Thursday, August 20, 2015

Salt Lake Temple: Interior

Note: This is one of a series of posts on the interiors and floor plans of historic temples:
1. St. George Temple (1877)
2. Logan Temple (1884)
3. Manti Temple (1888)
4. Salt Lake Temple (1893)
5. Laie Temple (1919) - No post at this time
6. Cardston Temple (1923)
7. Mesa Temple (1927)
8. Idaho Falls Temple (1945)

I was originally not planning on doing a post on the Salt Lake Temple, because it has been extensively covered on many other sites. However, I've found the original source of many of the pictures that float around on the internet (The Salt Lake Temple: A Monument to the People), and so was able to get scans that are much higher quality than other photos. I've also found some photos from various (Church-sanctioned and approved) sources that help to piece together the building for those who haven't been able to attend a session here. Most of those come from stills I've taken from The Mountain of the Lord (a Church film about the Salt Lake Temple) and Temples, a short Church video that describes the use of temples.

The Salt Lake Temple is a landmark building, inside and out. Those who have attended other pioneer temples will immediately notice that the Salt Lake Temple is much more ornate and detailed than the temples in St. George, Logan, and even Manti (although Manti is much closer to its level). It, along with Manti, is one of the two temples where a live endowment is performed, instead of film.

The ground floor of the temple is split into two halves, divided by a hallway which patrons enter from the annex. It is fairly evident when you come into this room from the annex--the building is much more ornate than the annex.

(Image Source: Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 29 No. 3)
This is the view of the hallway as patrons enter the temple. (The temple is not nearly as whitewashed now; this photo was taken around 1980. A lot of the natural wood color has been returned, which is a relief.) On the west side (right part of the photo) is the baptistry.

The doors and rooms on the sides of the baptistry were originally used for the initiatory ordinances. Now, they've been changed to dressing rooms.

The lower hallway itself has some nice paintings. There is one by Dan Weggeland that shows Christ. There are also two by Alfred Lambourne that you'll see right as you enter the hallway. One is The Hill Cumorah, painted in 1892. (The hill is painted to look much larger than it is in real-life, emphasizing its doctrinal and historical importance.)

The other is Adam-Ondi-Ahman (also likely painted in 1892). Originally, there was some discussion about hanging this painting over the veil in the Celestial Room, but it was instead placed in the lower hallway.

On the south side (left) of the hallway are the creation room and garden room. The creation room is immediately on the left upon entering the temple proper. It originally had no murals, but they were added in 1915 by Fritjob Wiberg. No animals are in this creation room, which is different from most others.

The chairs are facing toward the garden room in this photo. They no longer face that way; they face toward the small door that provides access to the northeast tower.

This photo shows the way they currently face.

Patrons leave this room, heading south into the garden room up a small ramp. This is the view of the room as you enter:

Some notes: the 3 doorways lead to small recesses, but there was originally a small greenhouse connected there that had living plants.

The center doorway used to have a small lift that was used by temple workers in the endowment. President McKay apparently thought that it did not achieve its intended effect and was more distracting than anything else, so it was also removed.

The murals here was painted by John Hafen, helped by Edwin Evans. Lorus Pratt helped with the foliage, while Dan Weggeland did the animals. Much of this needed to be re-painted in 1938. Only the right front wall has original paint.

This is the view from the recess on the right of the above photo. The door goes to the southeast tower stairwell, but it's not used by patrons or workers. It could be used as an emergency exit.

The murals in this room are lovely, with vibrant green and blue colors. The ceiling is higher, and there is a type of skylight (lit with electricity) in the center of the room. At the front of the skylight is the all-seeing eye. You can see this in this next picture, which is the view of the garden room as patrons exit to proceed up the grand staircase.

Patrons emerge out onto this landing, and proceed up the staircase. As they do, they pass a stained glass depiction of Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden. The stained glass used to be located near the entrance to the world room, but it was moved when an elevator was placed there.

This is the view as patrons reach the top of the staircase. Straight ahead is the door that leads to the Celestial Room. When patrons are finished with their session, they come out of that door and go down the staircase. On the right is a large painting of Christ visiting America, surrounded by little children and angels. I believe it was done by Dan Weggeland, but can't confirm that yet.

As the patrons come up the grand staircase, they get this glimpse of the Celestial Room ahead, but they turn left to enter the world room.

(Image Source: Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 29 No. 3)

Now on the second floor, patrons enter the world room. Here, the in place of the serene murals of the garden room, the paintings depict animals fighting, rugged landscapes, and other signs of the world we live in. This mural was painted by Dan Weggeland, Edwin Evans, and John B. Fairbanks. The mural was painted onto plaster which began to chip off, so in 1922 John and his son, J. Leo Fairbanks, re-painted the room, using the initial sketches to duplicate the original murals. This is the view as you enter:

Both of the doorways at the front are used during the endowment. When it's time to leave this room and enter the terrestrial room, patrons take the door on the right.

