Architecture of the Nauvoo Temple

Site considerations
Classic Greek Influence
Wheel and Pentagram Windows
Sun, Moon, Star Stones
Attic Ordinances
Influence on Nauvoo buildings


May 1, 1846
Dedicated by Orson Hyde
William Weeks (1813-1900)
Nauvoo, Illinois
Greek Revival
About $1 million
May 27, 1850
Rebuilt June 27, 2002
Mormons crafted the Nauvoo Temple as they were being violently expelled from their homes. The architectural devotion to God produced an unforgettable new American style. Powerful meanings and subtleties within the architecture are often overlooked today. Design decisions reveal messages about divinity.



  • December 27, 1832
  • Pearl of Great Price translated by Joseph Smith
  • March 27, 1836
  • Kirtland temple dedicated and abandoned 2 years later
  • October 27, 1838
  • Missouri executes Extermination Order of Mormons
  • June 1840
  • Thousands of Mormons immigrate from England
  • October 19, 1840
  • Baptism for the dead first explained
  • April 6, 1841
  • Construction begins on temple in Nauvoo
  • June 27, 1844
  • Joseph Smith killed
  • May 1, 1846
  • Dedication of temple by Orson Hyde
  • September 1846
  • Last of Mormons expelled from Nauvoo
  • May 27, 1850
  • Nauvoo temple destroyed by tornado
  • June 27, 2002
  • LDS church rebuilds Nauvoo temple
    Full timeline...

    Kirtland Temple


    Construction of temples by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints began in 1836 in Kirtland, Ohio. Revelation directed a complex of buildings as the Lord's "house" which included a holy sanctuary for worship services and teaching, and a second lot for the printing press. The printing press was invaluable as the church's literature was its main tool for conversion. This complex was considered the "beginning and foundation of the city of the stake of Zion", and was built at enormous sacrifice to the people.[1]

    Other temples were planned but unsuccessful due to persecution, in Independence, Far West, and Adam-ondi-Ahman Missouri. A violent mob destroyed the Independence printing press in 1833, and two young girls barely escaped[2] with Joseph Smith's translation of the Pearl of Great Price. This document would be valuable for conceiving temples in later years.

    Design plans for were precisely given through revelation, and accommodated worship, theological studies, academic classes and church offices.[3]

    The Lord's house in Kirtland was important for the restoration of the church from biblical times. It was meant as a place for Jesus to "manifest himself to his people".[4] Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to accept the building. Moses, Abraham, and Elijah also appeared to pass on priesthood keys essential to a "true" church. A part of the LDS endowment was performed in Kirtland and was extensively added to later in Nauvoo.

    Joseph Smith's dedication prayer for the Kirtland house indicated four main functions for the buildings: Repentence, spreading holiness abroad, establishing a people, and protection from enemies.[5] Between the time of leaving Kirtland and building Nauvoo, these temple functions were accommodated in day to day structures.

    Building Nauvoo

    Thousands of Mormons died from persecution in several states, and gradually pushed westward. Missouri's genocidal extermination order pushed them back eastward across the Mississippi River. Though some communities were sympathetic, the Mormons found themselves unable to settle any place for long.

    So the Mormons made Nauvoo. The St. Louis arch stands on the bank of the Mississippi river and calls itself the gateway to the West. The Nauvoo temple really deserves this title, however. European immigrants amassed here and made it a significant city with a population of 15,000. The trailblazing pioneers built this monument before embarking on a courageous journey across the heartland, a statement of their faith and imperative. Persecuted by their government, they prepared an exodus that would forever change the American spirit.

    Organizing The City

    The very first "ward" in the LDS church were organized by the Temple Building Committee for the purpose of building the temple. The entire city was divided into four wards[11], and then later into ten wards. This organizational structure was adopted as standard for congregations of the church.

    Classically-trained architect William Weeks struggled with the tasks of designing the temple, overseeing the teams of semi-trained labor, settling money disputes, and arranging construction schedules. Several serious disputes arose between William Weeks and the Temple Building Committee. Truman O. Angell, who would go on to become architect for the Salt Lake City temple took over as project manager as William Weeks departed West to scope out another temple site. Weeks had a falling out with the church before he could ever complete that task, however.

    Site Considerations

    Prominent Spot

    The LDS church built the city on a swampy spot in Illinois. Roman architect Vitruvius wrote in 15 B.C. that the number one rule for selecting a location is to avoid marshlands[6]. Though the settlers didn't follow that advice, they did follow the ancient Roman and Israelite dictum that temples are the first buildings to consider, after laying out the streets, and temples get the best spot in the city.

