SALT LAKE CITY — Dangling securely from a towering crane, the iconic Angel Moroni statue soared through the air Tuesday morning and settled back into its picturesque place atop the historic Salt Lake Temple — 210 feet above Temple Square.

Part of Salt Lake’s skyline for 128 years, the 12-foot, 5-inch statue was absent the past four years during intensive work on the temple’s foundation during a long, ongoing renovation by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

After a brief presentation, Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé sounded an air horn. The late-winter morning sun glistened brilliantly on the statue’s new 14-carat gold leaf covering as hundreds of people watched below on Temple Square and many more looked on from the surrounding high-rise buildings.

At 10:52 a.m., one of the workers on the spire signaled to those below that the statue was in place.

Angel Moroni is back in place atop the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Placing the angel Moroni statue at the top of the east central tower spire of the temple is a significant step in this historic project,” Bishop Caussé said.

“There’s still much more to be accomplished in renovating the temple,” he said. “This placement of the angel Moroni statue is one of the many milestones over the next few years that will bring us closer to rededicating the Lord’s house and resuming its sacred central purpose, serving as a place to make holy promises, or covenants, with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and to unite families for eternity.”

Now the angel is back in restored, glimmering-gold glory, confidently holding the trumpet knocked from his right hand by a January 2020 earthquake. The quake accelerated plans to remove the statue for the renovation, and once aftershocks subsided, workers removed the statue and the capstone on which it stands on May 18, 2020.

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The statue was placed in storage and eventually refreshed. Its return comes in time to once more watch over the tens of thousands of people who will attend the church’s 194th Annual General Conference this weekend across the street from the temple at the Conference Center.

Restorationists used its temporary absence to improve the way the horn is attached so that it will not fall again. Workers also removed a small amount of rust from the metal armature inside the statue. The metal is covered by thin-gauge copper and topped with gold leaf.

“The statue is in incredible condition,” said Emily Utt, a Church Historic Sites curator.

Cyrus Dallin, the statue’s famed sculptor, completed the piece in 1892. On April 2 of that year, Elder Marriner W. Merrill, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, saw it and thought it should be called Moroni, Utt said.

Another member of the Twelve, Elder Wilford Woodruff, saw a vision of the Salt Lake Temple before the Latter-day Saints reached the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, said one of his descendants, Mark Woodruff, executive secretary to church President Russell M. Nelson.

Elder Woodruff was present when Brigham Young selected the Salt Lake Temple’s location in 1847 by making a divot in the ground with his cane. As the church’s fourth president, he commissioned Dallin to create the angel statue, and he laid the capstone and statue in place on the temple by pressing a button that started an electric motor that moved it into position as 40,000 people watched on April 6, 1892.

President Woodruff then dedicated the temple exactly one year later.

This image provided by Ron Fox shows the Angel Moroni atop the Salt Lake Temple in 1892. | Credit C.R. Savage, courtesy of Ron Fox.

Mark Woodruff said President Woodruff did all he could to continue the vision of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young for building temples because Latter-day Saint temples are the sacred places where families can be sealed to their ancestors.

Tuesday’s presentation included a display of a painting of Presidents Young and Woodruff recording in writing the temple endowment ceremony first introduced by Joseph Smith in the Red Brick Store in 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois.

“The glory of the whole matter,” President Woodruff said, “is that when we get through, we are going to have our families with us … in the morning of the Resurrection, in the family organization of the celestial world, to dwell forever and forever.”

Brigham Young established the temple as the pioneers’ center of daily life and worship, said Elder Larry Y. Wilson, one of President Young’s descendants and an emeritus General Authority Seventy.

“By orienting the city and daily life around the house of the Lord, Brigham Young established the legacy that we carry forth today as we center our lives on the Savior and the covenants we make in his holy house,” Elder Wilson said.

The statue and the capstone together weigh 5,000 pounds.

One of the sculptor’s relatives, Chris Dallin, watched Tuesday with his wife, Candice, 132 years after Cyrus Dallin’s angel statue was placed on the temple.

Dallin was not a member of the church, but his mother was, and after he completed the sculpture, he said, “Sculpting the angel brought me nearer to God than anything I ever did. It seems to me that I came to know what it means to commune with angels in heaven.”

“Cyrus Dallin was here 132 years ago,” said Dan Johnson, a member of the board of directors of the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum in Arlington, Massachusetts. “Now we have the family and the museum here.”

Dallin also sculpted iconic statues of Massasoit and Paul Revere.

“His work is more famous than he ever was. He would have been pleased to be here today, and I feel like I get that opportunity to represent him today,” Chris Dallin said.

He learned something about the statue during its absence from the temple. Cyrus Dallin followed the process for the Statue of Liberty, for which the sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, hired Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel to build a wrought-iron inner structure for the copper hammered and molded by Bartholdi.

“I thought that the angel was cast and the angel was not. It is built more in the style of the Statue of Liberty, through copper. So it’s much wider in fashion than a cast bronze statue might be,” Chris Dallin said.

A box inside the capstone contained multiple items, including 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.

More than 128 years later, President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors, Presidents Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring, watched a conservator carefully remove items from the south compartment of the capstone.

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What is the purpose of the Angel Moroni?

The statue of Moroni is a figure of respect rather than worship because of the role that he played in the Restoration. By holding the trumpet to his mouth, Moroni symbolizes the spreading of the gospel (see Matthew 24:31).

Angel Moroni statues on Latter-day Saints temples also act as lightning rods, though that is rare on the Salt Lake Temple because it is not the tallest object in Salt Lake City.

Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, Church historian Emily Utt, Elder Larry Wilson and Mark Woodruff speak prior to the Angel Moroni being raised atop the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The scriptures state that the Savior will come from the east at the Second Coming (see Matthew 24:27). Whenever possible, the angel Moroni figure is placed facing eastward.

The original Nauvoo Temple was the first temple to have an angel placed on the top. This angel was different from today’s version because it was designed as a weathervane. The angel appeared horizontally with a horn pressed to his lips and a book in his hand.

What does the Angel Moroni statue represent?

Moroni is ancient American prophet who wrote the final book in the Book of Mormon, then sealed up the records and buried them. Joseph Smith reported that Moroni appeared to him several times as an angel to instruct him and eventually to provide the records to him and retrieve them after they were translated.

Church members believe Moroni’s visitation was vital to the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“The angel atop the temple reminds us that the heavens are open, and we can return to him,” Utt said Tuesday.

Scriptures also say Jesus Christ will appear in the east at his Second Coming, and the angel Moroni figure is generally placed facing eastward when possible. The Nauvoo Illinois Temple and its Angel Moroni statue face west looking across the Mississippi River toward the Salt Lake Temple as a symbol of the Latter-day Saint exodus.

Not all Latter-day Saint temples have an Angel Moroni statue.

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The Salt Lake Temple was decommissioned in January 2020. Renovation is scheduled to be completed in 2026.

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