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Elder Cook Dedicates the Restored Temple District in Historic Nauvoo

This marks the completion of the first phase in a 25-year project to enhance the visitor experience of Historic Nauvoo

A renovated portion of Historic Nauvoo in Illinois is now available for in-person and virtual tours.

The Temple District of Nauvoo — the area near and inclusive of the Nauvoo Temple, which was first completed in 1846 and rebuilt in 2002 — was dedicated on Saturday, May 29, 2021, by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (to view the broadcast of the dedication click here).

The history of the early Church in Nauvoo comprises seven brief but seminal years (1839–1846) for the development of the faith’s temple-related doctrines, including the introduction of baptism for deceased ancestors and other temple ceremonies, the idea that family relationships can be eternal, and the sacrifice-saturated construction of the Nauvoo Temple.

“The sacrifices that were made to build this temple are among our greatest historical heritages,” Elder Cook said at the dedicatory ceremony. “I treasure the sacrifices and dedication of our faithful early members who worked closely with the Prophet Joseph Smith. Despite poverty and other challenges, it is inspiring to contemplate what they accomplished.”

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In his dedicatory prayer, the Apostle pled that God "bless this entire district to be a place of serenity where Thy Spirit may dwell. May it forever stand as a memorial to those who built the temple and evoke feelings of awe and reverence for the Savior Jesus Christ and His restored gospel in all visitors to Nauvoo.” Elder Cook continued, “We pray that those who visit this site may feel the significance of the temple and be inspired to come to the house of the Lord.”

To watch the full dedication ceremony click here.

For Latter-day Saints today, the main message from Historic Nauvoo should be the temple and its teachings, said Church Historic Sites Director Jenny Lund. “It is the revelation of temple ordinances and purposes and temple building that is so impactful in the lives of Saints today, all around the world.”

Steven Olsen, a senior curator of the Church’s historic sites, concurred, noting that the “Latter-day Saint concept of eternal life was defined [in Nauvoo] in a very unique and distinctive way. And that definition has served Latter-day Saints to the present day.” The Nauvoo Temple, Olsen added, “is the focal point for that understanding of salvation.”

Lund said the renovation of the Historic Nauvoo Temple District is a follow-up to the reconstruction of the Nauvoo Temple in 2002.

“With that magnificent building on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, it became really clear [after 2002] that there was an important message missing in Historic Nauvoo — and that was, ‘Why is this building here, and why did these people construct it [in the 1840s]?’” Lund said.

In 2014, the Church created a 25-year plan to improve the historic site’s core messages, historical landscapes, authenticity and guest experience by 2039 — the bicentennial of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo. The completion of the Temple District is the first phase of that plan.

In their remarks Saturday, Elder Cook and Church Historian and Recorder Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. spoke in detail about the features of the updated Temple District. These include three restored homes (the Weeks, Gheen and Hyde homes), one rebuilt home (the Hunter home), a new exhibit about the art of cutting stone for the original Nauvoo Temple, a revitalized West Grove and a wayside marker that honors a poem written by Eliza R. Snow while she lived in the Temple District in 1845. The Nauvoo Visitors’ Center also features a new exhibit about the temple. Another home — that of Orson and Marinda Hyde — was also rebuilt and included in Elder Cook’s dedicatory prayer, though it is not part of the Temple District.

William and Caroline Weeks Home

In the Weeks’ home, William, the Church’s architect, worked with the Prophet on the design of the Nauvoo Temple.

On January 19, 1841, the Prophet received a revelation to build the Nauvoo Temple (see section 124 in the Doctrine and Covenants). Joseph asked designers and architects to submit ideas for the design. He was impressed with Weeks’ proposal. The process took nearly two years. The temple cornerstones had been laid when the designs were complete.

The perpetuation of family life beyond the grave — an important doctrine taught in the temple — was powerful for the Weeks. Seven of their 10 children died in infancy. “For them to learn about the possibility of eternal families was a very poignant blessing and opportunity,” Lund said.

William and Esther Gheen Home

It was the same for the Gheen family. William, who helped collect funds for and build the temple, died before the temple was completed. His wife, Esther, was sealed to him for eternity in the Nauvoo Temple after his death.

“That was an incredible blessing,” Lund said, “and it’s really the driving message for Saints in Nauvoo — the opportunity to build this temple and have the opportunity to participate in these ordinances which Joseph Smith had introduced.”

Orson and Marinda Hyde Home

In 1841, Orson Hyde traveled to the Holy Land to dedicate Jerusalem for the gathering of Israel in the last days. While he was away, the Relief Society in Nauvoo cared for his wife, Marinda, and their two children. Church members in Nauvoo donated labor and supplies to build the Hydes a home.

