By Elijah Granet
Any visitor to Salt Lake City can’t help but notice the feat of Gothic architecture that rises over the downtown SLC skyline. All streets are numbered so that the temple is at the very center of the city and the illuminated temple brightens up the city.
Although temples, the holiest building in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a faith also known as Mormonism or LDS), are open for entry only to devout Mormons who have recieved what is known as a temple recommend, any visitor can tour the outside of the Salt Lake Temple (or for that matter any LDS temple). In Salt Lake City, the temple has two visitor’s centers (named Visitor Center North and Visitor Center South), full of displays and staffed by young Mormon missionaries. There were model oxcarts with blocks of granite on them, representing the very real oxcarts used by the early LDS pioneers to bring in granite from a nearby quarry that was used to construct the temple over the course of 40 years.
Today, our guides are a pair of missionaries, Sister Larsen, from Kentucky, and Sister Matsuoko, from Japan. After some handshaking, we are taken to a scale model of the temple that shows the interior. As Sister Larsen explains, LDS temples are “Sacred, not secret.” An extremely important room in the temple is the baptistry, where a baptismal font, resting on the backs of 12 wooden oxen, is used in the proxy baptism of the dead. For Mormons, the baptism of the dead is extremely important, as they believe those not baptised in the LDS church cannot receive salvation. However, Mormons also believe that the soul of the deceased has the full authority to accept or reject the baptism.
The temple also contains sealing rooms, where eternal “sealings” between husband and wife (or occasionally between families) are conducted. Mormons believe that a sealed family will be together for all eternity and thus put great importance on the ritual. The temple also contains the council room, where the Prophet (who is also the President of the Church) and his twelve apostles meet to discuss church business, and the garden, world, and celestial rooms that represent man’s journey out of Eden, into the world, and eventually to the heavens.
We next visit the tabernacle, home to the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Tabernacle is Hebrew for "gathering place" and the early Mormon pioneers in Utah built the tabernacle so they could meet to discuss church business. Amazingly, without the help of acoustics experts or structural engineers, Brigham Young was able to direct his people to build a tabernacle with such effective acoustics that when one of the missionaries dropped a pin on the other side of the tabernacle, 170 feet away, we were able to clearly hear it.
Finally, we went to the temple itself, a colossus of granite that looks like it could have been transplanted straight out of Europe. On every stairwell and nook around the temple, happy couples are getting their picture taken. There must have been at least 5 weddings at the temple that afternoon. One family, dressed all in white, was preparing to enter the temple for their sealing. To my suprise, the missionaries invite us to touch the temple and even offer to take our picture in front of it.
In a time when many people display ignorance or intolerance towards the Mormon faith, visiting the temple was a valuable experience that helped me better understand the LDS church.