    The temple at Nauvoo was situated atop the tallest bluff overlooking the Mississippi river. It followed ancient rules that temples are built "in the middle of the town" and at the highest point. Vitruvius wrote: "For the temples, the sites for those of the gods under whose particular protection the state is thought to rest... should be on the very highest point commanding a view of the greater part of the city."[7]

    Nauvoo's downtown is thus protected on all sides. It is squeezed inside a loop in the river. On the east, the temple stands like a guardian separating the city from persecution and danger. The people found comfort having this protection between them and persecution's way. If they ever looked back east they would see a prominent temple against the sky as a reminder of their hopeful future.

    Facing West To The River

    View west toward the Mississippi River from the front of the temple

    Temples should face West, wrote Vitruvius. "This will enable those who approach the altar with offerings or sacrifices to face the direction of the sunrise in facing the statue in the temple, and thus those who are undertaking vows look toward the quarter from which the sun comes forth... Furthermore, temples that are built beside rivers, as in Egypt on both sides of the Nile, ought, as it seems, to face the river banks... so that passers-by can have a view of them and pay their devotions face to face."[8]

    Visitors approached the temple at sunrise.[9] They would have seen the sun rising behind the prominent temple. The interior of the eastern-most rooms in the temple is riddled with carvings of the sun just beginning to rise.

    Nauvoo's temple stands beside the continent's largest river: the Mississippi. The Romans understood the importance of rivers as circulation routes. But the temple's relationship to prominent rivers has a different significance. The Book of Mormon tells of a large river named Sidon next to the temple of Zarahemla, which carried religious symbolism of life/death. The Mississippi lies due North of where the Sidon river may have been in Guatamala.

    This goes back to Egypt's Nile and the symbolism of the temple as emerging out of waters of creation. The North-South direction of the Nile carried the same symbolism regarding the sun that is seen at Nauvoo.

    "The temples of Egypt represented, in their design, this mound of creation. The floor level, rising as it did towards the inner sanctuary, signified that the sanctuary, on top of the mound itself, was the location in which the deity of the temple, who was conceived of as the local creator god, performed the act of creation. The columns of the hypostyle halls and colonnades represented the plants growing on the mound as the waters receded, and the wavy courses of brick in the enclosure walls may have been intended to symbolize the waters of chaos from which the mound had emerged.

    "The architecture of the temples also reflects a strong connection with the life-force of the sun. Most temples were aligned so that their central axis lay at 90 degrees to the course of the Nile. Since the river runs approximately from south to north throughout most of Egypt, this meant that such temples had in theory, if not always practice, an east-west alignment and that the sun would pass along the axis of the temple each day... The sun rising or setting between the two towers of the pylon gateway formed the hieroglyph akhet 'horizon'." (Nigel & Helen Strudwick, 47)[10]
    The appearance of Jesus in the Kirtland temple followed the East-West axis: "...a personage walked through the room from East to West, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that is Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother..."[9]

    The passage of Christ is symbolized by the sun crossing the waters of creation, as seen in temples in Egypt, England, and other ancient sites.


    Classic Greek Influence

    Column Orders

    William Weeks' Greek Revival proposal was selected in 1840. As a classically trained architect, William Weeks followed the standard rules of design and adapted the ancient orders of architecture to the new Mormon belief system.

    The fundamental language of Greek architecture is the three column orders.

    The Ionian order is found on the exterior and interior of the temple. Based on the proportions of the male body, the temple's main columns follow the Ionian height to width proportion of 8:1. The overall exterior is adapted from Doric, even though "some of the ancient architects said that the Doric order ought not be used for temples" because the metope above each column gets cut off short at the building's corners.[12]

    Each of the three Greek column orders are found in the Nauvoo temple except one: Doric (see right image). The Doric order, based on the proportions of a female, is not found anywhere. Even the the Solomononic column order is used in some interior furniture, a column order rarely seen, said to be based on Solomon's temple and the ark of the covenant.

    Fluting does not appear either, even though William Weeks showed fluting in his design drawings for all the main columns. The reason for this is hard to guess. Perhaps the labor involved would have just been too much. Mutules and dentils are missing from all but the Corinthian columns and the top-most Ionic columns on the tower.

    The Corinthian column is found at the tower's pedestal holding up the belfry, and various places inside. The proportions of the architecture as adapted follows the Corinthian order correctly, though the intercolumniation is spaced diastyle rather than systyle like the rest of the building.