Looking back into the room as you exit:

The terrestrial room is beautiful--ornate carvings, stained glass, and a gracefully curved veil at the front. The windows in this room are artificially lit, as the addition of sealing rooms is now behind the wall.

Better colors in this one:

Finally, patrons enter the celestial room on the other side of the veil. The ceiling is high and takes up the floor above; colorful floral paintings grace the walls, and other ornate designs are available to view.

There are 4 major doors that you can see in the photo above. The one on the far left, up the small staircase, used to be an office, but it has since been changed to a beautiful sealing room, flooded with natural light (because it is located in the central east tower). The next one is the sealing room for the living; the one on the far right is the original sealing room for the dead (pictures below). The one in the center, with its doors closed, leads up to the Holy of Holies, a special room reserved for use by the Prophet.

Looking at the Celestial Room from the small staircase that leads up to the tower room:

This is a photo of a small statue above the veil as you enter the celestial room. The explanations for this statue are varied: that it is Christ (albeit a feminine-looking one), that it is Mary and was donated by the Catholic church, or that it is Aphrodite (since it looks like a seashell). Other people say it is Heavenly Mother or the Roman goddess Venus. Which is it?

In An Eye of Faith: Essays in Honor of Richard O. Cowan, one article, titled "The Woman at the Veil," seeks to answer this:

"The true origins stem back to Joseph Don Carlos Young, the architect of the Salt Lake Temple, after the death of Truman O. Angell in 1887.  His great contribution to the temple was a redesign of the interior plan, which included the original interior furnishings.  While in Boston at the advice of his father Brigham, Don Carlos, as he was called, saw a statue made by a young sculptor.  Fascinated by it, he purchased it and busts of two cherubs.  Dubbed the “Angel of Peace,” probably by its sculptor, Young had it enlarged to a full-size, six-foot statue.  The original had wings, because it supposedly represented a female “heavenly being.”  Young took the wings from his original and apparently directed that the copy be made without wings as well.  It is not certain, but the authors believe Cyrus Dallin, the sculptor of the Angel Moroni on the Salt Lake Temple was likely the sculptor of this piece too....It is certain, however, that it does not represent Mary, Venus, or Aphrodite."

Here's a better view of the sealing room for the living. Before the addition of many more sealing rooms on the north side, this room was used for live sealings.

This is the view as you enter. On the opposite side is a door leading to a small waiting room.

This is a view as you stand in that sealing room, looking back toward the door into the celestial room.

Here are some views of the sealing room for the dead. I wish I had some better pictures of this one, especially the stained glass. 

This temple is truly breathtaking. Few temples can compare to it and Manti.

Here is a picture of the landing on one of the tower staircases.

These staircases are still used, especially to access the priesthood assembly hall on the top floor of the temple. This is the view as you enter: the balcony is above; light streams in from the windows.

Just like other assembly halls, there are two sets of pulpits.

If you want to sit on the balcony, you ascend one of the beautiful spiral staircases.

I really like the Salt Lake Temple. Some parts of the architecture were whitewashed in the past, but I feel that the Church has been more sensitive to the original architecture in recent decades. If you attend, don't be afraid to explore the 3 sealing rooms off of the Celestial Room and take a close look at the paintings in the upper and lower hallways. When I've gone, I've never been rushed and there are some great historic things to see.


  1. I'm a worker in the Salt Lake Temple. The other day I was standing studying the stained glass depicting Adam & Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden and I realized the sword-bearing angel has six toes. Adam & Eve only have five, but the angel has six.

    1. That's something I wouldn't have noticed, Dave; you're right. I'm guessing that was an error in the glass that either went unnoticed or was ignored. Thanks for the heads up; I've got a few sources on stained glass that I'll check out to see if that is mentioned.

    2. What you think is the 6th toe is just the foot, not an extra toe.

  2. I sent two stained glass windows to the church history museum and am looking for a buyer for the remaining two SLC Temple Annex windows 1896c. These are the upper level 9'x8' arched windows.

    1. I might be able to hook you up with a buyer. Do you still have them?

    2. Shoot me an email at if you are still looking for a buyer.

  3. Does anyone here know the history and/or symbolism of this statue of Joseph and Hyrum seemingly adoring this female light bearer? I'd love to get the group's wisdom and take on it.

