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Wilford Woodruff was impressed.

The talent was evident in the busts swiftly sculpted by Cyrus Dallin of President Woodruff and his counselors in the First Presidency in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Dallin was 29 and had just returned to Utah in July 1891 after seven years at school in the East.

Years before as a struggling art student, Dallin had unsuccessfully sought a commission from President Woodruff’s predecessor, John Taylor. Now the church president and the sculptor were about to switch roles.

The Salt Lake Temple was finally close to completion, and the great buildings of the day regularly featured statues. President Woodruff proposed a commission: Would the promising young sculptor create an angel statue for the temple’s tallest and most prominent spire?

This time, it was Dallin who said no.

Angel Moroni statue returns to the top of the Salt Lake Temple

He was not a church member, and he thought the commission should go to someone of a spiritual nature. Besides, he didn’t believe in angels.

Both men were persistent.

“Cyrus,” President Woodruff said, “while on your way to Springville to visit your mother, I wish you would carefully think this matter over. Get her advice. I’m sure your decision will be right.”

Thomas and Jane Hamer Dallin met as Latter-day Saint pioneers crossing the plains in 1851, settling in Springville, Utah. She thought her son should sculpt the statue.

Dallin remained reluctant but honestly told her that the angel statue was a great opportunity. President Woodruff told him the Salt Lake Temple, when completed, “would set the light for this nation — for the world!”

He also brought her his objections.

“Do you sincerely think that I am spiritually qualified to do this angel statue?” he asked.

He also told her he didn’t believe in angels, and therefore couldn’t properly depict one.

She reminded him of their reunion after his seven-year absence — a memory fresh in her mind.

“Every time you return home and take me in your arms, you call me your ‘angel mother,’” she said, according to a 1953 story in the Instructor, a defunct church magazine.

One of their relations, Chris Dallin, shared the story again Tuesday after he watched a crane lift the Angel Moroni statue back in place atop the Salt Lake Temple. It had been removed for four years to protect it during extensive renovation work on the pioneer foundation of the sacred landmark.

“For our family, what the angel represents is a mother’s love,” Chris Dallin said.

May 2020: Crane lifts damaged Angel Moroni statue off Salt Lake Temple

He added more color to Jane’s plea to her son. Chris Dallin said she asked Cyrus, “I know that you just said you don’t believe in angels, but what did you call me before you went to bed every night when you lived in my home?”

“I called you my angel mother, and I will do it for you,” he said.

She encouraged him to study angels in scripture and in Mormon doctrine and theology.

Dallin found the inspiration he felt he lacked in two places. One was Joseph Smith’s accounts of being visited repeatedly by a heavenly messenger named Moroni, an ancient prophet who eventually led him to the record that became the Book of Mormon. The other was John the Revelator’s depiction of a flying angel prepared to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world and raising a voice of warning that “the hour of his judgment is come.”

(In 1995, the late President Gordon B. Hinckley said of that scripture, “That angel has come. His name is Moroni. His is a voice speaking from the dust, bringing another witness of the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ.”)

Armed with the inspiration he felt he lacked, Dallin returned to President Woodruff and accepted the commission.

He later said, “We can only create in life what we are and what we think.”

He added, “I consider that my ‘Angel Moroni’ brought me nearer to God than anything I ever did. It seemed to me that I came to know what it means to commune with angels from heaven.”

The project moved swiftly. Dallin had arrived back in Utah in early July with his new bride. By July 21, he had provided drawings of the statue. The angel would wear a robe belted at the waist, as Joseph Smith described Moroni. The First Presidency accepted the designs in August, and President Woodruff formally extended the commission. Dallin completed his plaster model in early October.

A company in Ohio made a metal twin cast in copper, covered it in 22-carat gold leaf and shipped it back to Utah by December.

A few months later, “On April 2, 1892, Elder Marriner W. Merrill, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, saw the completed statue and thought that it should be called Moroni,” said Emily Utt, a Church Historic Sites curator.

Four days later on April 6, President Woodruff sat next to Dallin as the statue was attached to the temple’s capstone on the central and tallest of the temple’s three east spires, the one that represents the church president.

When the job was done, President Woodruff leaned over and said, “Now, Mr. Dallin, do you believe in angels?”

“Yes,” Dallin said. “My mother is an angel.”

Chris Dallin, whose grandfather was Cyrus Dallin’s first cousin, was grateful to represent Cyrus Dallin at the temple on Tuesday.

