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My calves started to burn. The man behind me stopped to catch his breath. Everyone huffed and puffed. We learned the lesson the hard way — don’t try to power up the 66 super-steep steps to the Kirtland Temple’s top floor as if they are normal stairs.

Those stairs, and the right-hand railings, are the same, but some things were different Monday when the temple reopened 20 days after Community of Christ transferred it to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This ChurchBeat is originally arriving in email inboxes on Wednesday, March 27, the 188th anniversary of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. Consider this your handy guidebook gleaned from Monday’s first public tour of the first temple of the Restoration.

We’ll get back to how to navigate those pesky stairs, tell you about the best view of the temple and a change for historical bus tour groups and show you images of some of the treasured original items that have been preserved for nearly two centuries.

New signs herald a new emphasis for Kirtland Temple tours

The first thing you’ll notice now on a visit to the Kirtland Temple is the new signs bearing the name of the Church of Jesus Christ in its distinctive typeface. They are temporary placeholders while permanent ones are created over the next year or two.

The sign in front of the temple declares that at its dedication, “many church members enjoyed powerful spiritual experiences in the temple. Jesus Christ visited the temple on April 3, 1836, accepting it as his house.”

The Latter-day Saint Ohio Historic Sites missionaries who now host the tours will share the spiritual journey and spiritual manifestations experienced by those who built and worshipped in the temple for two brief years before the church moved west under persecution.

Those stories previously were shared only at other Historic Kirtland sites owned by the Church of Jesus Christ, said Sister Shauna Barrick, a leader of the church’s Ohio Historic Sites.

“We now can tell the stories about what happened in the temple, in the temple,” she said.

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A glorious picture window view of the temple

The Kirtland Temple Visitors’ Center also was part of the transfer, and temple tours will continue to begin there for an excellent reason. Community of Christ built the visitors’ center with a room that faces the temple and is dominated by a tremendous picture window that frames the temple like a giant display case.

The sun was shining on Monday, and the natural light was so powerful it was almost impossible to capture the sight in a photograph. The missionaries left the lights off in the room and as the temple gleamed in the window, the backlit tour group appeared as silhouettes.

“Boy, they did well. That view from that glass window is breathtaking,” said Elder Kyle S. McKay, the Church Historian and Recorder.

The Kirtland Temple shines brightly in the large picture window at the Kirtland Temple Visitors' Center on Monday, March 25, 2024, in Kirtland, Ohio.
The Kirtland Temple shines brightly in the large picture window at the Kirtland Temple Visitors' Center at the beginning of the first public tour after the sacred temple was transferred from Community of Christ to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, March 25, 2024, in Kirtland, Ohio. | Jeffrey Allred/Deseret News

When I asked how big it is, a facilities worker came out with a handheld, electronic laser tool to provide a measurement. The window is 10.83 feet tall and 32.7 feet wide.

During the introduction, the missionaries noted that they would be making references to the Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants, explaining that the D&C is divided into sections instead of chapters.

New paintings

The visitors’ center has two new paintings, one by Walter Rane that depicts Jesus Christ appearing to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple’s first-floor inner court. The second, by Gary Ernest Smith, portrays the procession of visitations by Moses, Elias and Elijah in the same place.

Walter Rane's painting “Christ Appears in Kirtland Temple” was added to the Kirtland Temple Visitors' Center after the center was transferred to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Community of Christ in March 2024. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Oh, those stairs

My first time up the stairs happened before the tour. You will be better prepared: The senior missionary couple leading the tour warned us about the stairs while we sat through the introduction.

The temple, by the way, being 188 years old, does not have an elevator. Preservationists do not want to see one added to the sacred building. Elder McKay said the church wants to keep the temple “old,” meaning in as much of its original state as possible.

“Do not feel like if you started, you have to finish,” the missionaries told the group.

If someone can’t make or finish the climb, missionaries on standby will provide a pictorial tour. The most significant part of the tour, the inner court on the first floor, where the manifestations happened, is readily accessible.

Inside the temple, the tour begins with a climb to the top and then works its way back down.

Literal breathtaking moments are built into the tour. The missionaries stopped everyone at the top of the first 33 stairs, on the second floor landing or “outer court,” to share some history. Then the group continued up the next 33 stairs, and more history was shared on the third floor landing as everyone caught their breath.

