A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tour the Brigham City Temple before its recent dedication. I touch briefly on that experience in an essay on Mormon temples in today’s Wall Street Journal. Such opportunities are rare, especially for non-Mormons who don’t live in Utah. Several years ago, we happened to be spending the summer in Utah at the time of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple’s open house. That was my first such experience. I was struck by the politeness of the ushers (ready and eager to open my wife’s door when we parked our car), the refreshment tent afterwards (especially enjoyed by my then-two-year-old daughter), and how the temple interior diverged from what I had envisioned in my head.
I expected something that looked, well, older and more ancient. (I had probably been influenced by the black-and-white photos of the Salt Lake City Temple published in the early 1900s). Instead, the carpeting, fresh paint, etc. all looked, well, new and modern. Ever since reading about the Nauvoo Temple’s baptistry, I have found the image of the twelve oxen a particularly striking appopriation of biblical instruction.
I didn’t leave the Oquirrh Mountain open house with very much seared into my memory. The Brigham City Temple made a more lasting impression. I arranged to visit the temple on my way back from a trip to Logan, Utah, and I drove down the Cache Valley on an early, still moonlit morning. The tour was at seven a.m., and the parking garage was already humming with activity. Thousands of people were passing through the temple each day that week, the final week of the open house.
The Brigham City Temple is exquisitely decorated, with many nods to local history and agriculture (peach blossoms and pioneers). One of my favorite places in Utah is the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge — the mural in the creation room of the temple very much evokes that sense of place. It is somewhat strange to visit a temple as a religious outsider. For most visitors (and most open house visitors are church members), the open house is a chance to visit a new, sacred space. Some are moved to tears. As a non-Mormon historian, the open house instead presents me with the significance of ritual within Mormonism. As the church rapidly constructs and dedicates temples around the world, it reminds me that the proliferation of temples is a very noteworthy aspect of the church’s recent trajectory. At the same time, even as a non-member, I find myself touched at the sense of the sacred that pervades an LDS temple.