    Callimachus invented the Corinthian order. A basket full of cherished belongings was left at the tomb of a young Corinthian woman. As Spring approached an acanthus root grew into the basket (see the middle image above). Callimachus adopted this into a well-proportioned column with the acanthus adorning the capital. The height to width ratio resembled the body of a girl.[13]

    The first building in history, the primitive house or temple, imitated a tree. But the Corinthian column also follows the ancient practice of planting a tree over a person's grave. The body would some day transform into a resurrected body like the blossoming of a tree. At Egypt, "within the temple grounds was a sacred grove where the statue of Bast resided, a configuration unique to temple designs."[14] The rustling of the wind through the sacred tree foreshadowed the ressurection:
    "Thou makest rustlings [whisperings or noise] of the noble Ished-tree in Heliopolis (when) thou awakenest each day and seest the rays of the Sun. Amon comes to thee bearing the breath(s) of life, causing thee to begin breathing in thy coffin and come up to earth every day."[15]
    These "rustlings" might have a similar meaning as the bell of the Nauvoo temple which rang at day break[16] and which the Corinthian columns just happen to surround.

    Bell Tower derived from the Tower of Winds

    While the Nauvoo temple bell didn't last very long at the temple, it did serve as a warning device against incoming mobs.[15]

    The LDS Church placed special importance on this bell, carrying it across the plains and eventually housing it at Salt Lake City's temple square, where it rings today on each hour. The church paid $600 for another bell that was alleged to be the Nauvoo temple bell but which turned out to belong to the Presbyterians[17].

    The bell tower looks like any other bell tower built around that time, such as the Cairo Citadel tower built in 1830. An octagonal belfry stands upon a fenced platform, surrounded by Corinthian columns and pointed windows inside Romanesque arches. Four clocks circumvented by flowery tracery, symbolizing the tree of life, stands above this, with a lantern and dome, topped by a steeple. Very typical.

    But what makes the Nauvoo bell tower unique are the triangular pediments just below the bell-tower. I have never seen this done in any other building. The early drafts by William Weeks showed a large pediment above the main columns of the temple, but this was moved and miniaturized at the very top of the tower. The Corinthian columns were also not present in these early drafts and the dome was taller.

    Bell towers date back to the Tower of the Winds and Lighthouse of Alexandria. These ancient structures heavily influenced medieval church designs. The sundials just above the pediments on the Tower of Winds became clocks in later churches. The flying angels above the sundials bearing vessels and horns can be seen on the Nauvoo temple's sunstones. And the dome is topped with a statue.

    The Lighthouse of Alexandria also had figures of heavenly angels, four of them on the side facades, and Triton the "trumpeter of the sea" atop the dome. The angel atop the Nauvoo temple was originally a weather vane, and the first important weather vane in history was Triton atop the Tower of Winds. The similarity is unmistakable.

    Triton's metal rod attracted lightening bolts resulting in fantastic supernatural displays. But his real function was to indicate the prevailing wind. A building with a weather vane was the first thing to be placed in the middle of a city, said Vitruvius, and based on the wind patterns the city streets would be laid out.[18] The city would thus be situated according to the four "quarters from which winds blow."

    The bell tower of Nauvoo thus assumed several functions: Ring forth the sun/ resurrection, indicate the four winds or four quarters, and tell the time. As the "heavenly messenger" and "trumpeter of the sea", Triton's similarity to the Nauvoo angel can be explained with a verse from the Pearl of Great Price:
    "And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem." (Moses 7:62)

    This imagery can be found other places. A relief portraying the Temptations of Christ at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela shows the same symbolism. Angles minister to Jesus following the temptations of Satan. A web-footed figure with a fish's tail (how Triton was usually portrayed) blows wind from his mouth above four figures (bottom-right) who walk toward Jesus. The ministering angel pours a flood out of heaven onto a basket in a tree which springs forth from the earth. This tells the story of holiness spreading before the throne of God (compare also to facsmile 3)

    This relief has flying angels on either side blowing trumpets.

    The scene suggests the nature of angels "ministering" to a person after severe trials. By looking forward to the day of resurrection and reminding the persecuted saints of heavenly protectors, the Nauvoo temple's bell tower was a comfort in hard times.


    Vitruvius placed great importance on the proportions of a temple, saying "without symmetry and proportion there can be no principles in the design of any temple." Proportion is especially important in "temples of the gods, buildings in which merits and faults usually last forever."[19]

    The temple's footprint is 128 ft long and 88 ft wide, for a proportion of 1.45. The only Greek temple with this proportion is the Temple of Athena Nike, a tetrastyle building with some interesting figures on the frieze.

    The main space on the first floor of the temple is 80 ft wide and 100 ft long. The tower is 100 ft tall. The top of the tower is 165 ft from the ground, which makes the floor to main roof 65 ft. So, the length of the main building is almost twice as long as it is tall, and the front has a proportion of 1.35.

