The following is the third in a series of articles giving greater detail from the stories behind the hidden things in our recently released Treasures of the Restoration jigsaw puzzle. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, BUY IT HERE.

If you have, bookmark or print this page so you can hang on to the story to share with your family as you come upon the Salt Lake Temple when you do the puzzle. The cover art for this article can help you know what it might look like. Read the second article in the series HERE.

It was within only a few days of entering the Salt Lake Valley that Brigham Young came to a spot of land and declared, “here we will build the temple of our God”. But it would be four years before ground was broken, two years after that before the cornerstones were laid, and 40 long years of construction after that before it would be completed and dedicated. When it was recently announced that the Salt Lake Temple would close for renovations for an estimated period of four years, many may not have realized how brief that time is compared to the process of its original construction.

So, what took so long? Perhaps it was the painstaking process of bring 2,000-6,000 pound granite blocks down the mountain with only oxen teams to move them. Annie Wells recalled that, “the sight of the great stones … being hauled along the streets by two yoke of oxen and we would all stand for them to pass with a feeling of awe and reverence.” Perhaps it took so long because the Saints were also tasked with simultaneously building homes and meetinghouses and a city in what had been an otherwise desolate valley. Perhaps it was the exacting craftsmanship and perfectionism that they invested in a house of the Lord that was meant to represent our place in the eternities.

Whatever the reasons, those 40 years, the thousands of people that contributed, and the rich legacy they have left us with, are full of interesting and inspiring stories and details worth knowing.

Here are just five:

How do You Hide a Temple?

After the initial foundation for the Salt Lake Temple had been laid, Church leaders learned that a U.S. Army contingent had been sent to occupy the territory. Mistrustful of a government that had failed to protect them on numerous occasions and had often felt threatened by their progress, the Church decided to bury the foundation to hide and protect it. What had once been a temple in construction now was made to look no different than a plowed field. When it was safe to return to the project and the foundation was uncovered, however, it was discovered that several of the foundation stones were cracked.

Rather than make some attempt to patch or mortar them, Brigham Young told the crews to pull them up and replace them entirely. Where some sandstone had been used, now it was replaced with 16 foot thick granite footings. The building, rebuilding, and construction of the foundation alone took 14 years to complete. The workers didn’t reach the ground level until 1867. This dedication to a strong foundation is a compelling symbol of the rock upon which we should all be built. It also provides a quiet contrast to how often we want things to be ready for our use as soon as possible.

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Some say that “done is better than perfect”, but Brigham Young didn’t mind waiting until it could be done right. “I am willing to wait a few years for it,” he said. “I want to see the temple built in a manner that will endure through the Millennium.” 

And that commitment to a structure that would endure meant that Brigham Young himself would not live to see its completion. He passed away in 1877 at the age of 76. The Salt Lake Temple would not be completed and dedicated until 16 years later.

A Profound Personal Sacrifice for Many

Many gave much for the Salt Lake Temple to become what it is today. The building’s architect Truman O. Angell, who had previously worked on the Nauvoo Temple, was called and sustained as “Architect for the Church” in the April 1867 session of General Conference. Only one year later, he wrote in his journal, “I feel a good deal worn out, but if the President and my brethren feel to sustain a poor worm of the dust like me to be Architect of the Church, let me strive to serve them and not disgrace myself. This I trust and mean shall be my aim. May the Lord help me so to do.”

As Dean R. Zimmerman put it, “The meticulous care with which Angell worked is well attested to by his original drawings, located in the Church Archives. Masterfully drawn, they reflect the dedication and care that was to radiate to the hand and heart of every craftsman.”

One such craftsman was John Rowe Moyle, a master stonemason who lived in Alpine, 22 miles from the temple site. To ensure he would be on time to begin working at 9am on Monday mornings, he would begin walking at 2am. He would finish the work week at 5pm on Friday and begin walking home, arriving sometime just before midnight. This was a sacrifice in and of itself, but when a cow kicked and shattering a portion of his leg and it had to be amputated, he did not give up and quit (as most of us might have been inclined to do).

Instead, Brother Moyle took a piece of wood and carved himself an artificial leg. When he believed he had healed enough to stand the pain, he strapped on the leg, walked the 22 miles to Salt Lake, climbed the scaffolding on the east side of the Temple and chiseled out the declaration, “Holiness to the Lord”. Perhaps that phrase will have a little extra meaning next time you see it and think of Brother Moyle.

Studying the Symbols of the Salt Lake Temple

Many will already be familiar with the sunstones and moonstones that grace the sides of the temple walls. (Though you may not realize that the moonstones come in every phase of the moon and you can follow the full cycle as you travel clockwise around the temple). Other symbols—both those that are easy to spot and some that are harder to find—may be less familiar, but are just as significant.

