Symbolism in architecture of Salt Lake Temple

Deseret News

The 40 years of labor it took to construct the Salt Lake Temple -- much of it without the help of machines -- have come to symbolize the extreme dedication, sacrifice, self-reliance and faith that early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah possessed. However, the outside (like the inside) of the iconic structure contains a wealth of symbols and representations.

"Notable among all LDS temples, the Salt Lake Temple includes significant symbolism in its architecture," the Encyclopedia of Mormonism states.

The Salt Lake Temple "stands as an isolated mass of the everlasting hills. ? As nearly as any work of man may so do. It suggests duration," Elder James E. Talmage wrote in "The House of the Lord."

While it would be improper to discuss the inside of the sacred temple's symbolism, the outside of the sacred edifice has been publicly written about over the years -- because anyone can view that aspect.

Here's a look at highlights of the temple's extensive outside symbolism:

Granite -- While LDS temple buildings generally represent mountains, which anciently were climbed for solitude and private communion with deity, the Salt Lake Temple has more symbolism than any other. The gray granite walls symbolize the enduring and eternal nature of the ordinances performed therein and of the everlasting hills (from "The Salt Lake Temple," by Dean R. Zimmerman, New Era magazine, June 1978).

The granite for the temple came from the mountain walls in Little Cottonwood Canyon, southeast of Salt Lake City. Deep excavations around the Salt Lake Temple in 1963 revealed a 14-foot-deep granite foundation, atop a 16-foot-deep sandstone foundation (according to the Deseret News, March 30, 1963).

Towers -- The six towers themselves signify the restoration of priesthood authority. (Religious spires in general are symbolic because they prompt onlookers to gaze heavenward.) The three eastern towers on the temple are six feet higher than the western counterparts. As such, the eastern towers represent the three members of the church's First Presidency and the Melchizedek Priesthood, while the western towers portray the Presiding Bishopric of the church and the Aaronic Priesthood (according to the New Era article).

Earth stones -- These are found just above the basement of the temple and at the floor of each buttress. The 36 stones are believed to symbolize the spreading of the gospel throughout the world, because they represent different portions of the globe. They also represent the telestial kingdom, the lowest of the three degrees of heavenly glory in LDS beliefs.

Moon stones -- These are found just above the temple's promenade and represent the moon in all its different phases. Drawings by the temple's architect, Truman O. Angell, are based on all phases of the moon during the year 1878. There were 13 new moons, 13 first quarters, 12 full moons and 12 last quarters during that year. Midway along the north wall of the temple is the first quarter of the moon, based on January 1878. Go clockwise and the moon's phases for that year continue in sequence. The moon also represents the middle degree of glory, the terrestrial kingdom in LDS scripture.

Some also believe the moon's phases may represent man's mortal journey, from birth to death and from darkness to light.

Sun stones -- Going upward on the temple are the sun stones, with 52 points per face, to represent the sun's rays. These stones were patterned after the Nauvoo Temple's sun stones. These stones also represent the highest degree of glory, the celestial kingdom is LDS theology.

Star stones -- Just above the cornice of the temple are five-point star stones. The eastern towers have 40 star stones. These number 12 on the central towers. They are also found on the majority of keystones. The central towers on both the east and west sides contain stones showing clasped hands. These symbolize the hand of fellowship and how Latter-day Saints should characterize brotherly love.

Cloud stones -- There are only two cloud stones on the temple. They are located on the east center tower and represent the gospel piercing through superstition and the error of the world.

Inscriptions -- Just above the windows on the eastern center tower is the inscription "Holiness to the Lord" (Exodus 28:36). This is inscribed somewhere on all temples.

Near the windows of the east and west towers are keystones, inscribed with "I Am Alpha and Omega" (Revelation 22:13). This phrase represents time and eternity and is a proclamation of he who is without beginning or end.

Constellations -- Above the windows on the west central tower are representations of Ursa Major and the Big Dipper. Angell once wrote that Ursa Major and its pointer toward the North Star symbolize that the lost may find themselves by the priesthood.

Eye -- Above the upper windows in each of the center towers is a carved emblem, the "all-seeing eye."

Turrets -- On the corner tower are single spire stones, representing flaming torches.

The Angel Moroni statue -- He represents the restoration of the gospel in the latter days.

Some old photographs show a lamp was originally mounted on the crown atop Moroni's head. That light was eventually removed.

Missing features -- Not all the symbolism originally planned for the Salt Lake Temple became a reality, either. For example, an early sketch of the temple by Angell found hanging today in Brigham Young's guest room at Cove Fort shows that two Angel Moroni statues, one each on the east and west ends, were initially envisioned. Only an eastern statue was ever used for reasons unclear.

Some of Angell's drawings from 1854 show "Saturn stones," complete with rings, located directly above the sun stones. These were not ever placed on the temple walls, according to Zimmerman's article in the New Era.

For perhaps its first few decades, the Salt Lake Temple used to have statues of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, one each in niches at the top of the two eastern stairways. These bronze statues were later removed and placed elsewhere on the temple block, according to Elder Talmage in "The House of the Lord." The empty spaces for these two statues remain and are popular photography spots for wedding parties today.