission in his diary:

I am now makeing ready for a visit to Europe my ame [aim] will be to vissit the works of men a preaching as I go at the same time visit [?] the old cathed- erals &c&c and seek to improve the art of building if the experence can be got more extenelly then at home.15

Howe'ver, this mission to England occurred two years after the initial design of the Salt Lake Temple was published in 18’4. Not only was it impossible for this trip to have any effect on the style chosen for the initial design of the Salt Lake Temple, but Angell also remained singularly unimpressed with the architecture he saw. On the other hand, Brigham Young had seen English cathedrals firsthand during his 1840 mission to England fourteen years before the public announcement of the Salt Lake Temple's design.

Ward states that he never heard any discussion of style between Brig­ham Young and Truman Angell, and he implies that the choice of a Gothic style was Angell's.16 However, the differences in experience between the President and the architect indicate Brigham Young was certainly the source of the temple's style.17 Brigham Young would have been primarily responsible for the overall style and composition of the Salt Lake Temple, while Angell would have worked out the details and benefited from Brigham Young's craftsman's eye.

While the choice of the Gothic style certainly reflected the temple's cultural associations with the great cathedrals of Europe, the Salt Lake Temple does not replicate any building from England or anywhere else. Both Brigham Young and Angell sought to create a building that did not copy the buildings of the religious world that had rejected them.18

Another major difference between the Kirtland and the Salt Lake Temples was a heightened concern for permanence. During the construction of the Kirtland Temple, Church members optimistically prepared for the establishment of the New Jerusalem and the imminent return of Jesus Christ. While the object of their preparation had not changed, the general percep­tion of its time frame had. The Saints expected the Salt Lake Temple to last not only until a distant Second Coming, but also through the thousand years of the Millennium.19

Due to this expectation of longevity and probably due to the observa­tion of settlements and cracks in the Kirtland Temple, particular care was taken with the foundations of the Salt Lake Temple. In 1858 the foundations were covered over to hide them from the approaching Johnston's army, a dis­ciplinary force sent to curb the “rebellion” reported by the territorial gover­nor, who apparently was frustrated by Brigham Young's de facto power.20 When the foundations were uncovered several years later, the red sandstone had cracked. As a consequence, the upper sections of the foundation were torn out and replaced with more durable granite blocks. At one point, Brig­ham Young championed the use of adobe for the structure, arguing that over time it would solidify into a solid rock mass.21 Fortunately, he was overruled by others, and a hard, durable granite was eventually chosen.

The St. George Temple

During the construction of the Salt Lake Temple, another temple was built in St. George, Utah. Begun in 1871 and dedicated in 1877, this smaller structure was built rapidly, in contrast to the Sait Lake Temple, whose hewn granite blocks required tremendous amounts of time to prepare. Like the Kirtland Temple, the St. George Temple was built of a rough local stone and then plastered over. Obviously this building technique recalled Artemus Mil­lett’s contribution at Kirtland. However, at St. George no lines were painted on the temple’s surface to imitate cut stone. Instead, its architect, Truman Angell, leaned heavily on his experience from the Salt Lake Temple design, employing similar stepped wall buttresses, window patterns, and a castellated parapet. The brilliant white stucco covering provides a dramatic contrast with the red cliffs that surround St. George, and the light and shadow of the buttresses handsomely articulates the surface of the temple.

However, as was mentioned previously, the overall proportioning of the building is awkward at best. Angell, who loved to work with his hands, could replicate ornament from pattern books with great skill but could not deal effectively with overall design. The short, stubby spire in the original design (as well as the original cupola (fig. 9-1), which was replaced with a taller, more elegant cupola after being struck by lightning) looks like it was proportioned to fit on the sheet of paper on which the plan was drawn rather than designed to provide an effective accent to the vertical wall buttresses (fig. 9-6).

The interior arrangement of the St. George Temple is virtually identi­cal to that of the previous completed temples, having two large rooms with arched ceilings (fig. 9-7). The St. George Temple’s lower roof pitch does not allow for attic rooms. To accommodate the temple ceremonies, a light frame­work to hold curtains was erected in the center of the large open room.22 But the St. George Temple was the last to preserve the internal arrangement developed in Kirtland. The Salt Lake Temple interior was modified before completion (as were the interiors of the Logan and Manti Temples) to pro­vide four separate rooms that could be occupied in succession as the endow­ment ceremony progressed.

However, all the nineteenth-century temples (as well as larger twentieth­century ones) continue the Kirtland tradition of an upper court, now called a solemn assembly room. These rooms retain the multiple pulpits placed at each end of the hall. However, no curtains are provided in the solemn assembly rooms, and in several of the temples, the lower ceilings above the side seating areas have been replaced with a balcony to provide addi­tional seating.