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“Prominent on the Salt Lake Temple are its towers. Three eastern towers, rising six feet higher than the corresponding towers on the west, represent the three presiding high priests of the Church who constitute the First Presidency. The three western towers represent the Presiding Bishopric of the Church,” explains Dean R. Zimmerman.

In addition, “The central towers on both the west and the east contain stones that are found nowhere else. The clasped hands, below the center tower keystone in the lower window of each tower, represent giving the hand of fellowship and the strong union and brotherly love characteristic of Latter-day Saints… On the west central tower, above the windows, can be found Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, intended to remind those in doubt concerning the true way, that they should follow the path indicated by the priesthood.”

There are only two cloud stones on the temple. Located on the east central near the top, they depict the gospel light piercing through the dark clouds of superstition, and transgression that have enveloped the world. That is a light we need now more than ever as the incivility and distrust between people seems to grow.

More to Moroni than Meets the Eye

The statue of the angel Moroni that sits atop the Salt Lake Temple was designed by Cyrus Edwin Dallin. Though not a member of the Church, Dallin was commissioned by President Wilford Woodruff to build something for the central spire of the temple. Through his research, Dallin decided that the angel Moroni would be the perfect symbol of the continuing restoration.

Of his experience creating the statue Dallin said, “I considered that my ‘Angel Moroni’ brought me nearer to God than anything I ever did. It seemed to me that I came to know what it means to commune with angels from heaven.”

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The statue stands 12 feet 5 inches tall and weighs a few thousand pounds. Though the exact weight is unknown, a 4000-lb counterweight hangs from a 27-foot steel rod inside the spire underneath the statue to help it withstand extreme weather conditions.

We are delighted and accustomed to the beautiful way the Salt Lake Temple is lit up at night, but it was originally lit by a series of incandescent lights, including a 100-candlepower lamp that sat atop Moroni’s head. There were also lights on the spires. But the temple began to be lit with flood lamps at the Church’s centennial celebration in April of 1930. The lamp on top of the Moroni statue was eventually removed and the lights on the spires fell into disuse.

Two “Record Stones” in the Structure and What They Contain

There are countless stones in the foundation, walls, and spires of the Salt Lake Temple, but only two of these are “record stones”. That means there are two stones that were hollowed out and used to store important documents and artifacts, not unlike a time capsule.

One record stone is the ball or capstone on which Moroni rests. It contains, “music composed by C. J. Thomas entitled the “Capstone March”; the “Temple Anthem,” with words by C. L. Walker, music by Evan Stephens; a polished brass plate; as well as the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, Voice of Warning, Spencer’s Letters, Key to Theology, a hymn book, a compendium, and some other works. Also sealed in this record stone are pictures or photographs of Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, and Joseph F. Smith and a photograph of the Salt Lake Temple as it then stood.”

The second record stone is located at the base of the wall in the southeast corner. Made of firestone from Red Butte Canyon, there is a one square foot cavity in the rock wherein were placed records, books, and papers. The hole was then covered with a sandstone slab.

Having a cornerstone box like that is not unique to the Salt Lake Temple. In fact, it is a long-held Church tradition to place such a box in the cornerstone of a temple before its final dedication. According to the Deseret News, “The cornerstone box is placed and secured the day before the dedication, without fanfare and without set plans or intent to ever open it.”

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Despite not knowing when or if they will be opened, those assigned to fill these boxes take their assignment very seriously. Most commonly, the box is filled with a current set of scriptures, perhaps a biography of the prophet at the time of the dedication and other such things. But a few temple cornerstone boxes have unique additions such as the Nauvoo Temple box, which contains a commemorative coin and three hand tools: a knife, a chisel, and a trowel. Poignantly, the Accra Ghana Temple’s box contains letters from Ghanaians that were interested in the LDS Church prior to the 1978 revelation allowing black Latter-day Saints to be ordained to the priesthood. It was their indomitable faith that finally brought a temple to their land.

Though it is not based in a specific doctrinal foundation, these cornerstone boxes provide a compelling symbol of how much a temple reflects the work, consecration, and dedication of the people that will serve there.


Of the building of the Salt Lake Temple, Annie Wells said, “I am only one of thousands who have watched the rearing of those walls and seemed to be a part of them, so much have our thoughts dwelt upon and longed for the day of completion…. This dedication is to the Saints the greatest event for many years. How long we have watched the building of the Temple and as stone has been laid upon stone our faith and prayers have been offered for the safe and perfect completion of the building and now that it is so handsomely completed well may we feel proud and happy.” (Annie Wells Cannon, “Passing Thoughts,” Woman’s Exponent, 15 Apr. and 1 May 1893, 157)

What a striking image to think that those who helped and hoped during the 40 years of construction of this pioneer temple might be a part of its very walls. The temple is closed now so that the Church may carefully put systems in place to preserve those walls and that legacy for even longer. We have not forgotten that early and defining desire that Brigham Young had for this temple “Build not for today nor tomorrow, but for all eternity.”