A History of Modern Temples

NOTE: I made this page years ago and do not consider it to be authoritative or comprehensive. I do however consider it to be accurate and have thus chosen to include it on my current website despite its age.

Although I have tried to make sure that all the information on this page is accurate and in keeping with the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this site is not connected to, or endorsed by, the church. I am solely responsible for the ideas expressed here. If misinformation is discovered I would be thankful to have it brought to my attention.
David Miller

A History of Modern Temples

With images

Temple of Solomon

A history of modern Temples would seem to preclude a discussion of ancient temples such as the Temple of Solomon (left), but in truth this is the beginning of the modern temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said “Where there are temples, with the spirit of revelation resting upon those who administer therein, there the Lord’s people will be found; where these are not, the Church and kingdom and the truth of heaven are not” (Mormon Doctrine). And Elder Russell M. Nelson stated, “Whenever the Lord has had a people on earth who will obey His word, they have been commanded to build temples.”

Even when the Children of Israel did not have a land to call their own the Lord commanded them to build the Tabernacle which they could carry with them to serve as their temple.

Temples were so important in the theology of the children of Israel that King David counted it a privilege to build one and regarded it as a punishment when he was told that he would not be allowed to build a Temple unto the Lord. Many people would feel relieved to be spared such an undertaking, but to David it was counted a disappointment. And to his son, Solomon, it was a privilege to be allowed to do what his father had been forbidden to do for the Lord.

Soon after the Church of Jesus Christ was established in this dispensation in 1830, Joseph Smith received a revelation that a temple should be built as a house of the Lord so that the blessings of the temple could be made available to all who would believe and partake of them.

Kirtland Temple

At the time of this revelation the Saints were living in Kirtland, Ohio and it was there that they eventually built their first temple. The saints all worked on the temple by giving of their time and using their skills. They donated money to buy the best materials available and the women of the church made clothes and even ground up their china to make the exterior of the temple shine in the sunlight. The cost of that temple was about $200,000.

Unlike the temples since that time the Kirtland temple did not have many rooms and it was open to everyone. It was used for Sunday meetings as well as weekday services. In many respects it was like the thousands of chapels that dot the earth today in the church. But the Kirtland temple had a purpose unlike any of the temples since then.

It was a place of revelation for the Lord to teach His servants and reveal the ordinances of the temple as well as to restore the priesthood keys to perform those ordinances. The list of ancient prophets who appeared there includes Moses, Elias, Elijah and Jesus Christ.

Today the Kirtland Temple is owned by the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). For those who want to go to Kirtland there are a few restored sites from the period which are free for the public to tour including the temple.

Eventually the saints had to leave Kirtland so they moved to Missouri. While there, they planned three temple sites and even broke ground for one of them before they were driven from the state.

The saints moved to Nauvoo, Illinois in 1838 where they established what soon became the largest city in the state. They lived in relative peace for six years during which they began constructing a new temple. The Nauvoo temple was only partially completed at the time that Joseph Smith was killed in 1844. The saints did not stop their work on the temple and it was completed before they fled from Nauvoo in February 1846.

After they left, it was desecrated, struck by lightning and later burned to the ground.

old Nauvoo Temple
Old Nauvoo Temple
new Nauvoo Temple
New Nauvoo Temple

In 1999 President Gordon B. Hinkley announced that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will build a new temple in Nauvoo where the old temple once stood.

After leaving Nauvoo the saints made their historic trek to the Salt Lake valley. They arrived in late July of 1847 and within two days they had picked a location and started discussing the building of yet another temple. It took six years for the saints to get settled in the valley before they broke ground for the Salt Lake temple, but their hearts and minds were fixed on the temple during all that time.