    This is the same proportion as the front of the Mayan Tikal Temple in central America. The Tikal Temple is 108 ft long/wide and 80 ft high to the upper tower. The 1.35 proportion also determines the footprint of the upper platform, 13.5m long and 10m wide. Similarities between the function of the upper platform of the Tikal Temple and the attic of the Nauvoo temple will be explained later.

    The Nauvoo temple doesn't follow any of the eight Greek temple styles. Using half a column width as a standard, the front is 35 parts wide, unlike any Greek temple.

    The height of the Nauvoo temple (165 ft) happens to be exactly a quarter of the distance (660 ft) of the temple's elevation above sea level.

    Wheel and Pentagram Windows

    Wheel Window: Chariot of Christ

    Joseph Smith requested circular windows on the side of the temple. But William Weeks was adamantly opposed to this, saying it would be "a violation of all known rules of architecture." Smith replied that it circular windows were explicitly shown to him in a vision.[20]

    What rules did William Weeks think they were violating? Compare the exterior elevation of the temple to the interior elevation of the Chartres cathedral. Between columns we see arched windows, a small arcade, more arched windows, and circular rose windows at the top.

    The temple follows the same sensibility except the arcade in the middle is substituted with wheel windows. The lower roof meets the main columns at this arcade, known as the triforium, so it makes no sense whatsoever for windows to be there. This level is where structure transitions so it should be left windowless.

    Wheel windows can be distinguished from rose windows because they look like wheels. Rose windows can be placed at the top of the walls, but wheel windows don't go on the side walls at all. Only on the front or rear walls. So this was indeed very unusual. Why do this?

    The triforium dates back to the earliest Roman forums. It was a second-story passageway where people could quickly move from one end to the other. As technology progressed, this passageway was pushed up into the space where roof and structure met. But originally it was placed much lower, halfway up the wall, and was much larger, just as we see in Nauvoo temple. It was a space for quick circulation from one end to the other.

    The original Roman basilica kept this passageway free of columns[25] Windows could easily be placed there.

    There are eight wheel windows on either side, each with 16 spokes, like is seen at the sun temple in Konark. They glow like fiery amber in the evening and morning.

    This represents Christ proceeding from the east end of the temple to the west, like the sun in the sky. Egypt, China, and Greece also represented it the procession of the sun. The throne of God is described in ancient scripture as having wheels that shine "like the shining sun."[21]
    "And I saw a chariot like the wind and its wheel were fiery. I was carried off into the Paradise of righteousness, and I saw the Lord sitting and his appearance was unbearable."[22]
    Christ is called the "Rider of the heavens," the "charioteer of the sea," who causes "the wind and fire to be my chariot."[24] The eight windows[37] on either side align with the eight faces of the bell tower and serve the same function of spreading holiness to the four quarters of the world.

    Throne of God

    The bell tower symbolizes God's throne, with the wheel windows below. With two rows of windows, there are four directions this chariot throne could travel. The Hagia Sophia cathedral had four sides like the Nauvoo temple which were meant to "represent the four directions of the world."[28] Ezekiel chapter one describes the throne as having wheels for traveling. A smaller circle clearly sits inside the outer rim of the window like the throne wheels.
    "This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went....

    Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.... Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal... Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal..." (Ezekiel 1:16-26 NIV)
    The vaulted ceilings of cathedrals typically represented the firmament of heaven.[28] The golden angel that stands atop the tower today is the figure of the man with the likeness of the glory of God.

    Holiness indicates an ability to reach every level of heaven and earth. In ancient times, holiness was considered a spacial quality. The temple is a space set apart for God's full presence, from which holiness could spread.
    "We ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them. And from this place they may bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth utno the ends of the earth..." (Kirtland temple dedication, D&C 109:22-23)

    Pentagram Window: Cherubim

    In the metope above each wheel window we see a round window with an upside down pentagram. This is normally where a rose window would be placed.

    The rose windows along the aisles of a cathedral tell a story, such as events in the life of Christ. The original metope of Greek temples had sculptures that told epic stories of the gods. This space represented a person and something important they did. The Chichen Itza temples also had sculptures carved intermittently in this area of the facade.

    Solomon's temple had cherubim carved between palm trees (see 1 Kings 6:29) in exactly the same area.

    The wheels in Ezekiel 1 carried cherubim above them. These cherubim looked "like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning."[26]

    The star in the window has red in the center, like a burning coal. On the underside of the corona, just next to the metope, Vitruvius recommended having "thunderbolts carve on them."[27] The stars we see there are a perfect representation of the lightening proceeding from the cherubim.

