This article originally appeared in Vol.53, No.1 (2006) of Pioneer Magazine.
by Tiffany Taylor
Atop a rise in Kirtland, Ohio, sits a stately white structure. Should you catch a glimpse of it at the right time of day, you will detect a slight shimmer reflecting off its plastered exterior. It is obvious that you are not looking at any ordinary building. This is the kirtland temple—the first major construction project undertaken by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, According to architect Richard W. Jackson, “The [Kirtland] temple was, from its inception, more than just a spacious meetinghouse. It was a sacred edifice built by the Saints in their poverty, with immense effort and sacrifice, consecrated to the Lord. ” 1 During the winter of 1832, Joseph Smith was instructed by revelation to “prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” (D&C 88:119). He was later told that this house would be constructed “according to the pattern in all things as it shall be given unto you” (D&C 94:12), Though the completed temple shared architectural characteristics with other New England churches of its day, it was crafted in a very distinct manner—the result of divine revelation.
Long before Joseph Smith was instructed to build the Kirtland Temple, the prophet Nephi was given a similar mandate to build a ship. Though he did not know the first thing about ship construction, he was given guidance through the process. According to Nephi, “The Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship” (1 Nephi 18:1), Nephi recorded that he “did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men” (1 Nephi 18:2),
Just as Nephi, the Prophet Joseph Smith had faith in the directions of the Lord, On June 1, 1833, he was given specific instructions pertaining to the temple: “And the size thereof shall be fifty and five feet in width, and let it be sixty-five feet in length, in the inner court thereof. And let the lower part of the inner court be dedicated unto me for your sacrament offering, and for your preaching, and your fasting and your praying, and the offering up of your most holy desires” (D&C 95:16).
The groundbreaking ceremony was held on June 5, 1833, followed by the laying of the cornerstone on July 23, 1833, The dedication of the temple took place on March 26, 1833. In the dedicatory prayer, Joseph Smith declared, “We ask thee, O Lord, to accept of this house, the workmanship of the hands of us, thy servants, which thou didst command us to build. For thou knowest that we have done this work through great tribulation; and out of our poverty we have given of our substance to build a house to thy name” (D&C 109: 4-5). On April 3, 1836, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery at the Kirtland Temple and said: “Let the hearts of all my people rejoice, who have, with their might, built this house to my name. For behold, I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here” (D&C 110: 6-7). Though the Saints would be forced to vacate the area and their temple in 1838, they had completed the work they had been commanded to do in Kirtland.
Jackson explains the architectural features of the temple:
“The interior structural framing was typical heavy timber work with columns supporting beams and purlins, which in turn supported wood flooring. The interior was plaster finished on walls and the flat portions of the ceilings. The curved portions of the ceilings were covered with matched tongue-and-groove boarding and painted. The rough columns were enclosed with wood trim.
“The interior cornice work and trim were wood, simply ornamented in a mixture of the Federal and Greek Revival styles popular at that time. All the windows arc Gothic style except for the center windows on each end, which were Federal style with semi-oval transoms. Both gable ends, the tower, and the dormers are of frame construction. The attic is divided into five areas. There is no hallway, and access to any room is only through the previous room.
“Each of the halls on the main and second floors has three rising tiers with three pulpits on each tier. The seating for the main halls is in enclosed cubicles, as was customary in New England churches of the times. Seating inside the cubicles was on backless benches so the audience could face either end of the hall.
“Illumination was provided by candlelit chandeliers that could be lowered on ropes for lighting, replacement, and cleaning. Brackets for candles were on the side walls, and undoubtedly candles were placed on the window stools, an early custom
Every intricate detail of the Kirtland Temple was carefully completed, according to the Lord’s instruction, through the obedience and toil of the early Latter-day Saints. Though it shared basic architectural similarities with other religious buildings of its time, the Kirtland Temple was certainly “not after the manner of men.” Instead, it was built according to the Lord’s pattern, which resulted in an edifice of “exceedingly fine” workmanship. Owned today by the Community of Christ, the building stands as a monument to the early architectural accomplishments of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
1 Richard W, Jackson, Places of Worship: ISO Years of Latter-day Saint Architecture (Provo> UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University 2003), 9.
2 Ibid., 9, 11.