Saint George Temple (1870)


Saint George Temple (1870)

See Also Saint George Utah Temple

The Saint George Temple in southwest Utah, is the first temple completed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after the forced exodus of the church from Nauvoo, Illinois, after the death of its founder Joseph Smith.


It was designed by [[Truman O. Angell]] and is more similar in its design to the Nauvoo Temple than to later LDS temples. The St. George Temple is the oldest temple still actively used by the LDS Church. The temple currently has three ordinance rooms and 18 sealing rooms, and a total floor area of 110,000 square feet (10,200 m2). It was originally designed with two large assembly halls like the earlier [[Kirtland]] and Nauvoo Temples. The lower Assembly Hall was partitioned with curtains to provide the ordinance rooms for the Endowment Ceremony. In 1938, the lower Assembly Hall was rebuilt with permanent walls dividing it into four ordinance rooms. The four ordinance rooms were later changed into the present three rooms, at the time the endowment ceremony was changed from a live presentation to one presented on film.

In the 1970s, the temple was closed for extensive remodeling. President [[Spencer W. Kimball]] rededicated it in 1975.

The Temple is designed in a Gothic style and is the oldest temple still in operation by the Church. (For the temple post remodel see St. George Utah Temple.)

Temple construction

A temple for St. George was announced on 9 November 1871 by [[Brigham Young]] and was dedicated on 6 April 1877. Even though the Salt Lake Temple had been announced and commenced years earlier (1847 and 1853), construction on that temple was not completed until 1893. The St. George Temple was built to satisfy the church’s immediate need for an appropriate place for temple ceremonies and ordinances. Because of the pressing need, the building’s groundbreaking ceremony was held on the day the temple was announced. It was the third to be completed by the church and the first one in Utah.[1]

Brigham Young chose a 6-acre (24,000 m2) plot as the temple site. Builders soon discovered that the chosen site was swampy with numerous underground streams. Young was consulted on moving the site, but he remained firm in the idea that this was the site for the temple. To deal with the swampy site, workers created drains to eliminate as much water as possible. Then they brought lava rock to the site and crushed it into a gravel to create a dry foundation for the temple. This led to a new problem: how to crush the rock. Someone suggested using an old cannon that the city had acquired. After creating a pulley system, the cannon was used as a pile driver to compact the lava rock and earth and create a firm foundation.

The Saints overcame the problem of a swampy site is an ingenious way. They decided to bring lava rock to the site then made drains to get rid of much of the water. They then crushed the lava rock and used it to create a dry foundation to build the temple on. The only problem was how to crush the rock. Someone suggested using the old canon that the city had acquired. This old canon itself, had an interesting history. It was made in France and used by Napoleon when he laid siege on Moscow. During Napoleon’s hasty retreat the canon had been left behind. It was later dragged to Siberia, then to Alaska, and finally it ended up at a fort in California. Members of the Mormon Battalion acquired the canon, had it mounted on wheels, and brought it to Utah. The Saints rigged a pulley system and used the canon as a pile driver to create a good foundation. Today, the old canon is displayed on the temple grounds.

After stabilizing the foundation, work began on the structure. The walls of the temple were built of the red sandstone common to the area and then plastered for a white finish. Members worked for over five and a half years to complete the temple. Historians James Allen and Glen Leonard made note of the dedication shown by the pioneers in Southern Utah. The workers opened new rock quarries, cut, hauled and planed timber, and donated one day in ten as tithing labor. Some members donated half their wages to the temple, while others gave food, clothing and other goods to aid those who were working full-time on the building. Women decorated the hallways with handmade rag carpets and produced fringe for the altars and pulpits from Utah-produced silk. At its completion, it contained 1,000,000 board feet (2,000 m3) of lumber, which had been hand-chopped and hauled between 40 and 80 miles (60 and 100 km). They also used 17,000 tons of volcanic rock and sandstone, hand-cut and hauled by mule teams.


In honor of the completion of the temple, the church’s April 1877 General Conference was held there. The temple dedication ceremony took place on 6 April 1877. Young presided and Daniel H. Wells, his second counselor, gave the dedicatory prayer. The dedication of the St. George Temple was an important event in Brigham Young’s presidency, because it was the only temple completed during his presidency. Shortly after the dedication, Brigham Young went home to Salt Lake and passed away on August 29, 1877. He was 76 years old.