President Scott Barrick, the leader of the Ohio Historic Sites missionaries, said the senior missionary couples feel those steps.

“We are people of a certain age,” he said with a smile about the couples, who are retirees. “All but one member of our couples are in their 60s or 70s.”

Fresh legs are scheduled to arrive over the next two months, when 19 young sister missionaries will begin their missions at the sites to help with the summer rush of visitors before moving on in the fall to proselyting missions.

“They’ll do a whole lot better job of going up those 66 stairs,” President Barrick said with a laugh. “We’re anxious for the reinforcements.”

Initial plans were for most couples to lead two tours a day, President Barrick said, and for some to lead three. On Monday, Sister Marion Davis and Elder Bart Davis were among those who led three tours, including the first public tour on the first day after the transfer.

“I did 198 steps today,” Elder Davis told President Barrick when they were done. “I would not give back a single one.”

In all, 236 people participated in 14 tours on Monday.

Original treasures

Not everything in the temple is still original. The pews on the first floor are. They reminded me of the pews in the Old North Church in Boston. The pews on the second floor are patterned after those on the first, but were built later.

People sit in pews during a tour of the Kirtland Temple.
People sit in pews during a tour of the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Monday, March 25, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Among the other original items in the temple are these treasures:

  • Joseph Smith’s combination chair and tablet-arm desk.
A desk used by Joseph Smith is displayed in the Kirtland Temple.
A desk used by Joseph Smith is displayed in the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Monday, March 25, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
  • The original oval window frame built by Brigham Young and his brother, Joseph Young.
An original window is displayed in the Kirtland Temple.
An original window is displayed in the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Monday, March 25, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
  • The right-side handrails in the stairways. The missionaries asked us to use the left-side handrails to help preserve the originals on the right side.
People on a tour walk down the stairs in the Kirtland Temple.
People walk down the stairs as they take a tour of the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Monday, March 25, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
  • Of course, the extraordinary pulpits in the temple also are originals.
The inside of the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio.
A view from the pulpits on one end of the first floor of the Kirtland Temple is shown in this photo in Kirtland, Ohio, on Monday, March 25, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

A change for tour groups

Each tour is limited to 25 people, plus the two missionaries. That is part of the effort to preserve the temple. Workers this month added a few support beams — Elder McKay described them as 2x4s — in the basement and walls of the temple. Community of Christ also limited the size of tours to protect what Joseph Smith referred to as “the upper room of the temple,” or third floor.

The hour-long tours are free and require no reservation. Tours begin every half hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-4 p.m. on Sundays. The hours are extended to 6 p.m. in the summer.

Booked church history tour groups will be able to continue bringing busloads of people to the temple. Missionaries will host those tours inside the temple, too. Historians booked with those groups will be invited to share their knowledge while the groups sit on the wooden chairs in shade on the temple lawn, President Barrick said.

Are you ready to sing?

Not every tour will be exactly the same. A script for the tour was written by the senior historian of the Historic Sites Division of the Church History Department with support from other historians, but it is more guide than script. Missionaries can pick from a number of stories to share, for example:

On the first tour, Elder and Sister Davis described several significant historical events, which included Joseph Smith seeing a vision of his deceased brother, Alvin, and others in the the Celestial Kingdom that changed Latter-day Saint understanding about the afterlife.

They also noted that the first Latter-day Saint hymnbook, compiled by Emma Smith, was published in February 1836, weeks before the Kirtland Temple dedication.

Then they invited the tour to sing the first verse of “The Spirit of God,” written by W. W. Phelps and included by Emma in that hymnbook for the temple dedication. That verse includes the line, “The visions and blessings of old are returning, and angels are coming to visit the earth.”

Kirtland Temple tours now relate how angels visited the earth there and the Latter-day Saints shouted “hosanna” during the dedication.

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The sun rises on the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio.
The sun rises on the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Monday, March 25, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
The sun rises on the Kirtland Temple.
The sun rises on the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Monday, March 25, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
The sun rises on the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Monday, March 25, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
The sun rises on the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Monday, March 25, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
The sun rises on the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Monday, March 25, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News