    As there were originally five cheribum before Lucifer fell, the star has five points. The cheribum's wing at Solomon's temple was five cubits long. The crown of the red-feathered Gardua, bringers of immortality that donned the exterior walls of Cambodian temples (see right), had five points. Five is a number of human sensibility and the human body.

    The Lord's crown on the throne "shown into the four quarters of the heaven"[23] The star points downward, representing the star's condescension by coming down to earth. It is a higher entity visiting a lower place.

    The star windows themselves act as a dividing line between up and down.
    "The identification of "god" with stars, and with looking "up", seems to have originated in the early Mesopotamian civilisations around six thousand years ago, and one of the most powerful re-enforcers of this idea of "Up", in psychological terms, was the appearance of the pentagram or five-pointed star ideogram... a "concept" of heaven-- and a heaven that is suddenly displaced from the reality of earth and of a divinity "within"-- and relocated millions of miles above anybody's head where no one can get to it.... The pyramidal forms... were powerful temples to the "God" enthroned upon these new rationalised and socially stratified worlds."[29]
    The stars represent the vault that the cherubim hold up, the actual firmament of heaven. It is a powerful device for establishing a separate space, a sacred holiness for God to dwell. The very last piece to go on the Nauvoo temple was the a plaque that read: "Holiness to the Lord." The Nauvoo temple was very literally an offering of holy space to the Lord, physically as well as conceptually.

    Sun, Moon, Star Stones

    Sun Stone

    According to a foreman of the construction crew[38] the sun, moon and star stones are purposely arranged on the column in the same vertical direction as in Revelation 12:1 "A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars."

    There are five stones in the temple column. Brigham Young explained that each column had "five stones, viz. one base stone, one large stone representing the sun rising just above the clouds, the lower part obscured; the third stone represent two hands each holding a trumpet, and the last two stones form a cap over the trumpet stone, and all these form the capital."[30]

    The Hathor columnin Egypt bears striking resemblance to the Nauvoo sunstone. As the sky goddess of the afterlife and "Lady of the Sycamore", Hathor represented the joy of eternal life. Using the same symbolism as the Corinthian column for resurrection, Hathor in the tree or column represented a happy afterlife. "This symbolized a resurrection of the spirit from the tree of life as Horus rose again from out of the tree at dawn."[31]

    The Benben stone in Egypt was a solar symbol, the mound of first creation on which the sun first shown. The person inside resurrects: "You became elevated on the height, you rose up as the benben-stone in the Masnion of the Phoenix in Heliopolis."[32]

    The rising sun is portrayed in the Egyptian akhet hieroglyph, with the sun between two clouds. This sun was not necessarily the sun we see in the sky, but a "light land" or "god's land" that gives people access to eternal life.[33]

    On either side of the sun are Aker or Ruti, representations of the border between today and tomorrow. A cap and base establish a total of five elements in this diagram, like in the Nauvoo sun capital.

    The Tabernacle of Moses had two silver trumpets to herald the dawn through the cloud that covered the holy place. But the trumpets on the Nauvoo sun stone aren't portrayed as being blown, as the trumpet atop the bell tower is. It almost looks like they are being offered to the visitor of the temple. These figures on either side of the sun face are themselves individual beings, similar to Aker and Ruti, the personifications of today and tomorrow.

    Two helpers are commonly seen flanking either side of a god figure in Asian religious art. These frequently symbolized opposing forces such as Zenki and Goki who represented Ying and Yang, or the two kami who flank the sun-face of Uganomitama, the personification of 3 sacred hills or temples. In each case the two helpers wield tools in their hands for accomplishing their task.

    The diagonal rows of clouds represent the waters of chaos or creation. They walls of the Egyptian temple, "set in wavy courses symbolizing the primeveal waters... the 'mud' that resulted from the union of heaven and earth."[33]

    Facsimile 2 in the Mormon scripture Pearl of Great Price portrays this same pattern of diagonal clouds below an altar of sacrifice, resting atop "the pillars of heaven". This is pattern is meant to portray "high, or the heavens." The rising sun in the capital of the Nauvoo temple is a very strong and explicit symbol of a paradisaical afterlife that results from the re-creation of the human soul.

    Moon Stone

    The moon stone on the underside of the column also has a face. It sits inside the fustrum of the column's scamilli impares. This is therefore an element of the building's foundation built into the column.

    The Shetiya stone in Solomon's Temple is according to tradition the place where God created Adam. The Talmud says it is a stone "from which flow all the waters of the world." The stone's reflection of the roles of the sun stone above it also includes trumpets and resurrection: "It is also thought to be the place where Israfel, the angel of the trumpet, will sound his horn on Resurrection Day."[34]

    The very appearance of the stone is a reflection of the sun stone, which follows ancient sensibilities that the moon fills the role of the sun during night time, two eyes of the same head.[35] The moon's half-arc is the same shape is the sun stone.