As of 1996, approximately sixty temples are built or planned by the LDS Church. The introduction of audiovisual media in the temple ceremony greatly changed the physical requirements of temple plans. As a conse­quence, temples built after World War II share only formal imagery with the early temples. However, temples continue to be the focal point of Latter-day Saint worship, serving as physical symbols of the Latter-day Saint faith. Temples and the RLDS Church

The temple-building tradition of the RLDS Church has been markedly different from that of the LDS Church since the RLDS Church rejects post­Kirtland Temple doctrine.23 When the RLDS Church established their head­quarters in Independence, Missouri, they had to deal with the plot of land dedicated by Joseph Smith for the construction of the Independence Temple. This plot was designated as the point of “gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion. . . . The city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation” (D&C 84:2, 4). The persecutions in Independence and surrounding counties from 1833 through 1839 had pre­vented the fulfilment of this command, but by inference, establishing the New Jerusalem required building a temple there.

In 1968, President W. Wallace Smith received a revelation instructing the RLDS Church to build the Independence Temple.24 The 1968 revelation concerning the temple was not without controversy since the adoption of temples had been one of the outward differences that distinguished the RLDS and LDS Churches from each other. However, one of the provisions added to the revelation fatly states that no “secret ordinances,” referring to ceremonies such as those in LDS temples, would be performed in the temple.25

The architectural plans were unveiled twenty years later. Much like the Kirtland Temple, the twentieth-century RLDS Temple in Independence serves as a general administrative center, educational center, and headquar­ters for the first presidency. In contrast to the unusual spire and strikingly beautiful sanctuary interior, the office wing attached to the sanctuary directly relates to the function of the attic offices in the Kirtland Temple.

The architectural form of the RLDS Independence Temple reflects the contemporary stance of the church towards its historical past. Designed by the well-known architectural firm of Hellmuth, Obata, and Kassabaum, the temple, with its conchlike spiral above the sanctuary, represents a complete stylistic break from LDS temple architecture and the Kirtland Temple form (fig. 9-8). In spite of the RLDS Church’s tendency to divide into traditional and progressive camps—the former wishing to emphasize Joseph Smith Jr.’s role in the history of the Church, the latter desiring to align itself more closely with mainstream Protestantism—the design managed to appeal to all. The mere presence of a temple appeals to the traditionalists, while the unusual design appeals to the progressives. Although the temple’s functional role in the RLDS Church is still evolving, it seems clear that the Temple in Independence will not be the first of a series, as in LDS tradition, but rather will remain the sole RLDS temple.


