SALT LAKE CITY — A massive crane lifted the damaged Angel Moroni statue off the top tower of the historic Salt Lake Temple Monday morning for the first time in 128 years so it can be refurbished and protected during a years-long project to renovate and restore the temple and Temple Square.
“I never knew the Angel Moroni was so big,” said 6-year-old Elle Hirst as the crane gently set the statue on a platform in front of the temple.
Workers on multiple levels of scaffolding spent more than two hours preparing the statue for removal. They secured straps around the 12-foot, 5.5-inch figure, which is made of hammered copper and is covered in 22-karat gold leaf. They could be heard cutting a pipe.
Finally, at 9:37 a.m., about 200 onlookers raised their smartphone cameras to take video and photos as the crane hoisted the statue and the capstone on which the angel stands from their base 210 feet above the ground.
“This has long been planned as part of the temple renovation, but the timeline to do so was accelerated following the earthquake in March,” said Daniel Woodruff, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “The statue and capstone will be preserved and refurbished before being reinstalled at a later date.”
Moroni was the angelic messenger who showed Joseph Smith the location of the golden plates he later used to translate The Book of Mormon. The statue’s removal on Monday continued despite 15-20 mph winds gusting on a hazy morning. Loud booms and other construction noises rose from the Temple Square grounds.
Preparations for the removal of the Angel Moroni statue, which has stood atop the temple since 1892, began on April 2, when workers began to install a mobile crane.
The iconic statue lost its trumpet in a 5.7 magnitude earthquake on March 18 that struck west of Salt Lake City near the city of Magna. No one was injured when the trumpet fell from Moroni’s lips and out of his right hand. Several smaller spire stones also were displaced. The angel has sustained other damage through the years and will be repaired before reinstallation.
“I feel sorry he lost his trumpet,” Hirst said. “Will he get a new one for his birthday?”
The Salt Lake Temple, surrounding buildings and much of Temple Square are in the beginning stages of a major renovation. Told she would be 10 when the temple is complete and the Angel Moroni is back in place with the trumpet reinstalled, Hirst counted out the years on her fingers.
“I’ll be baptized,” she said from behind a cloth mask. Latter-day Saint children can be baptized beginning at age 8.
“And I’ll probably have my ears pierced,” she added.
Hirst’s father is employed by one of the contractors working on the renovation. She and her mother, Brooke, drove down from Logan to watch the moment unfold.
The Angel Moroni has deep meaning for Latter-day Saints like the Hirsts.
“He’s a symbol of future promises, that the Savior will come again,” Brooke Hirst said. “I’m just grateful for that.”
She also felt connected to the Latter-day Saint pioneers, in awe of how they built the massive temple and lifted the Moroni statue to its central spire in the 1890s.
“It’s so neat to see something up close that you’ve seen so far away for your whole life,” Brooke Hirst said. “It’s a connection to the past, too. People here long ago watched the Angel Moroni go up, and now we are here watching it come down for the first time.”
Some 40,000 people watched the ceremony to set the capstone on April 6, 1892. Church leaders placed a box with multiple items in the hollow capstone, where they remain. The items included a photo of the temple; a Bible, a Book of Mormon and other books; and images of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor,
Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith, according to the Church News.
Also placed in the box was a polished brass plate inscribed with the phrase “Holiness to the Lord,” key dates in the temple’s construction and the names of the temple’s architects and the church’s general authorities both at the time of the 1853 groundbreaking and the 1892 capstone ceremony.
The Angel Moroni statue was set in place later on that 1892 afternoon.
The removal of the statue, capstone and stone decorations on the temple’s six towers was scheduled to happen later in the renovation until the earthquake. The timeline was moved up by months, but then delayed for weeks by hundreds of aftershocks.
Work on the temple this month has continued from top to bottom. Construction workers have been drilling into the original foundation on the temple’s south side.
By drilling at different angles, workers are creating a core through the stone. They will fill the core with high-strength grout that also will fill other voids and joints.
Meanwhile, at the top of the temple, workers continue to remove the tower finials. Removing the decorative stone features on the building’s six towers will protect them during the rest of the renovation, especially the seismic upgrade.
The workers carefully remove, inventory, crate and store each stone decoration. The finials will be reinstalled to their original place.
Scaffolding also has been installed this month so workers can remove other stone and decorative elements.
On the north side of the temple, along North Temple, workers are continuing to remove asbestos from smaller buildings and additions on that side ahead of tearing them down. The north annex, sealing room addition, chapel, main lobby, offices and other structures will be removed. They eventually will be replaced by a new temple-entry pavilion and guest waiting area.