    The illuminated side of the moon faces toward the sun stone, which Berosus of Chaldees recognized indicated a relationship between the sun and moon:
    "When, in the course of her orbit, she has passed below the disc of the sun, she is attracted by his rays and great heat, and turns thither her luminous side, on account of the sympathy between light and light."[36]
    Though Berosus was mistaken in thinking the moon twisted to face the sun, it is a remarkable insight that light of celestial bodies are attracted to other celestial bodies.

    Joseph Smith said:
    "For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgement goether before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things." (D&C 88:40)
    The exchange of light between the sun and moon occurs before throne of God. The sun and moon "give light to each other in their times and in their seasons", and all originates from God:
    "Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space-- The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne..." (D&C 88,12-13)
    Movement of the winged cherubim are represented by the wheel and pentagram windows, implied by repetition of the columns, eight columns on each side representing the eight winds of the earth[37]. The columns with sun, moon, and star stones likewise represent movement.
    "The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God." (D&C 45)
    The Sumerians also illustrated the sun as a person with wings (see right).

    The Greeks created sun stones for their temples, called Ompalos, that represented two eagles that would fly straight up and down the world and then meet at the "navel." Solomon's temple likely had something similar: "...it does seem possible that a Sun-stone of some nature may have once resided in the Jerusalem Temple."[39]

    Star Stones

    StarDirection PointingLocationSymbol
    Five-pointedUpwardAbove Lantern
    Above Belfry
    Above Attic
    Path to throne of God
    Six-pointedAbove roof triglyphs
    Underneath cornice
    Light proceeding forth
    Five-pointedDownwardOn triglyphsMorning star
    Twelve-pointedInsideTribes of Israel

    Five Pointed Upward

    Five-pointed stars can be seen in Facsimile 3 of the Pearl of Great Price. It shows a row of five pointed stars above the scene, indicating something having to do with "astronomy."

    Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem had five pointed stars, and "is used mainly to mean the human body, but particularly the body of the Manifestation of God-- a messenger from God."[40]

    These messengers of God are arranged in rows of five, proceeding upwards from the attic to the belfry, and finally above the lantern to the dome. Five pointed stars were used in cathedrals to indicate the Golden Section[41]. The Golden Section is a proportion that allows the brain to distinguish sizes of objects in space. Such an arrangement of these stars therefore suggests a pathway or map of the messengers from God. The tip of the weather vane forms a kind of five pointed star, with the vertical point being a flaming figure which represented the "everlasting burnings" of God's house.[42]

    In the Book of Enoch, each star represents the future inheritance of the righteous:
    "And I saw other lightening and the stars of heaven, and I saw how He called them all by their names and they hearkened unto Him. And I saw how they are weighed in a righteous balance according to their proportions of light: the width of their spaces and the day of their appearing, and how their revolutions produces lightning: and their revolution according to the number of angels...

    ...these are the names of the holy who dwell on earth and believe in the name of the Lord of Spirits for ever and ever"[44]

    Six Pointed

    The book Book of Enoch describes the exterior of God's heavenly house: "Its ceiling was like the path of stars and lightening, and between them were fiery cherubim." The six-pointed stars sit underneath the cornice on the soffit beside the cherubim windows and downward pointing five-pointed stars, representing lightening eminating from angels.[27]

    The Palladio tradition was to place flowers in this location, as can be seen at the Nimes Maison Caree. The walls of Solomon's temple also had flowers interspersed with cherubim and columns.

    Six-pointed stars crown the top of the main roof aligned above the downward five-pointed stars, between rows of balusters. This suggests a path for the downward five-pointed star upward as well as horizontally.

    Five Pointed Downward

    The downward pointing five-pointed star represented Venus, the morning and evening star, which is seen all over ancient temples around the world.[43]

    Early Mormons labeled Venus, "The Star of the Morning."[45] The morning star is mentioned in Revelation 2:28 as a promised gift to the faithful who overcame tribulation. Jesus is called the morning star in Revelation 22:16. This downward pointing pentagram is popularly associated both with the birth and tribulation of Jesus. It is called "the Star of Bethlehem that allegedly guided the three Zoroastrian kings to the baby Jesus on the night of his birth." And it was "associated with five wounds inflicted on Jesus by his crucifixion." [46]

    LDS president George Albert Smith said: "May the Lord bless us, and enable us to live righteously and soberly, and rise with the Star of the Morning, and enjoy eternal glory."[47]

    This star could therefore be said to be a Mormon version of the cross symbol, of man striving to follow the sacrifice of Christ. The ceiling above the eastern side of the priesthood assembly hall has the words: "The Lord Has Seen Our Sacrifice - Come After Us."