The building of the Salt Lake temple took 40 years to complete. During that time there were three other temples completed: Saint George in 1877, Logan in 1884 and Manti in 1888

St. George, Utah Temple
Saint George Temple: April 6, 1877
Logan, Utah Temple
Logan Temple: May 17, 1884
Manti, Utah Temple
Manti Temple: May 21, 1888

Salt Lake Temple Angel Moroni statue

The Salt Lake Temple is undoubtedly the most famous of all the modern temples. As far as symbols associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Salt Lake Temple is only rivaled by the statue of the Angel Moroni that stands atop the spires of most modern temples. The work on the Salt Lake temple was stalled on a number of occasions. After building the foundation the work was stopped when the saints heard that the United States army was coming to put down a rumored “Mormon rebellion.” The foundation was buried and work was only resumed after the army ended their brief occupation.

When the foundation was uncovered so that work could be resumed on the temple, the people found that the mortar had caused the stones to crack. Brigham Young called for the old foundation to be removed and replaced without mortar. This required precision cutting of each granite stone. It was determined that this would eliminate cracking in the building. As Brigham Young said, “I want this temple to stand through the Millennium.” This same dedication to excellence is a trademark in the construction of all the temples.

As the work began to progress on the temple the saints were surprised when Brigham Young once again asked them to stop working on the temple. Many of them were confused as he asked then to devote their labors to the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Few of them realized his vision of using the railroad to transport granite from the quarry to the temple lot. In the end it would be a great help to the building of the temple.

Brigham Young did not live to see the temple finished. His successor, John Taylor, also passed away before the temple was completed. Finally, 39 years after the groundbreaking the capstone was laid under the direction of Wilford Woodruff. At the Capstone Ceremony President Woodruff challenged the saints to finish the interior of the temple within one year. On April 6, 1893, only hours after the interior was completed the temple was dedicated by President Wilford Woodruff.

Laie, Hawaii Temple

With the completion of the Salt Lake Temple the church had no need to build more temples for a period of time. Almost all the members of the church were living in Utah where the four operating temples were located. This condition of having enough temples to serve the entire church only lasted for slightly more than twenty years. During that time the church grew and the members living outside of Utah grew even more. For those who lived within the United States it was realistic to think that they could come to Utah at some point to partake of the blessings of the temple, but for those who did not live in the United States that was a very remote possibility. The leaders of the church were very anxious to make the blessings of the temple available to all the members of the church, so the next temple to be built was located in Laie, Hawaii.

Those saints in the Pacific Islands had the least chance to come to Utah, and so a temple was brought to them. Thus in 1919 the first modern temple was dedicated off of the North American continent.

Alberta, Canada Temple
Cardston, Alberta: August 26, 1923
Mesa, Arizona Temple
Mesa, Arizona: October 23, 1927
Idaho Falls, Idaho Temple
Idaho Falls, Idaho: September 23, 1945

Over the next 26 years three more temples were dedicated in the United States and Canada. Then the church encountered another obstacle in the building of temples. This was a problem of logistics. It was decided that there should be a temple in Europe with the growing number of saints there, but in building the Swiss temple the leaders of the church realized that they would be serving members of the church with at least 10 different native languages and they needed to minimize the number of extra temple workers to be able to handle the many languages that they would have to use. Eventually they chose to use recordings of the temple ceremony in the various languages so that they would be able to do more than one language at a time with very little increase in the number of required workers. By 1955 Europe had a temple. The practice of using recordings for the endowment ceremony was so effective that it began to be used in most other temples allowing people with various native languages to visit nearly any temple and still be able to participate in the ordinances of the temple. So far as I know the Swiss temple still has the record for the most languages to be used on a regular basis.

Swiss Temple

Los Angeles, California Temple Hamilton, New Zealand Temple London, England Temple Oakland, California Temple

In 1956 the Los Angeles temple (far left) was dedicated followed by the first temple in the southern hemisphere dedicated in Hamilton, New Zealand in 1958 (left center). Another first in temple building was the dedication of more than one temple in a year. Also in 1958 a temple was dedicated in London (right center). After nearly 130 years there were 12 temples starting to dot the earth. But this was only the beginning. In 1964 yet another temple was dedicated. This time in Oakland, California (far right)

Ogden, Utah Temple
(Click to see both temples side by side.)

