Temple stonework etched with symbolism

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    By Karen Lee

    If one were to look carefully at the Salt Lake Temple, that person would not only notice an architectural masterpiece, but many religious symbols etched in the granite walls.

    “While many passers-by see the temple, most miss these symbols in stone, and if these people do see the symbols, most never grasp the meaning behind them,” said Jerry Hansen, a Ricks College religion instructor.

    Hansen said that if you miss the symbols, you miss the meanings behind them. He said the east central tower of the Salt Lake Temple has many significant symbols that are often overlooked.

    Starting from the top, there is the Angel Moroni, two cloud stones, the dedicatory inscription, the All-Seeing-Eye, the Alpha and Omega inscription and the clasped-hand motif.

    “These symbols are there to teach us and they help our love of the temple grow,” Hansen said.

    According to “The Salt Lake Temple: A Monument to a People,” a book based on the research and study of C. Mark Hamilton, each of these particular symbols have deep meanings in the gospel.

    The Angel Moroni represents the announcement of the restoration of the gospel of Christ. This statue has become a symbol associated with temples and missionary work, said Douglas Baird, president of the Medford Oregon Stake and director of the Institute of Religion at Ashland, Ore.

    Baird said the trumpet Moroni is shown blowing is a symbol of the word of the Lord being heralded to the whole world. That is, it is the sound of the good news of the gospel going forth to all people.

    The two cloud stones just beneath the statute have descending rays of light, which are symbolic of how the gospel’s light is coming through the clouds of superstition and error, Hamilton’s book said.

    The book also said the dedicatory inscription symbolizes the establishment of God’s kingdom on the Earth with the temple as his personal sanctuary where heaven and Earth are joined.

    Hansen said in reference to LDS doctrine, the All-Seeing-Eye’s translation is found in Psalms 33:18 and Proverbs 15:3. It represents the concept of divine protection offered to those who seek to make God their friend. It is also symbolic of the omnipresent nature of God and his ability to discern the good and evil deeds of men.

    Hamilton’s book said the Alpha and Omega inscription reaffirms Christ’s eternal existence and that the clasped-hand motif represents the hand of fellowship within the eternal context of the gospel, man’s relationship to man within the gospel of Christ.

    There are more symbols other than those located on the east tower of the temple, such as the constellation Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) located on the upper west central tower.

    In Hamilton’s book, temple architect Truman O. Angell is quoted as saying the Big Dipper was to remind the Saints that the lost may find their way by the aid of the priesthood.

    Other symbols in stone include earth, moon and sun symbols representing the three degrees of glory.

    Richard Cowan, professor of church history and doctrine at BYU, said the stonework of the Salt Lake Temple represents the LDS understanding of the universe, time, the priesthood and Jesus Christ and his gospel.

    Cowan said that while many of the newer temples aren’t as elaborate in stone symbolism, “all temples stand as a light to the world, inviting men to come and partake of the blessing offered inside.”

    Those who built the Salt Lake Temple had specific symbols in mind, but even though modern architects may not have such ideas in mind during newer temple constructions, Latter-day Saints can come up with their own meanings, he said.

    Cowan said he had heard people refer to the Provo Temple as a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.

    Regardless of what is on the outside, it is what is on the inside that counts in cases of LDS temples, he said.

    President Gordon B. Hinckley has said, “These buildings, different from the thousands of regular Church houses of worship scattered over the earth, are unique in purpose and function from all other religious edifices. It is not the size of these buildings or their architectural beauty that make them so. It is the work that goes on within their walls.”

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