6. Freiberg Germany Temple
Dedicated 1985 by Gordon B. Hinckley
When dedicated, the Freiberg Germany Temple was the smallest temple the Church had ever constructed, at 7,840 sq. ft. It’s since doubled in size and just went down for a lengthy renovation that will last until 2016.
But Freiberg gets this slot because it is the first temple built in a communist nation – then-East Germany. (Yes, it beat West Germany to a temple.)
This came about because for years the Church had worked with the East German government to allow members in East Germany to travel to Switzerland to attend the temple. The East Germans, burned out on the continual barrage of requests for visas, asked the Church if it would construct a temple right in East Germany so that Mormons would stop asking for visas to Switzerland. What do you think Salt Lake said to that?!
The temple went from announcement to dedication in under three years, thanks to assistance from the East German government. However, while the best materials available were used as much as possible, most of the temple was built “on the cheap,” which could be a reason for its lengthy closure that started last month.
5. Bern Switzerland Temple
Dedicated 1955 by David. O McKay
A sister to the Hamilton New Zealand Temple, the Swiss temple was the first in Europe (barely beating the London England Temple – though we can debate whether the UK is “Europe”). It was also the first “overseas” temple of the Church and the first temple built where English would not be the primary language. And there lies the reason for its ranking.
The Bern Temple is the first temple to use a film to present the endowment ceremony. President McKay was deeply interested in new media as a means of spreading the gospel, and this spread into his approach to solve the “problem” this temple faced. Europe had members, but not enough in each language served by the temple to present live endowment sessions. The simple solution was to film a single film and then dub it. This reduced the number of workers needed to officiate a session and opened up endless possibilities for presenting the endowment going forward, resulting in a fundamental change to the Church’s approach to announcing and designing future temples. And it’s for that the Bern Switzerland Temple ranks in our top five.
4. Kirtland Temple
Dedicated 1836 by Joseph Smith
The importance of the Kirtland Temple cannot be overstated. Even if it currently falls out of LDS hands and was not the source of the fulness of temple worship, the Kirtland Temple was pivotal in Latter-day Saint history. Can any of us argue with a building in which the fulness of the sealing power was restored, the Savior himself appeared, and the Saints consecrated their means and efforts to build a house worthy of the Lord’s presence? Not really.
After the Kirtland Safety Society fiasco, the temple fell out of Church ownership and shifted hands many times over the years, even serving as teacher’s seminary at one point. The Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) eventually gained ownership, as Joseph Smith’s descendants were followers of the faith and laid claim to it. They maintain it to this day.
But on the upside, it’s open for tours!
3. Nauvoo Temple (1.0)/Nauvoo Illinois Temple (2.0)
Original dedicated 1846 by Orson Hyde
Current dedicated 2002 by Gordon B. Hinckley
We combined both Nauvoos for simplicity’s sake, even if they have very different stories. Suffice it to say, if Nauvoo 2.0 had never been built, Nauvoo 1.0 would still occupy this spot. But since reconstructing the temple was a gasp-inducing announcement that reverberated throughout contemporary Mormonism, the combined temples’ spot in the rankings has only been bolstered.
The original temple was half-complete when Joseph Smith was martyred. Brigham Young carried on the work, and temple ordinances were carried out even without the building being dedicated.
As Mormons fled west, the temple was formally dedicated in haste in April 1846. Remaining Mormons were driven from Nauvoo by September of that year. In 1848, the building was set on fire by an unknown arsonist. All that remained were temple walls. Later, a tornado toppled one of the walls. Former temple stones were used to build other buildings throughout the Nauvoo area. In 1865, the Nauvoo City Council voted to demolish the remaining facade, destroying what was left of a once-proud edifice.
However, you can still see one of the original sunstones in the Smithsonian today.
From 1937 to 1962, the Church reacquired the temple plot in Nauvoo and in 1999, Gordon B. Hinckley announced a reconstruction. The reconstructed temple does not follow the same floorplan as the original, but it still stands as a testament to the will and perseverance of Latter-day Saints.
2. Salt Lake Temple
Dedicated 1893 by Wilford Woodruff
Wait, what? This isn’t number one? Yes, it’s the single image most associated with Mormonism. Yes, it represents Mormonism to a global audience. Yes, it’s gorgeous both inside and out. Yes, as a nod to the past, it still offers live endowment sessions, which is awesome. But it’s still not number one. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Forty years in the making, the Salt Lake Temple is an icon. It anchors Temple Square. It is steeped in so much history that we can barely sum it up here.
A Herculean effort was required to complete what is now the flagship temple of Latter-day Saints. The struggle associated with its construction is a deep part of Mormon culture, and most Mormons attempt to make the LDS hajj to the Salt Lake Temple at some point in their lives.
It’s also the first temple to feature an angel Moroni. We take Moroni for granted now, but in the old days of the Church, topping a temple with a statue of Moroni was not presupposed. In fact, the Moroni tradition really seems to be more of a norm from the 1970s-onward, and we’ve retroactively added Moroni to other temples, like Provo. Eight temples currently exist without a Moroni: St George Utah, Logan Utah, Manti Utah, Laie Hawaii, Cardston Alberta, Mesa Arizona, Hamilton New Zealand, and Oakland California.
So why not number one? Well, it might be the largest temple, but that’s something of a cheat. It’s the largest because of a few annexes it’s received over the years. Perhaps this is just because of my childhood allegiance to the Los Angeles Temple, but I appreciate that the bastion of SoCal Mormonism was the largest as-is. No annexes required.
Also, its official name is the “Salt Lake Temple,” not the “Salt Lake Utah Temple,” making it the only temple in the Church without a regional modifier in its name after the city name. Just a quibble, but I’m against Utah exceptionalism.
Really, this is a wonderful temple, and it slides in at number two not due to any shortcomings, but merely because it just can’t beat our number one pick. Which is…