Kirtland Temple: The House of the Lord
By Ardyce Nordeen
Most of us who were raised in the Church have heard about Kirtland Temple all our lives. Many of us have made the pilgrimage to that northeastern Ohio town to actually see it, and perhaps take a tour. A few of us have had the undeniable privilege of worshipping in that sanctuary. Two or three of us have lived there for a period in our lives, and saw it almost daily.
But do any of us realize the absolute miracle of this edifice? Do we truly appreciate the testimony of God’s magnificent power that stands, still today, at 9020 Chillicothe Road in Kirtland, Ohio? In this 180th Anniversary Year of the dedication of the Temple at Kirtland, let’s take time to contemplate the wonderful story of its creation.
The community of Kirtland, Ohio, is set in the midst of the largest hardwood forest in the world. The Lord provided the building materials even before there were Saints in the area. The Saints had begun to gather in the Kirtland area in 1831, just one year after the Church had been organized. Those who would believe and receive the fullness of the Gospel joined, and the Church’s membership grew rapidly. Many new revelations came through the prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., during this time, and in late 1832, the word of the Lord came saying, “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.” (D&C 85:36b)
While many were eager to begin such a task immediately, Joseph Smith urged patience and waiting for further instruction. He and other priesthood members took the matter to the Lord in prayer and sought His guidance before they were willing to proceed. Frederick G. Williams, one of Joseph’s two counselors, later said that the Prophet had received word from God to come before Him with his counselors and that He would reveal to them the plan for the House. Williams testified that the three of them, Joseph, Frederick, and Sidney Rigdon, knelt and called upon the Lord and that the building appeared before them. All three looked carefully at the exterior, and then the building, “…seemed to come right over us…” and they were permitted to see the interior layout as well. (Truman Angell’s journal)
Thus it was in May of 1833, the revelation came to the excitement of the Saints in Kirtland to, “…commence a work of laying out and preparing a beginning and a foundation…beginning at my house, and behold, it must be done according to the pattern which I have given you.” (D&C 91:1a) Just as God had done with Solomon and the Temple in the Old Testament, He gave exact measurements and instructions for the building of this Latter Day Temple. “Verily I say unto you, that it shall be built fifty-five by sixty-five feet in the width thereof, and in the length thereof, in the inner court; and there shall be a lower court and a higher court, according to the pattern which shall be given unto you hereafter.” (D&C 91:2a)
Kirtland, at that time was an area on the frontier of a young nation. Most buildings were made of logs and were single-story structures. Joseph Smith was determined, yes, even adamant, that the Temple of the Lord should not be one of logs. He had instructions from on High, and he meant to fulfill them. At first, a group of men began making bricks from the clay on the part of the land purchased for the building. But the bricks were too soft. Instead, Joseph Smith found a stone quarry about a mile from the site, and thus, limestone became the main building material for the exterior of the Temple. The Saints used only native materials in the construction; along with the limestone, they used local timber, white poplar, oak and walnut for the interior. (Church History, vol.1)
The early members of the Church, who were living in or near Kirtland in 1833, were not a wealthy group of people; in fact, they were exceedingly poor. In the spring of that year, only ten Latter Day Saints had enough substance to be assessed either land taxes or personal property taxes. This represented less than one percent of the total taxable holdings in the entire Kirtland Township. (Launius) They were not deterred, however, from beginning this herculean task. God had said to build His house: they would do it! Joseph said of their dedication to the labor, “…our unity, harmony, and charity abounded to strengthen us to do the commandments of God.” (Church History, vol 1.)
A project which is estimated to have cost between $45,000 and $70,000 in 1830 dollars (between one and two million today) was accomplished by a fledgling church whose members were mostly impoverished. A building committee was formed, and it went forth to seek donations from members far and wide. Some could give only pennies, others a little more, and gradually the funds accumulated. A handful of more prosperous members contributed significantly and the leaders, themselves, gave funding in a sacrificial manner. In the summer of 1835, when funds were again running very low, five church leaders (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, W.W. Phelps, and Frederick Williams) gave individual contributions that would amount to between $12,000.00 and $19,000.00 a piece in today’s money. None of these men were well-to-do; obviously the spirit of sacrifice was very strong with the early Saints.
That sacrificial giving went well beyond the dollar donations that could be made. As the work began in earnest, every able-bodied member worked on the Temple. Most men made a time donation of one day in seven. Missionaries assisted when they returned from the field. Emma Smith was in charge of the efforts of the women to sew and cook for the laborers. The women made clothes for the workers, draperies and carpets for the Temple, and wool to be sold to raise funds for the effort. Heber Kimball later said, “Our wives were continually knitting, spinning and sewing, and if fact, I may say, doing all kinds of work! They were just as busy as any of us.” (Launius)
While the Saints at Kirtland did not boast of very many skilled craftsmen, they had enough knowledge and skill among them to create a wonderful edifice. Those who knew showed others what to do, and in a little less than three years they had finished a structure that still amazes and inspires today. The pulpits, two four-tiered sets of them, at each end of the Lower Court, representing the two Priesthoods and the associated offices therein, are without a doubt the most unique feature in the building. But also noteworthy are the windows, especially the “Window Beautiful,” and the carvings that are found throughout both the Lower and Higher Courts. These are all veritable works of art, in themselves.
Years later, a group of architects toured the Temple and wrote an article for the Magazine of Modern Architecture, in which they stated, concerning the quality of work exhibited in the finishing of the interior spaces, “They were not only craftsmen of unusual skill, but were inspired…” (Thomas) We, of course, recognize and acknowledge from whence that inspiration came!
The exterior of the building, too, was extremely eye-catching. A three-story structure commanded attention in that era, and the Saints made certain that the exterior walls would glisten in the sun by adding crushed china and glassware to the stucco mixture. The result was that the Temple seemed to shimmer in the Ohio sunshine. (Launius)
A bell was placed in the tower on the top of the Temple. It was used to call the Saints to assemble for worship. And the service of dedication on March 27, 1836, had an assemblage of over one thousand people. That service went on for more than seven hours, during which time many saw angelic ministers and everyone felt the Holy Spirit moving in mighty power. Of that day, Eliza R. Snow said, “…no mortal language can describe the heavenly manifestations on that memorable day. Angels appeared to some, while a sense of the divine presence was realized by all present, and each heart was fill with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” (Launius)
The Kirtland Temple, the House of the Lord stands today as a visible reminder of the consecrated living of the Saints in an early day. May it also be a testimony and an inspiration to us that Zion, the Kingdom of God on earth, shall also be a reality!
References: Doctrine and Covenants, The Kirtland Temple,a Historical Narrative, by Roger D. Launius, Church History, vol. 1, The House of the Lord, a video tour and testimony by Seventy Tommy Thomas, The Journal of Truman Angell, architectural advisor for the Temple and an early convert to the Church.