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Everything you need to know about Utah's most recognized man-made structure

By Robert J. DeBry & Associates | Posted - Nov. 9, 2020 at 8:00 a.m.



While Utah is known for its picturesque, snow-capped mountains in the north and ethereal, red rock formations in the south, there is perhaps no more iconic image in Utah than the Salt Lake City Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

An imposing and magnificent sight to behold, the Salt Lake Temple, at the center of downtown, is a well-known attraction for members of the faith and non-members alike. The structure attracts more than 3-5 million visitors each year to the 10 acres surrounding the temple, according to Temple Square.

Currently, the temple is 11 months into a major reconstruction that is scheduled for completion in 2024.

Even if you think you know most of what there is to know about the building, it has an interesting and journeyed past. Here is everything you need to know about Utah's most prominent structure.

It took 40 years to build

When the pioneers arrived in what is now Utah, it didn't take long for them to break ground on their new temple site, as directed by then Church President Brigham Young.

Construction wasn't easy, though. Working with limited resources, and experiencing constant setbacks, the temple took 40 years to complete, the first 16 of which the foundational walls weren't visible above ground level, according to Brigham Young University.

While a frustratingly slow process, the temple was completed in 1893 the laborious effort was deemed by Scientific American as, "a monument to Mormon perseverance," and still stands today as a beautiful sight to behold, regardless of personal religious beliefs.

It's under construction—again

Despite the initial 40-year construction period, the Salt Lake Temple has been undergoing some form of upgrade or renovation, almost constantly since its completion.

In the early 1960s, the temple underwent major updates to its mechanical and air conditioning systems. Later, in 1982, it was closed for several months for more refurbishing and updating.

Recently, Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced a major renovation project that would restore the interior closer to its original, pioneer style, as well as the implementation of significant earthquake-proofing engineering.

Coupled with major changes to the style and layout of Temple Square, the newly renovated 10 acres will surely be back to attracting millions each year once completed.

The foundation had to be laid twice

Nine years after the cornerstones were laid, it was discovered that the original sandstone blocks used for the foundation had developed cracks, and were deemed insufficient to bear the weight of such a massive structure.

This meant removing the existing sandstone foundation and starting over with solid, 16-foot wide granite blocks, notes The Church's Newsroom. This was a challenge for the workers, given the massive size and slow transportation process. Five years later, the foundation was visible above ground, and some progress could finally be seen.

The Christmas lights are a big deal

As mentioned, Temple Square attracts over 3-5 million visitors each year, many of them coming during the winter to see the famous Christmas lights strung each year during the holiday season.

To make sure Temple Square lives up to expectations, lights begin to be strung in August and don't stop up until opening night, usually the day after Thanksgiving.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions and ongoing construction, the lights will be far fewer this year. According to a KSL article, Church officials say they're still working on the logistics of visitors coming to see the lights amidst the pandemic. However, there will still be Temple Square lights in the unaffected areas of Temple Square.

Photo: Shutterstock

Symbols are everywhere

If you've ever taken a stroll around the Salt Lake Temple, you've probably noticed various symbols adorning the walls, buttresses, spires, and everything in-between.

The temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, inside and out, are steeped in symbolism, meant to teach something more than what is obvious to the eye.

The careful observer will see suns, moons, stars, constellations, handshakes, eyes, and other symbols, all intended to teach the observer about God, according to Temple Square.

The granite is from Little Cottonwood Canyon

When the pioneers built the temple, they intended for it to last for a long time, and with 16 foot wide, solid granite footings, it surely will—especially once the renovations are complete.

Those thick, granite walls didn't come easily or quickly. Excavated from Little Cottonwood Canyon nearly 20 miles away, each of these massive boulders was transported by oxen pulled cars, at a painfully slow pace. Thankfully, the coming of the railroad in 1869 greatly accelerated the process of transportation, notes BYU.

Still, by the time of Brigham Young's death in 1877, the exterior walls were only 20 feet high, just above the temple's first floor. Even with the railroad bringing blocks in from the canyon at a more rapid pace, it would still take another 16 years to complete, according to BYU scholars.

The interior came together rapidly

The BYU Religious Studies Center reports it was only three years before completion when Joseph Don Carlos Young became the lead architect—and the interior had yet to be worked on.

Using the finest materials they could get their hands on, craftsmen and women worked feverishly to complete the interior on time. Dedicated only a few hours before the deadline in 1893, the temple was completed and the workers could finally enjoy the fruit of their labors.

The architectural style is unique

To art historians, the Salt Lake Temple is something of a head-scratcher when it comes to determining its style. It has elements of several influential architectural styles, but it's mostly neo-gothic, notes Utah.com.

No matter the architectural influences, the Salt Lake Temple is unforgettably beautiful, and instantly recognizable to millions the world over.

Photo: Shutterstock

For a time, it will be open to the general public

Whenever a temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is near completion, whether it be new construction or a renovation, an open house allows the general public to see the interior of these sacred structures. Since its dedication in 1893, only worthy members of the faith have been allowed inside the temple.

In these open house events, visitors will be taken on guided tours of nearly every room of the temple, with a guide to explain the significance and meanings of each room. While the dates for the open house have yet to be announced, it should attract worldwide attention.

In a Deseret News article, Elder Larry Y. Wilson, executive director of the Temple Department, said: "I expect this will be the largest and most heavily attended open house in the history of the church. We don't yet have a time frame that has been determined for it, but I expect it will be a substantial time frame, which will allow for people from around the United States and around the world to come and enter and enjoy and experience the beautiful Salt Lake Temple."

These open houses are excellent opportunities to see what these structures are all about, and why the Church makes such a big deal of them. Take advantage while you can, because once the temple is dedicated, only members of the Church who live by rigorous standards can enter.

It is a popular tourism spot

Despite the fact that the general public cannot enter the temple, the Salt Lake Temple is always a tourism draw. Newsmax listed it as one of the 13 houses and places of worship to see in the United States. CNN listed it as one of eight "religious wonders" to see in the U.S.

Regardless of why people come to see the temple, they do come. According to a Deseret News article, the Great Recession of 2008 didn't hamper visitors coming to Temple Square. In 2009, approximately 5 million people visited Temple Square.

Regardless of religious beliefs, most people can agree that the Salt Lake Temple is a sight to behold. While it's under construction currently, there are still sights you can glimpse and history you learn.

Robert J. DeBry & Associates

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