“It’s also a story about a child’s love for his mother,” he said.

Family recountings of the statue’s origin remain powerful.

“Ever since then, that story in our family has carried a lot of meaning,” Chris Dallin said. “We’re also lucky to have an angel mother. It represents family and a mother’s love and an artist that deserves more due than he really gets.”

Other sources: A 1953 Instructor story, a 1968 Improvement Era piece and Matthew Richardson’s excellent research for the 2004 issue of Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: The New England States.

My Recent Stories

About the church

  • On Tuesday, the Angel Moroni rose again to the top of the Salt Lake Temple. A day later, the church raised the flags of 91 countries on the 91 new flagpoles on the refurbished Temple Square Plaza. Flags of 181 nations will rotate through the display east of the temple between the Church Office Building and Church Administration Building.
  • All that in time for this weekend’s 194th Annual General Conference. I’ll be writing stories about each session and to wrap up each day with news stories and quotes from talks given by church leaders. Also, look for bonus ChurchBeat newsletters in your inbox on both Saturday night and Sunday evening.
  • Set your calendar for May 30. That’s when the church will release the first 12 songs from the new hymnbook. One will be “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” a Tabernacle Choir favorite and one we sang at my father’s funeral.
  • KSL’s Carol Mikita has produced a general conference special on temples to watch for this weekend. Here’s a preview.
  • The Church News produced six maps to show the location and status of all 335 temples. Another piece detailed the status of all 153 temples announced by President Russell M. Nelson.
  • Primary General President Susan H. Porter shared four ways to stay centered in Christ during storms of life.
  • My wife and I met Sister Ardeth Kapp for the first time in December. She was a sweetheart. Sister Kapp, a former Young Women general president, died this week at age 93.
  • Reservations to attend the open house for the Taylorsville Utah Temple are now available. Reservations are free and can be scheduled here.
  • Some neighbors opposed the building height and traffic plans for the Lone Mountain Nevada Temple in Las Vegas. A local church leader said the concerns will be addressed.
  • A Henderson, Nevada, meetinghouse has been damaged by fireworks three times in the past 30 days.
  • “Nauvoo is a tricky place to run a business as we have thousands of people come in the summer months and then a very quiet winter,” the chairman of the city’s economic development group said. He hopes the Latter-day Saint acquisition of historic sites in Nauvoo will lead to increased tourism year round.

What I’m reading

This is brilliant. The batting average in baseball on a popup is .014. So if 99% of popups are worthless, why is a writer arguing they’re the most exciting play in baseball?:

  • “You see, what popups lack in suspense, they make up for in drama. That’s because the popup is the play most likely to end up with any and all of the players on the field screaming. Now, in most contexts, screaming isn’t necessarily something you look forward to. Personally, my day-to-day life contains exactly zero screaming, and I prefer to keep it that way. In any given situation, I tend to think of somebody yelling at me as the absolute worst-case scenario. However, the screaming that happens during a popup is fun. No one is screaming to hurt anyone else. Players may scream out of anger, but they also scream in order to be helpful and to keep their teammates safe. When the ball has been popped up, screaming is cooperation. Screaming is friendship. Screaming is love.”

On Monday, Caitlin Clark’s Iowa team beat Angel Reese’s LSU team in a rematch of last year’s NCAA women’s basketball championship. The rematch shattered the TV ratings record set a year ago. The 2023 game drew 9.9 million viewers. This week’s game drew 12.3 million. I may have said this to my family at some point in the third quarter: “Caitlin Clark is Caitlin Clarking!”

BYU-Hawaii’s choral director uses her voice in a big way, this story says, from aiding refugees to building harmony in the church.

Behind the Scenes

Immediately after the Angel Moroni statue was completed, President Woodruff commissioned Dallin to sculpt the Brigham Young Pioneer Monument that now stands at the top of Main Street between the Salt Lake Temple and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred

Chris Dallin says Cyrus Dallin’s statues are better known than their sculptor. He said few people know it was Dallin who sculpted pieces well known to them, like the Brigham Young Pioneer Monument in downtown Salt Lake City, the Paul Revere statue near the Old North Church in Boston and the Massasoit statue that can be found at Plymouth Rock, the Utah State Capitol and on the campus of Brigham Young University.

Old North Church and Paul Revere statue in Boston on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. | Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Provided by Springville Museum of Art