This blog's main focus is on meetinghouses, because that is where the greatest variety of architecture in Mormonism can be found; furthermore, LDS Temples have already received a lot of attention and analysis when it comes to their architectural designs. However, I decided to add this post on the Mesa Arizona Temple to my previous series of posts on historic temples. I hesitated to do so before, because it is more difficult to get quality photos of the Mesa Temple, especially from before its renovation. Fortunately, some sources have been helpful (notably, Evan Tye Peterson's The Ninth Temple: A Light in the Desert), including a helpful reader of the blog that was able to provide some photos.
The Mesa Temple has a symbolic floor plan that has yet to be satisfactorily used in any other temple. It was the 7th operating temple built by the Church (not counting the Kirtland and original Nauvoo temples). The first, St. George, had patrons go from room to room in the basement (later moved to the main floor) of the temple. The next three, in Logan, Manti, and Salt Lake, used progression from room to room that led patrons on a journey of ascension through the temple floors. The next two, in Cardston and Laie, had the celestial room in the elevated center of the temple, while patrons passed through the four protruding wings as they completed the endowment ceremony.
The Mesa Temple was built around a grand corridor and central staircase. A local article described the symbolic nature of this floorplan:
"The stair hall is designed to serve more than the purely utilitarian accommodation...It suggests the story of man from earthly birth to the regions of celestial glory, and reflects the successive stages of progression. From the Temple entrance...may also be seen, through a glass screen at the end of the passage[,] the font room and the font...while above and at the end of the stairway hall stands forth the portal to the celestial room. The grand stairway may be said to typify the every upward pathway which terminates in celestial glory."
Even the temple's exterior reflects some symbolism. It has several panels on the outside depicting the gathering of Israel (which we will cover later), but the temple has a large first floor, where the baptistry and other auxiliary functions (offices, locker rooms, etc.) are located. The elevated portion of the temple houses the endowment and sealing rooms.
The baptistry is very well done, with terra cotta oxen sculpted by the well-known Torleif Knaphus.
One of the oxen has a crooked horn. No official explanation for this anomaly was given; it has been suggested that it represents the imperfect nature of man, and their invitation to still participate in the work of salvation.
You'll notice there was originally a chair covered with tile on one end of the baptismal font. Originally, two proxies would enter the font; one would be confirmed in the chair while the other was baptized; then they would switch places. This was removed in the 1975 renovation of the temple.
The baptistry also has some lovely murals, painted by J. Leo Fairbanks. The north wall shows Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist; in the background, the Susquehanna River is shown.
On the south wall, Joseph Smith is baptizing Oliver Cowdery. I believe the baptistry still has these murals today, but I'm unsure.
As was mentioned, the baptistry could originally be glimpsed from the temple's entrance. Once passing into the temple, patrons could see, immediately ahead, the beginning of the grand staircase. One historian wrote the symbolic effect this had on patrons:
"As one enter's the temple, the stairs with the Celestial Room at their top can be seen straight ahead. Before beginning the ascent, a person must first receive initiatory instructions and preparations [located on the temple's first floor]."
After being prepared to participate in the endowment session, patrons began the journey up the staircase. At the top is the door to the Celestial Room, with the words "The Glory of God is Intelligence" written above the top. This is the view at the bottom of the staircase.
However, halfway up the staircase, patrons were directed instead to enter the door on the right of this picture. This led them into the Creation Room, where they began their journey through the endowment. The glimpse of the words above the door were important--the endowment, in Latter-day Saint theology, gives patrons the intelligence they need in order to enter the Celestial Kingdom, through a series of covenants they make with God.
The creation room has very few pictures documenting its mural. The northeast corner of the room shows a chaotic landscape of rocks and darkness; from this corner, the mural slowly showed the emergence of light, vegetation, and animal life that shows the creation of the world. Fritzoff E. Weberg (pictured here) painted this mural. His son painted the Creation Room mural for the Idaho Falls Temple.
The Garden Room showed a peaceful landscape representing the Garden of Eden. This was done by Alma B. Wright. Each wall showed the head of the river, representing the four rivers that flowed from the Garden of Eden.
The World Room was done by LeConte Stewart. It shows the desert wilderness, dark thunderstorms, and a fight between a stag and a bear, all set in the landscape of Arizona.
In the terrestrial room, the walls and ceilings were tinted white and cream. Delicate moldings appeared along the edges of the room.
From here, patrons passed into the Celestial Room. Some sealing rooms are accessed off of this room. It is very well done, and fits the style of the temple wonderfully.
When patrons exit the celestial room, they come out at the top of the staircase--the very door that they viewed as they began to ascend the stairs. Lee Greene Richards painted two murals along the sides of the staircases. Along the north wall (to the left of this picture) is a painting of Joseph and Hyrum Smith preaching to Native Americans and sharing a Book of Mormon.
On the south side is a painting of a Native American being baptized. It's to the right of this picture; this is one mural of which I don't have a satisfactory image.
The exterior of the temple has some nice friezes depicting the gathering of Israel. These were sculpted by Torleif Knaphus. This one, on the east side, shows French and Swiss people on their way to Holland, having come down from the Alps. Behind them are Italians.
In this one, facing the north, those in Holland are now embarking for America. Germain saints work with bedding; the Dutch leave their windmills behind, and others are entering the ship.
On the west, we see Saints arriving in America. English, Welsh, Irish, and Scottish persons can be observed here.
On the north, we now see the Saints crossing the plaints and arriving within sight of the Rocky Mountains, which come up across the frieze, from the left to the right.
This panel, on the South Side, shows a handcart company also making their way across the plains.
In this panel, on the west side, a group of Mexican people are travelling toward Zion as well.
There is also a panel on the east side showing Native Americans doing the same.
Finally, on the south side, Pacific Islanders are depicting living their normal lives, not travelling. This is because the Laie Hawaii Temple was already built at this time, and this group did not need to travel to receive the full blessings of Zion.
In 1974, it was announced that the Mesa Temple would be the first of the older temples--which still used a live endowment--to close and be remodeled to accommodate a film presentation of the endowment. It closed from February 1974 to April 1975. As a result of this renovation, the creation, garden, and world rooms became "stationary" rooms, where patrons would spend almost the entire ceremony. Because the only way to get to the celestial room was through the terrestrial room, it was changed to a "veil room" that all patrons used at the end of the ceremony to enter into the celestial room. This allowed sessions to be held every 45 minutes.
This, of course, ruined much of the progression of the temple. What's more, it was decided that the murals were no longer needed. Workers were told that the murals would not be used again, so many parts of the paintings were torn off in bits and pieces. The murals had been painted on burlap, which had deteriorated significantly. Parts of the murals that were saved were shipped to Salt Lake City to be stored there.
Five years later, in 1980, the temple was still very busy. an area of the temple that was formerly used for sister patrons was remodeled into a fourth ordinance room, and sessions could then be held every 30 minutes.
In 1991, the parts of the murals that had been saved were sent back to the temple. Only a small portion of the murals were still usable, so one wall of each ordinance room had its mural replaced. The creation, garden, and world rooms all received a piece of the original mural that had hung there previously. Ordinance Room 4 (which had not existed before 1980) also received a part of the mural that had been in the world room. The Church hired a painter to do restoration work on the murals that were reinstalled in the temple.