Kirtland Temple

Did you know that the early saints charged admission to the general public to see Egpytian Mummies inside the Kirtland Temple?  John Larsen of Mormon Expression conducted a fascinating interview with John Hamer and Barbara Walden on the history of the Kirtland Temple.  I was so enamored with the interview, that I decided to transcribe the entire interview at my blog.  But knowing that most of you probably aren’t willing to wade through 10,000 words, I thought I’d give a snippet of the interview here.

Independence Temple

Last year, I visited the Independence Temple, owned by the Community of Christ as part of the Mormon History Association meetings.  I was saddened to hear a Mormon visitor whisper loudly, “These people don’t understand the purpose of a temple.”  Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we Mormons don’t understand the RLDS purpose of a temple.  I found that when viewed against the Kirtland Temple, the Independence Temple was much more similar in purpose than modern Mormons recognize.  Both the Kirtland and Independence Temples allow non-members to enter.  Here are some snippets of the interview.

John Larsen, “Now I think that one thing that’s really key about the temple is, and we sort of hinted at this, you know today in the Salt Lake branch of the church, after a temple is dedicated, it is sealed off to all but the most dedicated who have a temple recommend.  That was never the case with Kirtland.  Kirtland, as you mentioned, was always sort of an open house of worship and other function, right?”

Barbara Walden [former Director of the Kirtland Temple], “That’s right.  It was intended to be the center of community life.  As I mentioned, they had a high school that met up on the third floor.  There are great accounts of them inviting ministers of other churches to use the pulpits to preach.  On one account of a Unitarian minister, taking advantage of that and preaching from the pulpit.  I think it was a hope for the Latter-day Saints that if we invite you into our house of worship to allow you to preach, perhaps you too would allow us into your house of worship to preach as well.  It’s almost the beginning of some ecumenical work there in Kirtland.

They were also giving tours of the temple, I should point that out.  Joseph Smith Sr, was a pretty good guide.  Warren Parrish was another tour guide at the Kirtland Temple.  So they’re recognizing that the building is kind of a curiosity if you will, and people were dying to get inside to take a look.  So there is evidence that they were charging admission for the tours, and one of the highlights of the tours–for one man he paid to go back a second time–was to see the mummies that were on exhibit on the third floor.

John Larsen:  “Later those were in somebody’s basement, but they were at the Kirtland Temple, right?

BW, “They were up on the third floor, yes.  There were accounts of them on exhibit over at Joseph and Emma Smith’s house, and Frederick Granger’s house.  It seems like they have their own tour of the Kirtland area as well.”


JL, “I do know that in the Nauvoo Temple, Brigham liked to dance, so they would clear the floors and do dances.  Were there any more secular activities like that in Kirtland?”

BW, “I can’t say that we ever had a dance in Kirtland in the 1830’s.”

John Hamer, “There’s later accounts of dances on the second floor.”

BW, “That’s true.”

John Hamer

JH, “But not in the 1830’s time.  But that even shows that the Nauvoo Temple also has different uses and a different feeling for people in Nauvoo in the 1840’s than what LDS people are used to with the temples today.  So the Nauvoo Temple, when it’s built, it’s built in a way that’s based on the Kirtland model.  So again, the major portions of space in Nauvoo are these upper and lower courts.  The interiors are designed to look like the interiors of the Kirtland temple with these multiple sets of pulpits, and ultimately, some of the LDS temples:  The Salt Lake Temple, the Washington DC Temple, some of the other temples have preserved a court that have these pulpit systems inside them, but this is the major portion of space in the first two temples.

And unlike in Kirtland, in Nauvoo now there starts to be this new kind of temple worship that gets added into it.  But for the Nauvoo temple, it’s reserved essentially for the basement and the attic space, so in the basement is now the baptismal font for baptisms for the dead.  There is no font at all in Kirtland–that’s not part of temple worship in the Kirtland period.  And the same thing, this idea of the ritual endowment is very different from the Kirtland endowment.  The Nauvoo endowment which is relegated to the attic, the third floor, under the roofspace in the Nauvoo Temple.  Later, in LDS practice the central spaces of the temple get eliminated and essentially the attic and the basement spaces become the temple.

JL, “Ok, that’s a great segue into the worship.  So the Kirtland Temple actually predates the restoration of baptisms for the dead, at least inside the building.  Is that right?”

BW, “That’s correct!”

JH, “At all.”

Nauvoo Temple Baptismal font

JL, “So often times, the things we most associate with the temple: baptisms for the dead and the endowment of the mysteries, like Salt Lake does, come way after the concept of a temple came into Kirtland.”

JH, “That’s exactly right, so neither of those practices exist in Kirtland when they build the temple, and they wouldn’t be associated with temple worship for the earliest saints.  So in fact they talk about a great endowment coming upon the saints when they complete the Kirtland Temple.  It is a promise that happens, and then it happens in the course of the dedication, but this kind of temple endowment is not a ceremony.  It’s not a ritual or a mystery or a secret.  It’s essentially an outpouring of spirit.  It’s a promise that a gift will happen.  The original idea is that you will be endowed with a gift is the original meaning of that.  When we speak of a Kirtland endowment, it’s a very different thing from the Nauvoo endowment.

BW, “And that’s very difficult for those who are giving tours of the Kirtland Temple today when a visitor asks ‘were there any endowments that took place here?’  It’s difficult because the word ‘endowment’, as John has said, is used throughout the 1830’s, but they’re talking about something different than what later happens in later Nauvoo.  They’re talking about this spiritual empowerment for missionary work.  Now they did do annointings on third floor, and there was feet washings that were taking place; there were patriarchal blessings that were taking place in there, but not any of the endowments that we often connect to with the Nauvoo Temple.

The entire interview was awesome.  Any comments?