With the growing number of members, there began to be too many people visiting the Salt Lake temple so two new temples were constructed to ease the burden in the area. One was in Ogden and the other in Provo. Some unique features of these two temples include that both were built within a one hour drive of an existing temple, they were both built under one construction contract, they were built with identical blueprints, and they were dedicated only one month apart. Ogden on January 18, 1972 and Provo on February 9, 1972. No two temples look more alike in every aspect. Only upon careful inspection will differences be found. The best way to tell the difference between them is to compare the surrounding geography. Of course that only works if you know the geography of Ogden and/or Provo. As the number of temples has grown, this practice of borrowing designs or parts of designs has become more common. It is not uncommon to find two or three temples with very similar designs especially when they were built during a common time period.

Washington D.C. Temple

In 1974 one of the most prominent temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was dedicated in a suburb of the District of Columbia. For the first time in over a hundred years the people of the east coast of the United States did not have to cross the country to visit the temple. This temple has a totally unique design. Besides the angel Moroni on one of the spires the only feature that it shares with another temple is that it has six spires (which is common on many temples). Among the statistics that sets this temple apart is the fact that it was the second largest temple built at that time. The Salt Lake temple being the uncontested winner in that arena due to extra rooms for the church leaders to meet. It has been called by many the most beautiful of the temples. Although no temple has ever captured a unanimous vote for that title.

Sao Paulo, Brazil Temple

In October 1978 the Sao Paulo Brazil temple was dedicated. During the construction of this, the first South American temple, many of the members in the area of the temple were not allowed to hold the priesthood because of their genealogy and thus could not attend the temple. This was a matter of great concern to President Spencer W. Kimball, then president of the church. After much meditation, President Kimball received a revelation on this matter in early June 1978 in which the blessings of the priesthood and the temple were extended to all worthy members regardless of race. The general leaders of the church had accepted this change before it went into affect. This revelation was presented to and accepted by the various councils of the church until on September 30, 1978 it was presented to the general church membership at General Conference and was there unanimously sustained. With the acceptance of this revelation by the priesthood quorums of the church the priesthood began to be extended to men of all races even before it was presented to the general membership of the church.

During his time as president of the Church, Spencer W. Kimball put forth great effort into improving and increasing the missionary program of the church. The natural result of this was an unprecedented explosion in the growth of the church membership. When he started there were 3.3 million members of the church. Twelve years later there were 5.9 million. This put a great strain on all of the temples. As a result there was a marvelous increase in the temple building of the church during the 1980’s. As the decade opened there were 17 operating temples of the church, but in the space of 10 years there were 26 more dedicated bringing the total to 43. The peak of this temple building frenzy came in 1983 and 1984 when there were six temples dedicated in each of those years. That was a high-water mark that would not be challenged for 15 years. Some significant milestones occurred with the Tokyo Temple as the first temple in the Far East; Temples in Samoa and Tonga represented the first temples in the Pacific Islands. Australia got their first temple as did other countries in the far east. South America got temples to match their growing membership. The most amazing accomplishment was that the church erected the Freiberg Temple in East Germany. In fact, before the Berlin Wall came down the church had organized new stakes and they were even granted permission to bring missionaries from outside the country to preach the gospel.

Tokyo Temple Seattle, Washington Temple Jordan River, Utah Temple Atlanta, Georgia Temple Apia, Samoa Temple Nuku'alofa, Tonga Temple Santiago, Chile Temple Papeete, Tahiti Temple Mexico City Temple Boise, Idaho Temple Sydney Australia Temple Manila, Philippines Temple Dallas, Texas Temple
Tokyo Japan Seattle Washington Jordan River Utah Atlanta Georgia Apia Samoa Nuku’alofa Tonga Santiago Chile Papeete Tahiti Mexico City Boise Idaho Sydney Australia Manila Philippines Dallas Texas
Taipei, Taiwan Temple Guatemala City Temple Freiberg, Germany Temple Stockholm, Sweden Temple Chicago, Illinois Temple Johannesburg, South Africa Temple Seoul, South Korea Temple Lima, Peru Temple Buenos Aires, Argentina Temple Denver, Colorado Temple Frankfurt, Germany Temple Portland, Oregon Temple Las Vegas, Nevada Temple
Taipei Taiwan Guatemala City Freiberg Germany Stockholm Sweden Chicago  Illinois Johannesburg South Africa Seoul
South Korea
Lima Peru Buenos Aires Argentina Denver Colorado Frankfurt Germany Portland Oregon Las Vegas Nevada