Changes before the remodel



1883Shortly after the new spire was built. Sometime before the new spire they also built the first annex for the temple.

Note the battlements at the top of the tower and bottom of the spire. This is the way the Temple was originally built, and would be changed sometime in the next 100 years.


1930Sometime around that the crenelations were their natural sandstone at this point. In about 1930 the annex you see here burned down when a furnace malfunctioned. A new Annex was built 2 decades later in 1950. The exterior was also stripped and re plastered, top to bottom.


1950The full exterior remodel brought the white plaster to the whole temple top to bottom. I believe the Inscription, “The House Of The Lord, Holiness To The Lord.” was added about this time too. A New annex, 2-3 times the size of the the one that was burned down was added at this time as well. The next big change was the major remodel in 1974. It brings us to the modern temple. at a later point, and prior to the 1970 remodel, the entryway on this annex was enclosed with glass walls.


The St. George Temple is the first temple where endowments for the dead were performed. The Founding Fathers of the United States of America appeared twice to Wilford Woodruff in the Temple asking why their temple work had yet not been performed on their behalves. A striking painting depicting this singular event hangs in the temple lobby (That We May be Redeemed by Harold I. Hopkinson)


The Lightning Struck Tower

When the temple was completed, Brigham Young was not completely satisfied with the tower and dome, stating that it looked too short and squatty. He suggested having it fixed, but the Saints were so excited to have the temple finished that Brigham Young did not push the suggestion.

About a year after Brigham Young’s death, on October 16, 1878, a large storm rolled through St. George and a lightening bolt struck the tower of the temple, making it necessary to reconstruct the tower and dome. Brigham Young’s feelings about the tower were well known and a new design was made for the tower, making it taller.

A fun story, to be sure, but not true. [2]

  • Brigham young was Chief Architect and Project Manager every winter when he came down to winter in St. George. The workmen always followed his direction every time he was in town, and he spent nearly every day at the temple site.
  • There is reason to believe that at some point early in the process, the drawings of the temple by Truman O. Angel were updated to show the short spire. Brigham would have been familiar with the drawings, but never objected to Truman about the design:
  • 1870alt
    An Early spire proposal, a 40 foot steeple. This would eventually be replaced with the short spire and dome.
  • There is no public record of Brigham Young ever complaining about the temple design. His son records him objecting to the design, but only once, and privately between the two of them. He did complain about the size, but complained more about the poor workmanship of the spire construction, and vowed he would keep the door to it locked.
  • There is evidence that temporary repairs were done to the tower (which was severely damaged, but not burnt completely down) in 1878 (shortly after the lightning strike.) However, the tower was not made taller until 1883, 5 years after the strike.
  • News reports at the time of the spire remodel announcement and the construction of the taller tower made no mention at all of Brigham Young.
  • The Story of Brigham demanding a taller spire and the saints refusing to change it does not appear anywhere in print until 1977, sometime after the complaint in Brigham Young Juniors private journal came to light.

A non-member visiting St. George during temple construction noted that anything Brigham asked his followers to do, they did. If Brigham had asked the saints to make the tower taller, they most likely would have.

Presidents (1884-1970)

President Rudger C. Atkin 1963–1970
President Harold S. Snow 1937–1963
President George F. Whitehead 1932–1937
President Edward H. Snow 1926–1932
President Thomas P. Cottam 1925–1926
President David H. Cannon 1893–1924
President John D. T. McAllister 1884–1893
President Wilford Woodruff 1877–1884


  1. St.George Temple Visitor’s Center (accessdate= 2012-10-11)
  2. Darrell E. Jones,The St. George Temple Tower: Evolution of a Design,Journal of Mormon History Vol. 34, No. 2 (Spring 2008), pp. 113-129. Retrieved 5 May 2016.Local
  3. Note that at the time of the completion of the temple there was no text or inscription on the temple
  4. Around this time the inscription was added to the temple’s east face.


See Also

External links