What kinds of questions are people asking our Consultation Services team? What kinds of library resources are available to answer your questions? In our “Ask Us Top Five” blog series, we share questions and answers on Church history topics that come to us through Ask Us, the Church History Library’s online question submission system. This month, we’re highlighting the top questions we receive related to the angel Moroni statue positioned on top of most Latter-day Saint temples.
1. Who sculpted the angel Moroni statue on the Salt Lake Temple?
Wilford Woodruff commissioned Cyrus E. Dallin, an established local artist from Springville, Utah, to create a sculpture for the Salt Lake Temple, as weather vanes and angels were common decorations for places of worship. (Interesting fact: the Nauvoo Temple also had an angel on it, although it was not designed to be the angel Moroni.) While Cyrus Dallin’s family had at one time belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was not a member.
Dallin sculpted an angel based on descriptions of Gabriel in the biblical book of Revelation. On April 2, 1892, Marriner Merrill, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, went to visit the completed statue. Upon seeing it, he wanted to call it Moroni. The name stuck, and by April 6, when the statue was placed atop the Salt Lake Temple, Moroni had become the statue’s accepted name.
Dallin stated that sculpting the angel “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.” After completing the angel Moroni, Dallin would go on to create the Brigham Young Monument, as seen on Temple Square.
On May 18, 2020, the angel Moroni statue was removed from the Salt Lake Temple as part of the planned temple renovation; it will be replaced when renovation is finished.
To learn more about the sculpting of the statue, see:
• Cyrus E. Dallin Letter to Gaylen S. Young, July 30, 1938, Church History Library.
• “Angel Moroni,” Church History Topics, accessed Apr. 2020, ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
• “8 Facts about the Salt Lake Temple Angel Moroni,” Temple Square Blog, Sept. 18, 2014, templesquare.com.
2. Are there different variations of the angel Moroni statues?
Yes. The numbering for variations is a bit complicated, with up to eight different versions of the angel Moroni and six sculptors.
• Cyrus Dallin sculpted the first angel, which was placed on the Salt Lake Temple in 1892. His version has a cape, bare arms, and a cap, and it stands on a granite sphere.
• Torleif S. Knaphus created a replica of Dallin’s angel in the 1930s, and the castings were placed on the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple, the Atlanta Georgia Temple (recast by LaVar Wallgren), and, later, the Boston Massachusetts Temple. Knaphus’s angel is very similar to Dallin’s version, except it stands on a golden sphere rather than a granite one.
• Millard F. Malin’s angel is known as the second angel Moroni statue. It was placed on the Los Angeles California Temple in 1954. Malin’s statue wears a cloak, a belt, a headband, and sandals and carries gold plates. A digitized photograph of Malin in his studio with the statue is available to view in the Church History Catalog.
• Avard Fairbanks sculpted the third version of the statue, placed on the Washington D.C. (1974), Seattle Washington, Jordan River Utah, and Mexico City Mexico Temples. In this version, Moroni also carries gold plates, but, unlike its predecessors, the angel’s whole body faces one direction, rather than twisting with the trumpet.
• Karl Quilter sculpted an angel Moroni statue in 1978, intended to reduce the cost and weight of previous statues and become a standard part of temple architecture. In 1998, the Church commissioned Quilter to create a new angel for the Bern Switzerland Temple. This was added in 2005. There are three slightly different versions of this statue, but usually this angel wears a flowing robe and his left arm ends in a fist.
• In 1997, LaVar Wallgren was commissioned to create a Moroni statue that currently resides on five temples, including the Anchorage Alaska, Bismarck North Dakota, Kona Hawaii, Columbus Ohio, and Caracas Venezuela Temples. Uniquely, his angel carries a scroll and has a more youthful appearance.
There are several photographs on display around the Church History Library in Salt Lake City of the sculptors with their respective statues.
To learn more about the various angel Moroni statue designs, see:
• Brian A. Olson, “Know Your Moroni: A Field Guide to Angel Moroni Statues,” accessed May 2020, 3dtemples.photogent.com.
• R. Scott Lloyd, “Another Angel,” Church News, Sept. 21, 2008, thechurchnews.com.
• “Angel Moroni Statues on Temples,” accessed Apr. 2020, newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
3. Why is the angel Moroni statue not on top of some of the temples?
Until the 1970s, the only temples to have the statue were the Salt Lake, Los Angeles California, and Washington D.C. Temples, which were the largest temples at the time. The angel Moroni statue became the architectural image of the Church during the late 70s, which is also when the standard-plan temples became popular, resulting in some temples, such as those in Idaho Falls and Bern, being retrofitted to include the statue.
Location is paramount in deciding whether to include the statue or leave it off. Factors such as building codes and cultural perceptions play a large role. Many of the smaller or remote temples do not include it in their designs, such as the Paris France and Port-au-Prince Haiti Temples.
As of April 2020, there are 182 temples in operation or under construction, 26 of which are without an angel Moroni statue. The following quote from an Ensign article explains why some temples do not have an angel Moroni statue:
“The Church has no policy regarding the use of statues of the angel Moroni atop temples. The general practice is to use the statue, but there are reasons it may be absent. In certain geographic locations, building codes or use permits restrict use of the statue. The Sydney Australia Temple, for example, originally had no statue because of building restrictions. The statue was added later after permission to do so was granted.
“In some areas, a statue may give more ornamentation than desired. In other areas, the statue is absent because a wrong impression may arise from its presence (such as in areas where statues on church buildings are understood to represent objects of worship). Limits imposed by the architectural design of some temples may be another reason” (Val D. Greenwood, “How long have statues of the angel Moroni appeared atop Latter-day Saint temples? Is there a reason the statues don’t appear on top of all temples?” Ensign, Jul. 1994, 66–67).
4. Do all angel Moroni statues face east?
No. This infographic by Brian Olson (last updated in 2017) shows the direction of angel Moroni statues. The myth that all angel Moroni statues must face eastward likely began because the Salt Lake and Los Angeles California Temples’ statues are oriented that way. However, the angel Moroni statue on the Seattle Washington Temple faces west, and subsequent iterations are inconsistent in their direction.
There is another myth that all statues must face Independence, Missouri, which is also untrue.
To learn more about small differences between statues, see:
• Wendy Kenney, “Looking Up to Moroni,” New Era, Nov. 2009, 24–28.
5. Are the angel Moroni statues lightning rods?
Yes, the statues often act as lightning rods to prevent damage to electrical systems. They sometimes need to be replaced due to intense lightning strikes. Other natural disasters, such as earthquakes, have damaged statues that subsequently required reconstruction, including those on the Tokyo Japan, Cebu City Philippines, Santiago Chile, and Salt Lake Temples.
To learn more about the use of statues as lightning rods, see:
• Tad Walch, “Is the Angel Moroni a Lightning Rod? Statue Does What It’s Built to Do,” Deseret News, May 24, 2016, deseret.com.
Top image: Salt Lake Temple grounds