Click on any image to see a larger pictures of any of these temples. Each of them was dedicated during the 1980’s. (Chronological order)

The Toronto Temple was dedicated in August of 1990 and then there was a break until the San Diego Temple was dedicated in April of 1993. San Diego is one of the most unique and distinctive temples ever built by the church. It is one of the few temples that have no other temple that is even similar in design. The San Diego Temple brings the feeling in it’s architecture that all temples bring in their ordinances. When you look at it your eye’s are directed upwards by the two prominent spires and the beauty of it is captivating. It’s unique design is such that you would never look to find another building like it.

Toranto, Canada Temple San Diego, California Temple

The next temples were dedicated in Orlando, Florida in October 1994; Bountiful, Utah in January 1995; and Hong Kong in May 1996. This temple allowed Hong Kong members to have a temple when Hong Kong returned to China in 1997. Nobody knew what would happen then. It was the same principle that had given East Germany a temple before West Germany because the West Germans could go to other countries with temples while the East German government preferred to have the temple in their country. They actually asked the church to build there.

Orlando, Florida Temple
Orlando, Florida
Bountiful, Utah Temple
Bountiful, Utah
Hong Kong Temple
Hong Kong

In October 1996 the Mt. Timpanogos Temple was dedicated in American Fork, Utah. This made the ninth temple in Utah and the second one dedicated since President Howard W. Hunter called on members to be a more “temple loving people” in 1994. The result was that temple usage went up and temples were built to accommodate the increased use. In June of 1997 the church dedicated the 50th operating temple.

Mt. Timpanogos, Utah Temple
Mt. Timpanogos, Utah
St. Louis, Missouri Temple
St. Louis, Missouri

Located in St. Louis, Missouri, this temple illustrated the changed views about the church that had taken place over the course of 159 years since they had been driven out of Missouri. And it had taken 120 years for the church to put 50 temples into operation. All of that is about to change.

At the October Conference of 1997 President Gordon B. Hinkley made the historic announcement that the church would begin building “small temples.” He stated how these temples would differ from the traditional temples and how they would stay the same.

In November of 1997 the Vernal Utah Temple was dedicated. This is a unique temple for a variety of reasons. The Vernal Temple is the only temple that has been created from an existing building. It was built as the Uintah Stake Tabernacle in 1907, but had been out of use for some time. As the church decided what they should do with the old tabernacle the decision was made to turn it into a temple. The exterior was restored with a tower added to the east side. The interior was completely remodeled to be able to serve as a temple. In many ways the Vernal Temple is like many of the new “small temples.” It is physically smaller than most of the traditional temples and it has more days closed than most temples do. It also stands alone as the only temple open on all of the Monday Holidays. It serves a smaller area of members than would be needed to support a larger temple. Unlike the small temples it does have a cafeteria. In many ways it looks like a dry run for the small temples that were announced a month before it was dedicated.

Vernal, Utah Temple

In June of 1998 the Preston England Temple was dedicated followed by the Monticello, Utah Temple in July of 1998. This was the first small temple to be completed and it was less than a year after the announcement that small temples would be built. One feature of small temples is that they were to be built to one basic floor plan. That floor plan has been modified to include one more room since the first ones were built, but they are all still essentially the same. To save space, only Monticello is pictured here, but if you click on the Monticello picture you will see a page that shows pictures of various small temples.

Preston, England Temple
Preston England
Monticello, Utah Temple
Monticello, Utah

In April of 1998 President Hinkley announced the construction of 30 new small temples. He did not name locations, but he did add two more to round the total to an even 100 by the end of 2000. It was as if he were opening the flood gates.

For current information about where temples are located or planned and to find out about upcoming temples openhouses go to the temple page on the churches website.


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