    Venus is popularly associated with with the pentagram because of the five-pointed course it takes in the sky.[47] Over the course of an eight year cycle it appears to stand still five times. The time it takes to travel from point to point, divided by the number of days in an Earth year is 1.618, the Golden Mean. The geometry of the star itself contains the Golden Mean, which is used elsewhere in the temple to suggest ascension into God's presence. Not just ascension, but following God into the heavens.

    "From the Earth's point of view Venus follows the sun, then disappears into an inferior conjunction, then leads the Sun to the West." [49] Vitruvius remarked on Venus' "appointed course" in the sky: "The mighty influence of the sun, with his rays diverging in the form of a triangle, attracts the stars which follow him..."[50] As the throne of God rises in the East and travels across the sky, these star stones invite people to follow.

    Aligned on the triglyph, it points directly downward toward the sun stone, again following the ancient belief of a "sympathy between light," or "light cleaveth unto light," a concept that Facsimile 2 (fig 5) explains. The morning star adds to the meaning of the rising sun in the sun stone. It is exaltation, the elevation of the dead in the afterlife.
    "And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil." (3 Nephi 27:14)
    Twelve Pointed

    A twelve pointed star can be seen in certain places inside the Nauvoo temple. Like the twelve oxen that surround the baptismal font, this is a representation of the twelve tribes of Israel, the unification of all classes and tribes of mankind.

    The Attic

    Rectangular pediment

    Why did William Weeks abandon the triangular pediment that his early drawings show on the front face of the temple?

    Stacked between the tower and the main building we see a rectangular box.

    St. Peter's basilica in the Vatican follows a similar pattern and even has the same kind of square windows in the pediment. In the place of stars on the top, which represent messengers or helpers to heaven, the Vatican has statues of saints.

    But a triangular pediment remains at the Vatican.

    Consider again that the height to width ratio of Nauvoo matches the height to width ratio of the Tikal temple in Central America, as well as the footprint of the upper platform. Perhaps there is a relationship between that upper platform of Tikal and the upper attic of the Nauvoo temple.


    The Mayans ascended the great staircases of their pyramids and conducted rituals on the upper platform. This was also the procedure in the Nauvoo temple.

    The attic was where the advanced ordinances of salvation took place, initiatory and endowment rituals. The basement was reserved for baptisms for the dead; the first floor was a large assembly hall for general meetings of the priesthood; and the second floor was used for recreation and dancing. Intermediate floors that aligned with the wheel and pentagram windows were mezzanine levels for circulation.

    The Chichen Itza temple has sunken false windows in the pediment level.

    Endowment Procession

    Initiates gathered at the vestibule at the entrance of the Nauvoo temple. They climbed the southeast circular stairway to the attic level, where they again assembled. Initiatory washings and annointings were performed at the lower attic level. For endowments, they gathered in the upper attic.

    From here the men and women split onto opposite sides and proceeded through a series of rooms. Starting with a garden room, originally dressed with actual trees and plants, they moved from rooms of lower glories to higher glories until they ended up at the celestial room at the western end of the temple.

    A side room to the celestial room contained an altar where eternal marriages were performed.

    This celestial room is extensively decorated with a different kind of sunstone. The trumpets are missing, the rays are longer, the clouds or waters are more chaotic, and the face is almost completely concealed. This suggests a sun just starting to rise in the morning. The initiate accomplished a kind of rebirth and just barely begins to rise. The clouds and chaos are more intense, greater adversity, but the rays are longer.

    A half-arced window has an all-seeing eye with rays emanating out from it. The three arched windows together reflect the three arches of the vestibule on the eastern side.

    The modern skylight for the celestial room has a series of concentric circles, which each seem to suggest a celestial element, the earth, moon, sun, and stars. This octagonal skylight reflects the tower on the east end of the temple.

    Influences on other buildings

    The Carthage Jail, where Joseph Smith was assassinated, bears metal star symbols on its exterior walls between floors. Some are upright and some are downward pointing. These are actually lag anchors that attach the brick to the interior wood structure and the stars are only decorative. Carthage jail was also built a few years before the Nauvoo temple broke ground. But these decorative devices are common in buildings all around.

    The same style of Doric columns (except with fluting) are found at the Mansion House, which served as a residence for Joseph Smith.

    The same C-shaped upper window sill is found on the Joseph Smith Red Brick Store, which served some temple functions until the temple was complete.