  1. Cowan, “History of Latter-day Saint Temples from 1831 to 1990,” 4:1451, states that in June 1833, Joseph Smith “drew up a plat for the city of Zion, specifying that twenty-four temples or sacred buildings would be built in the heart of the city to serve a variety of priesthood functions" (italics added). For information on the multiple functions of temples in the ancient world, see Parry, Temples of the Ancient World.
  2. “March 27th [1837] I signed $50. fifty Dollars for the building of the house of the Lord in Zion the subscription list was in the hands of Elder Elisha H. Groves.” Jessee, “Kirtland Diary of Wil- ford Woodruff,” 386.
  3. For Andrew, this poses the question of “how did he [Joseph Smith] maintain any pretense of the Lord’s having inspired the structure while at the same time employing a professional architect?” Andrew, Early Temples of the Mormons, 62. This line of reasoning is confused by calling Weeks in the previous paragraph a “builder rather than an architect.” However, choosing to designate those responsible for working out the design of the Kirtland Temple as builders and Weeks as a professional archi­tect does not change the nature of the responsibility for the design. In fact, the Nauvoo commission is quite similar to that in Kirtland. In both cases, Joseph Smith dictated the general pattern while the best available experts worked out the details, including the style. Joseph Smith’s “pretense” did not pose a problem for anyone in Nauvoo, nor did it provide grist for the mills of his detractors.
  4. History of the Church, 6:196-97. Joseph Smith said, “I have seen in vision the splendid appearance of that building illuminated, and will have it built according to the pattern shown me.”
  5. Angell to Taylor and Council, 2.
  6. Proxy baptisms for deceased individuals had been conducted in the Mississippi River for a short period of time but were continued in the font in the still-unfinished Nauvoo Temple. Colvin, “Nauvoo Temple,” 3:1001—3. These and other ordinances for deceased persons contributed to the sense of urgency in completing the temple, since individuals wished to perform what they believed were saving ordinances for departed loved ones.
    The building's original font was wooden and was dedicated before the completion of the build­ing so that these ordinances could take place. After Joseph Smith’s death, the wooden font was replaced by a more substantial stone font. See Brigham Young, “Epistle of the Twelve,” 779.
  7. Lisle Brown, “Sacred Departments,” 366-74.
  8. The line of queen posts to each side marks the walls that formed the offices for the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the dressing rooms for the participants in the endowment ceremony.
  9. Andrew suggests that public access to the Nauvoo Temple would have had to have been restricted had the Saints not been driven out of the city. See Andrew, Early Temples of the Mormons, 85, 89.
  10. Lisle Brown, “Sacred Departments,” 374.
  11. In the sense that the streets of Salt Lake were surveyed and numbered starting from the southeast comer of Temple Square, the Salt Lake Temple is the first one to serve as the geographical focal point. Nauvoo was not laid out around the temple as was Salt Lake City, but in other ways the Nauvoo Temple also was a focal point. See Esplin, “Significance of Nauvoo,” 71-73.
  12. In “Exterior Symbolism of the Salt Lake Temple,” Oman notes that the tiered towers of the Salt Lake Temple reflect the Kirtland Temple's tiered pulpits.
  13. Oman takes the position that the temple's battlements, narrow doorways, walls up to sixteen feet thick, and orientation to the surrounding wall and streets symbolize the guardedness and exclusiv­ity of the temple's teachings and rituals. Oman, “Exterior Symbolism of the Salt Lake Temple.”
  14. “Who Designed the Temple?” 578-79.
  15. Angell, Diary, April 11, 1856.
  16. “On several occasions the foundation and thickness of the walls was the subject of conversa­tions. But I do not recollect any talk between Brigham and Angell in regard to the style of the build­ing.” “Who Designed the Temple?” 578-79. However, Brigham did say he saw the temple in vision:
    Five years ago last July I . . . saw in the Spirit the Temple not ten feet from where we have laid the Chief Corner Stone. I have not inquired what kind of a Temple we should build. Why? Because it was represented before me. I have never looked upon that ground, but the vision of it was there. I see it as plainly as if it was in reality before me. ... It will have six towers, to begin with, instead of one. (Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 1:133, April 6, 1853)
  17. Brigham Young also supervised the architectural design of the Logan and Manti Temples. Paul Anderson, “William Harrison Folsom,” 253.
  18. “Angell's idea and aim was to make it [the Salt Lake Temple] different to any other known building, and 1 think he succeeded as to the general combination.” Ward, “Who Designed the Temple?” 578—79.
    Traditional meetinghouse forms were not used as a pattern for the early Utah temples. Nonetheless, this observation does not confirm Andrew's assertion that “none of the temples erected in Utah has any relationship to architecture having religious connotations.” Andrew, Early Temples of the Mormons, 134. Even if one makes the rather pejorative assessment that the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples are nonreligious buildings (thereby discounting the obvious heritage owed by the Utah tem­ples to these two forerunners), Andrew seems to be unaware of the general connection between Gothic architecture and ecclesiastical buildings, a symbolic relationship already noted in relation to the windows of the Kirtland Temple.
  19. Brigham Young said, “I want to see the Temple built in a manner that it will endure through the Millennium. This is not the only Temple we shall build; There will be hundreds of them built and dedicated to the Lord. This Temple will be known as the first Temple built in the mountains by the Latter-day Saints.” Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 10:254, October 6, 1863.
  20. Holzapfel, Every Stone a Sermon, 20.
  21. “I want to occupy a few moments more, and talk about our contemplated temple. It has been moved, seconded, and carried by this Conference, that we build a temple here of the best material that America affords. If this is done, it will have to be built of platina; and I do not know that there is any of it to be got in this territory. ... If we cannot get the platina, we must build a temple of pure gold; that is here, I know. But if the Conference wants us to build a temple of pure gold, they will have to put into the tithing stores something besides old half-dead stinking cows, and old broken-kneed horses; or if they even put in all the good cattle they possess, will it build a temple of gold, of silver, or of brass? No, it will not. .. .
    “If you take this clay, which is to be found in abundance on these bottom lands, and mix with it these pebble rocks, and make adobies of the compound, it will petrify in the wall and become a solid rock in five hundred years, so as to be fit to cut into millstones to grind flour, while the other materials 1 have mentioned will have decomposed, and gone back to their native elements. ... As for the dura­bility of such a building, the longer it stands the better it becomes; if it stands five thousand years, it increases in its strength until it comes to its highest perfection, before it begins to decay.” Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 1:218-20, October 9, 1852.
  22. These “curtains and frames for partitions” were mentioned in the dedicatory prayer by Daniel H. Wells. DeMille, St. George Temple, 64.
  23. Although the endowment ceremony as practiced by the LDS Church was never accepted by the RLDS Church, Joseph Smith III apparently contemplated performing baptisms for the dead, which would have required some sort of special structure. See Launius, “Ambivalent Rejection.”
  24. Book of Doctrine and Covenants, 149:6a.
  25. Launius, “Reorganized Church and the Independence Temple.”