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How was the Nauvoo Temple built?

The Nauvoo Temple has a lot of symbolism. Here’s the history behind how the temple was built

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The Nauvoo Illinois Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 2021.

The Nauvoo Illinois Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois, on Saturday, May 29, 2021.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Joseph Smith, the founder and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, built a temple in Nauvoo, Illinois, according to what he saw in a vision. According to the Ensign, Latter-day Saints built the Nauvoo temple even though they knew that they would soon have to leave the city. Here’s a brief history of how the temple was built.

In Doctrine and Covenants Section 124, Smith recorded a revelation from God in which the Lord told him to build a temple. This revelation was recorded on Jan. 19, 1841, and one of the reasons that God gives Smith for building the temple is the importance of doing work for the dead. Latter-day Saints believe that performing baptisms and other ordinances vicariously for the dead is an important part of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ — so much so that it is one part of the four-fold mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Smith had a vision of the temple before it was built. In a conversation with William Weeks, the architect of the temple, Smith told Weeks how to build the temple as he saw it in the vision. This conversation is recorded in Smith’s history.

Sunlight reflects off the moonstones on the limestone walls of the 65,000-square-foot Nauvoo temple in Nauvoo, Ill.

Sunlight reflects off the moonstones shaped like the original decorations and carved by several craftsmen, each “handmade” in some way on the limestone walls of the 65,000-square-foot Nauvoo temple Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2002, in Nauvoo, Ill. The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints in 1999 announced the Nauvoo Temple would be rebuilt. More than 250,000 are expected to visit the community of 1,200 in May and June, when an open house will be held.

Seth Perlman, Associated Press

After instructing Weeks how to build the arch and other facets of the temple, Smith told Weeks, “I have seen in vision the briliant splendid appearance of that building illuminated, and will have it built according to the) pattern shewn me.”

As the building of the temple was underway, redeeming the dead was a consistent theme that Smith referred to in his discourses.

In a discourse published in the Times and Seasons on Oct. 3, 1841, after Smith had known that he had to build the Nauvoo temple, Smith said, “It is no more incredible that God should save the dead, than that he should raise the dead.” The Nauvoo temple was seen as an important part of saving the dead.

While redeeming the dead was an important part of building the temple, the tithes and efforts of living Saints were integral in building the temple itself. According to an article published by the BYU Religious Studies Center, tithes paid for the better part of the temple materials as well as members donating their time and labor to build the temple.

The article notes that members often were struggling financially, but still gave all that they had to help build the temple. Louisa Decker had recorded that her mother sold fine china and an expensive quilt in order to donate funds to build the temple.

Temple construction halted in 1844 when the prophet Joseph Smith was martyred. After his martyrdom, the temple’s exterior was completed in 1845.


Nauvoo Temple Fire Painting

CCA Christian

The temple wouldn’t be entirely completed until 1846. The temple was dedicated on May 1, 1846. In the temple dedication prayer, Elder Orson Hyde acknowledged the mercy of God and said, “We thank Thee that Thou hast given us strength to accomplish the charges delivered by Thee. Thou hast seen our labors and exertions to accomplish this purpose.”

The temple had to be abandoned as members of the church went West, and it was destroyed only two years after completion. The Church of Jesus Christ’s temple website states, “On October 9, 1848, the Nauvoo Temple was deliberately set on fire and destroyed, apparently in an act to discourage the Saints who had recently fled to the west to never return to Nauvoo.”

Even though the temple was lost, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced on April 4, 1999, that it would be rebuilt. According to the Ensign, President Hinckley said, “The new building will stand as a memorial to those who built the first such structure there on the banks of the Mississippi.” The new Nauvoo temple was patterned after the older one.


Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, poses with a replica of the Nauvoo Temple in his office Tuesday, April 20, 1999, in Salt Lake City. A portrait of Brigham Young, who helped build the temple, hangs behind. Hinckley remembers his father’s attempt 60 years ago to persuade church leaders to rebuild the temple overlooking the Mississippi River.

Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press

According to the Church News, the first dedicatory session for the temple was scheduled 158 years later on the day and hour of the prophet Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, on June 27, 2002.

President Hinckley said that the church must never forget the death of Joseph Smith. “His death became a testimonial of the truth of what he taught and the work he did, of the restoration of the gospel and all that it implies.”

The new Nauvoo temple still stands today.