I have only been inside a Mormon temple once. Shortly before its dedication in 2009, I took a public tour through the LDS Church temple in Draper, Utah. It was the church’s 129th temple.
Inside, I found an exquisitely appointed stage for imagining heaven.
In one room, a set of mirrors was perfectly positioned so when you looked in them, your image reflected endlessly, capturing the Mormon idea of the afterlife populated with worlds upon worlds.
Everything was so pretty! I can hardly imagine this kind of scene unfolding inside:
“In the afternoon met in the attick story of the temple with the members[,] who formed a prayer circle in [Room] No. 1 and apart in [Room] No. 2 with our wives and had a feast of cakes, pies, wine & where we enjoyed ourselves with prayer, preaching, administration for healing, blessing children, and music and dancing until near midnight.” — Samuel W. Richards journal, Apr. 29, 1846.
That description is from the new book “The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History” by historian Devery S. Anderson.
Anderson draws on documents in the public domain to trace the evolution of Mormon temple worship, notably avoiding excerpts that reveal too much about the actual ordinances that take place inside the sacred buildings.
Apparently, in the beginning, temple work involved a rollicking good time! Temple sessions sometimes lasted all night.
A few interesting facts, courtesy of publisher Signature Books:
— There was initially a space reserved in the St. George Temple for “Old Testament-like animal sacrifice.” It was never used.
— Temple patrons were originally bathed in water and whiskey, and then anointed in perfumed oil.
— Temple patrons were to abstain from intimacy for at least a week before going through endowment ceremonies.
— In 1855, Mormon bishops were reminded that temple patrons had to be “firm believers in plural marriage.”
— In the 19th century, children as young as 12 could go through temple ceremonies.
— Too busy to make it to the temple? No problem. In 1905, LDS Church President Joseph F. Smith said it was okay to pay someone to go for you. “It is customary to pay such proxies a small sum, to partly renumerate them for personal expenses; usually a man receives 75 cents, and a woman 50 cents.”
— Women had to get their husband’s permission to attend an endowment ceremony until the mid-1980s.
So what is an endowment? From the book:
“This [temple] endowment comprises a course of instruction relating to the journey of man from the creation, through the Garden of Eden, his struggle when driven out into the world, and the exaltation to which he may attain . . . The ordinances of the endowment embody certain obligations of chastity, charity, consecration and service. Blessings are pronounced conditioned upon faithful observance of these obligations.” — Latter-day Saint Temples (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1937)
Several passages involving polygamy caught my attention. Here are some excerpts:
“You ask some other questions concerning how many living wives a man must have to fulfil the law. When a man, according to the revelation, marries a wife under the holy order which God has revealed and then marries another in the same way, he enters into the new and everlasting covenant, and so far as he has gone he has obeyed the law. I know of no requirement which makes it necessary for a man to have three living wives at a time.” — Wilford Woodruff to Samuel A. Woolley, May 22, 1888
“And when a man takes a wife they enter this sacred order and covenant to observe all the rites in this. The man covenants to take more wives, the woman covenants to do the part of Sarah and gives her consent for him to take more wives. Hoped the young people would understand these things.” — James G. Bleak, in Temple Minute Book, St. George, Oct. 4, 1888
“One of the obligations we assume here is not to repeat anything we see or hear in this House; for instance if we see a person who we think is here to take another wife, we should not talk about it for there is [a] danger of him doing so.” — David H. Cannon, Temple Minute Book, St. George, Nov. 8, 1888