    1. Crump Family,

      I have seen that photo before. The statue was removed sometime in the early twentieth century, but it should still be in Church storage. I haven't found a satisfactory analysis of the statue or its history, so any information on it is pure speculation.

      If I had to guess, I would say it's a depiction of a female goddess on the top, but without a knowledge of the background, it's impossible to say who. I would love to get more knowledge of it, including all of the figures on the base. Maybe one day...

    2. That is so cool! I've wondered, because there is so much female symbolism in the celestial room, including the goddess on the shell. What a gorgeous sculpture. I wonder when it was removed? And why?

  4. Was this statue in the Salt Lake City Temple?

    1. Yes; it used to be in the Celestial Room.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Are the sealing rooms off the celestial room still used?

    1. I've seen them used for sealing for the dead, but they're not used for sealings for the living anymore, I believe. There might be a few exceptions.

  7. They are currently used for both living and dead. You just have to request it when booking your wedding. The reason they are used so rarely is that most wedding parties are not that tiny! I think parties have to be smaller than 10.

  8. Do you know when the shape of the veil was changed? I assume the original veil was straight across between the two rooms. It is now curved with the ends protruding into the telestial room (partially blocking a few north windows), and the center into the celestial room. I'm sure the change was for added efficiency.

    1. I'm actually not sure, Brian. I assumed it had always been curved, but it wouldn't be hard to change.

    2. I was curious about that too. I had seen the veil straight across in this old photo from 1912.

    3. My guess is that it would have taken place in the early 1960s, when the major renovation of the temple took place. (This added the annex and new sealing rooms on the north side.)

  9. A couple of questions .... Mostly trying to figure out the right terminology or naming conventions.
    1) My In-Laws were married in a small sealing room off the Celestial Room. My Wife's older sister showed us one time when we were there. Is that called "the tower room"? Is there more than one? We are hoping to go this summer (before it's closed for the remodel) to show our kids that room. That one is pretty easy.
    2) My wife and I were married in a sealing room way off the Celestial room. It's in one of the towers, and right next to one of the original entrance doors to the outside. You have to go up a step or two, through an office, down some steps to get there. Does this sealing room have a name or anything. When we were there, we asked a few temple workers and the first three or four couldn't help us find it. BUT, they very very kindly asked an more experienced worker, who did know and took us there. I'd love to have a name or something for that room to make it easier to find it again. Again, we hope to visit this summer and take our kids.
    3) Something probably not known yet, but ... in the restoration, will those rooms be removed or dramatically changed. I think the "tower room" in the Celestial Room is likely to stay, (just a guess, that would be a very big change). But I worry that the sealing room we were married in will be changed into something very different, since it is a strange, relatively inaccessible room.

    1. Hi scXenon,

      This becomes difficult because a lot of times, sealing rooms have different names. I am fairly certain the sealing room up the small staircase in the celestial room is the "tower room." No other sealing room that I'm aware of is located in the east tower. That one should be easy to see when you're there.

      My guess is that the sealing room that you are married in is on the other side of the Holy of Holies. (See the second floor map in the post.) If you go through the sealing room for the living, there is a small lobby where one of the sets of doors on the east side would enter. There is also an office and I believe another small sealing room over there (although I'm not sure). I don't know if it has a name, but hopefully this will help you be guided over there.

      I think you're spot on in your guesses with the renovation--I don't see them changing the tower sealing room (unless they restored it to some type of an office for historical accuracy, but unlikely), but I'm not sure if they'd decide to remove some of the older, more obscure sealing rooms in the temple. I guess only time will tell. It would be nice if they left it!

    2. There are three sealing rooms in the center east tower of the Salt Lake Temple, stacked. The highest is accessed by ascending the staircase in the south east corner of the Celestial Room. The middle sealing room is accessed through the corridor just inside the main southeast door. From the Celestial Room you can go through the sealing room for the living and its waiting room to that corridor, which also accesses the southeast corner spiral staircase. The lower sealing room is on the same level as the Creation Room and Garden Room, and is possibly not used as much as many other sealing rooms because it must be accessed using the southeast corner tower staircase in order to avoid passing through the Creation Room or Garden Room.

  10. If I go do a session at the temple I am curious if a temple worker will let me walk to see the tower staircase that goes up to the assembly hall? What is the protocol on this? I feel the temple is so big but unlike other temples you rarely get to see any of it. Id love to see more than just what you see in the session.

    1. Brian, I have never asked, but from what I have heard they don't take patrons up there. (I asked to see some parts of the Logan and St. George Temples was always politely declined.) I think the issue is the temple becoming kind of a tourist attraction, although I understand the desire to see all of it. That's why I'm excited about the open house...