    Clerestory windows, as seen in the Nauvoo and Solomon Temple, are used throughout houses and stores in Nauvoo. Influence from the Nauvoo temple is apparent as these clerestory windows are used in the freize and pediments.

    More Photos


    Photo credits

  • ^Photo by Altus Photo Design, used with CC license/ Flickr
  • ^Model by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
  • ^Photo by Ted Van Pelt, used with CC license/ Flickr

  • Sources used

    • ^See D&C 94
    • ^See "Courage in a cornfield" by James E. Faust
    • ^See autobiography of Truman O. Angell
    • ^See D&C 109:5
    • ^See D&C 109:21-25
    • ^Vitrivius, Ten Books on Architecture I, Ch2, v7
    • ^Vitrivius, Ten Books on Architecture I, Ch7, v1
    • ^Vitrivius, Ten Books on Architecture IV, Ch5, v1-2
    • ^The account of Zebedee Coltrin. Also see accounts of temple visitation by many other witnesses.
    • ^Thebes in Egypt: A Guide to the Tombs and Temples of Ancient Luxor, By Nigel C Strudwick, Helen M. Strudwick, 1999
    • ^Doctrine of the Priesthood Vol 6 No. 1, Andrew Clayton, 4
    • ^Vitrivius, Ten Books on Architecture IV, Ch3, v1
    • ^see Vitrivius, Ten Books on Architecture IV, Ch1, v9
    • ^Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations,  By Karen Tate, 123
    • ^Book of the Dead, Line 38-41
    • ^"The first company will carry the Temple's bell, with fixtures for hanging at a moment's notice, which will be rung at daylight or at a proper time and call all who are able to arise to pray, after which ringing of bell and breakfast, or ringing of bell and departure in 15 minutes, to secure the the cool of the day." -Journal History, 16 April 1847; and Nibley Exodus to Greatness, 368 as quoted in Nauvoo temple a story of faith by Don F. Colvin
    • ^see Nauvoo Temple: A Story of Faith by Don F. Colvin
    • ^see Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture I, Ch6, v4-13
    • ^see Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture II, Ch1, v1,3
    • ^Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 6:197
    • ^1 Enoch 14:18-24
    • ^Life of Adam and Eve, 25:2-3
    • ^3 Enoch 12:3-5
    • ^Deuteronomy 33:26, Abraham 2:7-8 and Danielou, Primitive Christian Symbols, 78
    • ^see Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture V, Ch1, v1,10
    • ^Ezekiel 1:14
    • ^see Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture IV, Ch3, v1,6
    • ^Richard Krautheimer, Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture, 219
    • ^Roderick Tweedy, The God of the Left Hemisphere: Blake, Bolte and Taylor and the Myth of Creation, 222-223
    • ^Smith, History of the Church 7:323
    • ^Gerald Massey, Ancient Egypt, the Light of the World: A Work of Reclamation and Restitution in Twelve Book, v1, p.449
    • ^James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p.3, Kemp, Ancient Egypt p.88
    • ^see Adam L. Alford, Midnight Sun: The Death and Rebirth of God in Ancient Egypt, 15
    • ^John Anthony West, The Traveler's Key to Ancient Eygpt: A Guide to Sacred Places, 52
    • ^From Sahih al-Bukhari, see wikipedia
    • ^see for example the Eye of Ra
    • ^Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture IX, Ch2, 1
    • ^Vitruvius said there was a total of eight winds to fill the four quarters of the earth, See Vitruvius Ten Books on Architecture I, Ch6, 9
    • ^see Wandle Mace, autobiography, 207
    • ^see Wandle Mace, autobiography, 207
    • ^Wikimedia Foundation, Bahai Faith, 92
    • ^see Wilm De Groot, The Seventh Window: The King's Window Donated by Philip II and Mary Tudor..., 95
    • ^see Matthew B Brown and Paul Thomas Smith, Symbols in Stone: Symbolism of the early temples of the restoration, 106
    • ^see for example, Gabrille Vail and Christine L Hernandez, Astronomers, Scribes, and Priests: Intellectual Interchange between the..., 198
    • ^Book of Enoch, book 2, Ch.43
    • ^see Deseret News, 20 August 1880
    • ^both quotes from Robert Murray Thomas, Manitou and God: North-American Indian Religions and Christian Culture, 123
    • ^George Albert Smith, Volume 4, Discourse 61, 31, May 1857
    • ^See for example Richard Heath, Matrix of Creation: Sacred Geometry in the Realm of the Planets, 30
    • ^The Venus Eclipse of the Sun 2012, Steiner Books
    • ^Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture IX, Ch1, v7,12

    © Copyright 2010 Benjamin Blankenbehler

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