Edward and Ann Hunter Home

In this home, which has been rebuilt, Joseph Smith wrote an important letter about worship in temples that is now the 128th section of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Hunter became the presiding bishop of the Church in 1850. He helped direct work on the temple in Salt Lake City (eventually completed in 1893) and ministered to the needs of the Latter-day Saints.

William and Elizabeth Jones Home

Instead of rebuilding this home, the Church created an exhibit on the art of cutting stone for the Nauvoo Temple. William Jones was one of the temple’s stonecutters. He and his wife arrived in Nauvoo in 1840. Elizabeth was one of the first to join the Nauvoo Female Relief Society and helped support the temple workers in many ways. They both worshiped in the Nauvoo Temple prior to joining the Saints in the exodus west.

West Grove

Because of the large Church membership in Nauvoo, three major groves were used for the gatherings of large groups, Elder Curtis said. One of them, the West Grove, has been revitalized with small native trees that will, over time, grow into a grove like what the early Saints would have experienced.

The West Grove featured a portable speaker’s stand called the “temple stand.” Church members sat on split-log benches to listen to sermons from Joseph Smith and others. Several such sermons, Elder Curtis said, are of note:

  • On September 4, 1842, William Clayton, at Joseph Smith’s request, read a letter (now known as Doctrine and Covenants 127) to the assembled Saints from Joseph about baptism for one’s deceased ancestors.
  • On August 12, 1841, Joseph Smith and others met with many members of the Sac and Fox Native Americans. He relayed the promises in the Book of Mormon concerning them and other Native Americans. He encouraged peace. Chief Keokuk said that he believed Joseph to be “a great and good man,” and acknowledged their kinship as both being sons of “the Great Spirit.” He pledged his people’s commitment to live harmoniously with others.
  • The West Grove was also the site of Church conferences where missionaries were sent out and an important discourse by Joseph Smith on the Godhead and the gathering of the Jews.

Wayside Marker for Eliza R. Snow’s Poem “My Father in Heaven” (Now Known as the Hymn, “O, My Father”)

Snow wrote the poem, “My Father in Heaven,” in 1845, while living in Nauvoo’s Temple District. The poem, now known by Latter-day Saints as the hymn, “O, My Father” (and sung at the conclusion of Saturday’s dedicatory service) contains these words:

In the heav’ns are parents single?

No, the thought makes reason stare;

Truth is reason; truth eternal

Tells me I’ve a mother there.

“The words of this hymn reflect our doctrinal understanding of the existence of a mother in heaven,” Elder Cook said. “Our doctrine confirms that each of us is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”

“We welcome all these new and restored facilities and express our appreciation to you for your participation with us here today to celebrate their addition,” Elder Curtis said. “We honor those who built Nauvoo and treasure the legacy that they left.”

For Lund, the completion of the Nauvoo Temple District is a crowning career event “because of the impact this place can have.” Hundreds of thousands of people will visit Historic Nauvoo over a decade, both in person and through online virtual tours. The messages from Historic Nauvoo “get at the heart of what it really is to be a Latter-day Saint,” she said. “I don’t think Latter-day Saints realize the origins of the temple ordinances that we participate in. I think they think about it as, ‘Well, yes, that was probably Nauvoo.’ But to be able to understand the stories behind that and understand the significance of that meaning will be critical for people.”

Olsen expressed gratitude for the opportunity to “historical and spiritual heavenly and earthly, human and divine sensitivities and imperatives in this particular setting. It’s a Latter-day Saint version of those lofty notions, but it is a compelling offering that we offer not only to Latter-day Saints who may not fully understand these truths, but to all people to reflect on their own sense of spirituality and their own sense of an identity that transcends mortality. Working on this project has reinforced that notion to me as much as or more than any other project that I’ve worked on in my 40-year career.”

“We are thankful,” Elder Cook said in the dedicatory prayer, “for holy sites where important events occurred in restoring Thy Church and the fulness of Thy Gospel, where we can commemorate and experience the legacy and sacrifice of those who went before. These historic sites serve as material witnesses of the blessings and interactions of Thee with Thy children. They help us remember. They provide moral courage and spiritual strength to those who visit and learn stories of how the early Saints overcame adversity and sacrificed so much to build temples.”

Aside from the Temple District, Historic Nauvoo also features tours on the homes of the early Apostles, main street and the trades in Nauvoo, and the exodus west of the Saints. Visit NauvooHistoricSites.org to schedule an in-person or virtual tour today in Historic Nauvoo.

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