Joseph Smith presided over the laying of the cornerstones1 of the Nauvoo Temple in a grand ceremony on April 6, 1841, the 11th anniversary of the founding of the Church. The more than 10,000 residents, visiting dignitaries and Church leaders, “moving in harmony, in friendship, in dignity”2 created an imposing spectacle. Joseph Smith laid the southeast cornerstone, “in honor of the Great God” and pledged speedy construction, “that the Saints3 may have a place to worship God, and the Son of Man4 have where to lay His head” (Times and Seasons, Apr. 15, 1841, 376).
Men contributed 1 day in 10 to construction. The Prophet Joseph organized the Female Relief Society5 of Nauvoo to assist with clothing for temple laborers and care for needy families.
Brigham Young laid the capstone of the temple May 24, 1845; the Prophet Joseph had been dead nearly a year. During the month of December 1845 and the early months of 1846, the Saints received their blessings and endowments6 prior to vacating the city of Nauvoo and heading west. They left the temple with a cryptic invitation painted on the east end: “THE LORD HAS BEHELD OUR SACRIFICE, COME AFTER US.”7
Joseph Smith Quotes
[In] ‘the dispensation of the fullness of times, when God will gather together all things that are in heaven, and all things that are upon the earth, ‘even in one,’ . . . the Saints of God will be gathered in one from every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongue, . . . and all things whether in heaven or on earth will be in one, even in Christ. The heavenly Priesthood will unite with the earthly, to bring about those great purposes; and whilst we are thus united in the one common cause, to roll forth the kingdom of God, the heavenly Priesthood are not idle spectators, the Spirit of God will be showered down from above, and it will dwell in our midst. The blessings of the Most High will rest upon our tabernacles” (History of the Church, 4:610).
“Believing the time has now come, when it is necessary to erect a house of prayer, a house of order, a house for the worship of our God, where the ordinances can be attended to agreeably to His divine will. . . . it behooves the Saints to weigh the importance of these things, in their minds, [and] . . . resolve to do all they can, and feel themselves as much interested as though the whole labor depended on themselves alone. By so doing they will emulate the glorious deeds of the fathers, and secure the blessings of heaven upon themselves and their posterity to the latest generation. To those who feel thus interested, and can assist in this great work, we say, let them . . . assist in the rolling on of the Kingdom, . . . and rise higher and higher in the scale of intelligence until they can ‘comprehend with all Saints what is the breadth and length, and depth and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge’” (History of the Church, 4:186).
Sarah DeArmon Pea Rich, Early Member of the Church
“If it had not been for the faith and knowledge that was bestowed upon us in that temple [Nauvoo] by the influence and help of the spirit of the Lord, our journey would have been like one taking a leap in the dark, to start out on such a journey in the winter as it was, and in our state of poverty, it would seem like walking into the jaws of death. But we had faith in our Heavenly Father, and we put our trust in Him, feeling that we were His chosen people and had embraced His gospel; and instead of sorrow we felt to rejoice that the day of our deliverance had come” (Sarah Rich Autobiography, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).
Erastus Snow, Apostle, 1849–1888
“The Spirit, Power, and Wisdom of God reigned continually in the Temple and all felt satisfied that during the two months we occupied it in the endowments of the Saints, we were amply paid for all our labors in building it” (Erastus Snow, Journals, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).
Brigham Young, Second President of the Church, 1847–1877
“We knelt around the altar, and dedicated the building to the Most High. We asked his blessing upon our intended move to the west; also asked him to enable us some day to finish the Temple, and dedicate it to him, and we would leave it in his hands to do as he pleased; and to preserve the building as a monument to Joseph Smith. We asked the Lord to accept the labors of his servants in this land” (History of the Church, 7:580).
What was the purpose of the Nauvoo Temple?
Joseph Smith explained that the purpose of the temple was to provide those ordinances necessary for a person to “come up and abide in the presence” of God in the eternal worlds (History of the Church, 5:1–2). Among those ordinances were baptism, endowments, and sealings of families for time and all eternity. These same ordinances were performed by proxy on behalf of relatives and friends who had passed on, in the belief that they lived on in a world of spirits and were capable of accepting or rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Online Resources at ChurchofJesusChrist.org
“Sacrifice and Blessings in Nauvoo”—Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1996), 55–67
“Nauvoo under Apostolic Leadership”—Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 297–307
“Doctrinal Developments in Nauvoo”—Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 251–62
Online Resources at BYU
“Life in Nauvoo, June 1844: Vilate Kimball’s Martyrdom Letters”—Ronald K. Esplin, BYU Studies, vol. 19, no. 2 (1979), 231–40
Two letters describing the tenor of the city before and after the martyrdom.
“‘They Might Have Known That He Was Not a Fallen Prophet’—The Nauvoo Journal of Joseph Fielding”—Andrew F. Ehat, BYU Studies, vol. 19, no. 2 (1979), 133–66
Describes the apostasy of some individuals, the martyrdom, construction of the temple, the battle of and expulsion from Nauvoo, and the miracle of the quail.