ST. GEORGE — Trucks recently hauled 30,000 cubic yards of red dirt from the site of the oldest operating Latter-day Saint temple to the newest temple to start construction.
The historic dirt, excavated from around the 143-year-old foundation of the St. George Utah Temple during its ongoing renovation, will cure the high water table 6 miles away on the site of the coming Red Cliffs Utah Temple, where ground was broken Saturday under gray rain clouds and amid chilling winds.
The sunken field was the last claimed and settled by pioneers in the area despite being surrounded by soaring red sandstone buttes and mesas.
“What was a boggy swamp with a lot of rocks is now going to be a site of a temple,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Elder Holland dedicated the site for construction.
“I pronounce a blessing on this property that once provided the bounties of thy hand in the growth of hay and grain and other products of the soil,” he prayed. “So, too, will it now provide the bounties of thy hand in the growth of baptized, ordained, endowed and eternally sealed families on both sides of the veil, a blessing made possible by the atoning sacrifice of thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ.”
Also Saturday Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve presided remotely at the Bentonville Arkansas Temple groundbreaking.
“This is a moment that for most of my life, I never could have imagined would occur even in this moment,” said Elder Bednar, whose family lived nearby while he was a professor at the University of Arkansas. “I find it hard to believe what we’re celebrating and the service that we’re participating in today, and it’s also a moment that I wish would never end.”
A local leader broke ground on the Salta Argentina Temple on Wednesday.
Elder Holland and his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, are natives of southern Utah and married in the St. George Utah Temple. The First Presidency asked them for suggestions for the new temple’s name.
“Driving through these fields one day, Pat and I talked about what some possible names might be,” Elder Holland said after the groundbreaking. “She looked toward Pine Valley and said, ‘Well, there are sure a lot of red cliffs around here.’ We thought that had kind of a ring to it.”
In fact, the red butte the locals call Petticoat Mountain rises on the temple’s east flank. To the west, across town above the St. George Utah Temple, are the red bluffs bearing the large white “D” of Dixie State University. Numerous other red cliffs range across the north.
The Hollands submitted the suggestion and the First Presidency named the temple in July.
“Now here we are with red cliffs everywhere,” Elder Holland said. “That red cliffs idea represents very much the temple district moving east into all of Color Country that goes clear to Zion Canyon and Page (Arizona) and Glen Canyon and Kanab.”
The groundbreaking was the latest held under pandemic restrictions. About 70 people were invited to attend. They wore masks and sat on purple, upholstered folding chairs set on the immense mound of red dirt as they socially distanced. A podium stood on a small oasis of sod decorated with potted plants and trees, one of which was blown over by the wind. The church will release a video of Saturday’s event later.
“Sadly, the limitations and dangers of the pandemic are still with us,” Elder Holland said. “We pray that this plague will soon be lifted and the many who are restricted from witnessing this groundbreaking will soon be able to witness the dedication of a beautifully completed house of the Lord.”
Latter-day Saints consider temples to be the literal house of the Lord where they find peace, make promises with God and receive ordinances that can bind them together for eternity.
“Temples are truly God’s greatest and most sacred gift to us,” said Jacquelin Espinoza Ramos, Relief Society president in the Lake Powell Young Single Adult Branch in Page, Arizona.
“Father,” Elder Holland prayed, “although this temple will not require quite the same sacrifice and struggle that our earlier edifice did, we still face challenges of a modern kind for which temple attendance and worship experiences there are the sweet and soothing answer to our problems.”
Sister Holland spoke during the ceremony and called temples the ultimate sacred places. She also said Saturday was a happy, holy day for her.
“It’s a happy day because I have the opportunity of being with you, the people I love in the land, our home, that is such a sacred place for all of us. It’s a holy day for me because I do have with me my three children and my husband who have been sealed and will be with me, forever.”
She recalled stories of her great-grandparents riding about 40 miles in a covered wagon to attend the St. George Utah Temple. A small covered wagon set on the side of the ceremony reminded her that her Swiss grandmother spent eight months of a pregnancy living under a covered wagon turned upside down in the alkaline soil.
An enterprising farming and cattle ranching family turned the boggy temple site into pasture land and vast fields of hay, barley and sugar beets that thrived through the late 1800s and much of the 1900s. The second generation named it Charmin’ Acres after the original settlers’ son, Charles Seegmiller, and his wife, Minnie.
The Seegmillers sold the land to the church in the 1960s with the understanding that it would remain farmland. Last March, arid west winds blew green waves of barley across the field.
“He’s not going to roll over in his grave to have a temple here,” Charles’ daughter, Teddy Sue Graff, said with a laugh.
The old Seegmiller land is now home to three stake centers, a chapel and what will become a temple. Other parts are still in seed. Fresh bales of hay stood in a field stretching behind the podium, harvested a day before the groundbreaking by Ralph Staheli, who leases some of the land from the church and also harvested the last crop on the temple site.
He said he is stunned by the immense mound of red dirt now atop his old barley field. Not all the dirt will remain, but for now it is necessary to “supercharge” the water table, which ranges from 11 feet to 23 feet across the site, said Brent Roberts, director of the church’s Special Projects Department.
“You don’t find red dirt like this except here,” he said.
St. George will become the fourth city with two Latter-day Saint temples. The others are Lima, Peru; Provo, Utah; and South Jordan, Utah.
The growth here has been amazing, magnificent. The faithfulness of the Saints down here, “When the St. George temple was open and working, people couldn’t get in,” said Elder Craig C. Christensen, the Utah Area president. “So the desire and the anxiousness of the Saints would justify this and probably other temples. This is just an amazing part of our area and a part of the church.”
Elder Holland expects the church will build more temples in the region.
“Sure, of course we will,” he said. “The church is growing so dramatically, and the best way to have more temples is to work the ones we’ve got. More family history and more temple participation, that’s the way the Brethren say, ‘Well, we better build another temple.’ That’s how we got this one.”
- Sister Debbie Christensen speaks at the groundbreaking service for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in St. George, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. Sister Christensen is flanked by, from left, Utah Area President Craig C. Christensen, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his wife Sister Patricia Holland. Nick Adams, for the Deseret News
- David T. Hinton delivers a testimony at the groundbreaking service for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in St. George, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. Hinton is flanked by, from left, Sister Debbie Christensen, and Elder Craig C. Christensen, Utah Area president. Nick Adams, for the Deseret News
- Sister Patricia Holland speaks at the groundbreaking service for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in St. George, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. Behind Sister Holland are, from left, Sister Debbie Christensen and Utah Area President Craig C. Christensen. Nick Adams, for the Deseret News
- Spectators park along an adjacent road to see the groundbreaking service for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in St. George, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. Nick Adams, for the Deseret News
- James A. McArthur gives the invocation at the groundbreaking service for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in St. George, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. Nick Adams, for the Deseret News
- Shovels are lined up at the site of the Red Cliffs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prior to the groundbreaking service for the temple in St. George, Utah, Saturday, Nov/ 7, 2020. Nick Adams, for the Deseret News