KIRTLAND, Ohio — Free public tours began Monday morning at the reopening of the landmark Kirtland Temple, one of the most revered sites in the joint histories of the Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It is considered sacred by those churches and others as the place where Joseph Smith said the resurrected Jesus Christ appeared in 1836 to accept it as his house on earth.

The Kirtland Temple was the first of hundreds for the temple-centered Latter-day Saints. The Community of Christ maintained it for more than 140 years and successfully petitioned to have it added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 as “the only temple still standing which was built under the leadership of Joseph Smith.”

Latter-day Saint missionaries freshly trained in the temple’s history began hosting free public tours at 10 a.m. The morning included regular expressions of gratitude for the Community of Christ, which preserved the Kirtland Temple for more than 140 years until it transferred the site and other properties to the Church of Jesus Christ three weeks ago.

Churches announce transfer of historic Kirtland Temple, other historic sites and manuscripts

The first visitors began to arrive an hour before the first tour at the Visitors’ Center, the other property that changed hands on March 5.

Most visitors will notice few changes, said Ben Pykles, director of the Historic Sites Division that prepared the temple for reopening after the transfer.

Workers installed temporary signs consistent with those at other historic sites of the Church of Jesus Christ.

“Permanent signs are months away,” he said. “The furnishing is mostly exactly the same. A few chairs have been added in anticipation of increased visitors.”

Tours are kept to a maximum of 25 people, including the missionary hosts, similar to the number permitted by the Community of Christ due to the structural nature of the third floor.

“We did some structural calculations just to make sure that we can have that many people up there,” Pykles said.

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Today, the Church of Jesus Christ has 189 operating temples. Plans have been announced that will bring that number to 335.

Much of the temple is original, including the floors and the famed, ornate pulpits on each end of the long, first-floor hall. The Community of Christ’s longstanding efforts to preserve the Kirtland Temple make it rare among sites in Christianity heralded as places visited by Jesus Christ, said Keith Erekson, director of Historical Outreach and Research for the Latter-day Saints.

Christian sites in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, such as one believed to be the possible site of Golgotha, where Christ was crucified, are based on tradition, he said. Additionally, layers of buildings have been built on top of many of those sites, so that the place visited no longer is the original.

The Kirtland Temple is different, despite the fact that early church members were forced, as one leader said, to forsake their temple when they left Kirtland due to persecution, and it had a messy history until the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints obtained ownership through a series of events in the later stages of the 19th century. The Reorganized Church changed its name to the Community of Christ in 2001.

“The Community of Christ has preserved this,” Erekson said. “Many places in that room, it’s the original floor. The choir seats in the corners are original. The seats in the center where visitors sit have been replaced. They replaced the windows in the 1950s, but we purchased all the original windows; they’ve been in storage, so they’re around. There’s some on display.

“This is the original place. A monument wasn’t built on top, or a basilica. This literally is that place where the Savior appeared and all those other things happened.”

The Community of Christ also transferred other properties historically significant to both churches in Nauvoo, Illinois.

The transfer was difficult for Community of Christ leaders and members. The Church of Jesus Christ assumed the costs of preservation and provided necessary funding for endowments that support Community of Christ mission priorities around the world, President Stephen M. Veazey said.

The two churches share the same first 14 years of history from 1830 to 1844, when Joseph Smith was murdered. He announced in 1833 that the church had been commanded to build a House of the Lord. When he dedicated the completed building on March 27, 1836, it bore the phrase “House of the Lord” and he asked the Lord to accept it.

The Latter-day Saints had sacrificed money, time and possessions to build it. Some were tasked with arming themselves and guarding the temple against marauders at night.

“For thou knowest that we have done this work through great tribulation; and out of our poverty we have given of our substance to build a house to thy name, that the Son of Man might have a place to manifest himself to his people,” he prayed. The dedicatory prayer is canonized in Latter-day Saint scripture as Section 109 of the Doctrine & Covenants.

Seven days after the dedication, he and Oliver Cowdery reported that Jesus Christ appeared to them.

“I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here; and I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house,” he told them, as recorded in D&C 110.

The two church leaders said Moses, Elias and Elijah then appeared to them and provided the spiritual priesthood keys that expanded Latter-day Saint understanding of temple worship and ordinances. The restored temple ordinances of baptism, endowment and sealing would become available in the Nauvoo Temple in Illinois. Portions of that temple were completed and in operation before Joseph Smith’s death, but it was destroyed by arson and a tornado after the Church of Jesus Christ began its move west to Utah.

No reservations are necessary to tour the temple. Tours last one hour. Tours are limited to 25 people, including the host missionary couple. They begin every half hour Mondays through Saturdays at 10 a.m. The first tour on Sundays is at 1 p.m. The final tour every day begins at 4 p.m.