The Nauvoo Temple: Built by Faith and Community

Heidi Bennett

Museum Treasures

When the Prophet Joseph Smith proposed that the temple in Nauvoo be built by tithing Church members, the Saints responded with energy.

When the Prophet Joseph Smith announced to Church members his plans to build a temple in Nauvoo, some may have wondered whether such construction was possible. In 1841 most Church members were poor, having lost most of their property when they were chased from Missouri only a year earlier.

But when Joseph Smith proposed that the temple be built by tithing Church members, the Saints responded with energy. The Lord promised that in the temple He would reveal blessings that had “been kept hid from before the foundation of the world.”1 Here the Saints would participate in ordinances that would unite their families forever and prepare them to return to their Heavenly Father. Church members would not let poverty or other obstacles get in the way of these blessings.

Working Together

The tithing system unified the community as all Church members everywhere could contribute to building the temple. Tithing came in various forms: money, food, clothing, land, livestock, and personal belongings. One woman donated every tenth round of flax to be spun and woven into cloth.2 Others donated flour, dried pork, clothing, wristwatches, or cash. Many of the donated items were used to pay stonecutters, carpenters, and other skilled craftsmen who worked on the temple.

Many people made tremendous sacrifices for the temple. Louisa Barnes Pratt recalled:

I started in good faith to go to the Temple office to bestow my offering. Suddenly a temptation came over me . . . that [this] money would relieve my present necessities. Then I resisted. Said I, “If I have no more than a crust of bread each day for a week, I will pay this money into the treasury.”3

Able-bodied men who lived in and around Nauvoo were asked to donate their time and labor—one day out of every 10 would be spent working on the temple. One source reports that “at one time approximately one thousand men were donating every tenth day in work on the temple.”4

These tools belonged to some of the craftsmen who worked on the Nauvoo Temple. The chest and trowels belonged to English convert and stonecutter Francis Clark. According to family tradition, Clark carved some of the sunstones and moonstones on the temple’s exterior, as well as some of the oxen under the baptismal font in the basement. The remaining tools belonged to George Washington Clyde and Hiram Mace.5 Though men of their skill were likely paid for their work, they also consecrated one day in 10 as a tithe.

Relief Society Penny Box

In 1843, Mercy Fielding Thompson wanted to know how she could further help the work. She recorded:

At one time after seeking earnestly to know from the Lord if there was anything that I could do for the building up of the Kingdom of God, a most pleasant sensation came over me with the following words. Try to get the Sisters to subscribe one cent per week for the purpose of buying glass and nails for the Temple. I went immediately to Brother Joseph. . . . He told me to go ahead and the Lord would bless me.6

The goal allowed even the poor to contribute toward the temple’s construction. Sisters who lived in the far-flung branches of the Church were also encouraged to contribute. Latter-day Saint women in Boston organized the Boston Female Penny Society and raised $21.27. Overall, the campaign brought in more than $2,000, which helped the Church pay debts and purchase the glass for the temple windows.7

Women were invited to continue their fund-raising efforts until the temple was finished.8 The women of the branches in La Harpe and Macedonia, Illinois, for example, raised enough money to purchase a construction crane for the temple in July.9

Worth the Sacrifice

After Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed in 1844, the Saints knew they would not be able to enjoy their temple for long. Regardless, construction efforts increased so that they would be able to receive the blessings of the temple before they left Nauvoo.

Sarah DeArmon Rich recalled how the temple gave her and her family strength for what lay ahead:

[The blessings of the temple] caused us joy and comfort in the midst of all our sorrows, and enabled us to have faith in God, knowing He would guide us and sustain us in the unknown journey that lay before us. For if it had not been for the faith and knowledge that was bestowed upon us in that Temple by the influence and help of the spirit of the Lord, our journey would have been like one taking a leap in the dark.10

Each member’s sacrifice and effort was worth the blessings they received. Elder Erastus Snow declared, “All felt satisfied that during the two months we occupied [the temple] in the endowment of the Saints, we were amply paid for all our labors in building it.”11