The Dedication of the Sacred Temple Site
By Richard and Pamela Price
Dedication of the Temple Site
This painting depicts Joseph Smith and others at the dedication of the Temple site, August 3, 1831, not far from the Independence, Missouri Courthouse. The dedication ceremony was carefully researched to make the painting as authentic as possible.
One of the most significant events in Church history was the dedication of the Temple Site in the land of Zion by Joseph Smith, Jr., and others on August 3, 1831. The site, which today is located between the Auditorium and the Stone Church in Independence, is sacred to millions of people now living, and will be sacred to many "before the great day of the Lord shall come," when "Zion shall flourish upon the hills" (DC 49:5). The story of the dedication is found in the book, The Temple of the Lord.
The Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., and other Church leaders were commanded by revelation to travel from the Church headquarters at Kirtland, Ohio, to Independence, Missouri, with the promise that God would reveal to them the place for the Temple and the Land of Zion.
Joseph Smith wrote:
On the 19th of June , in company with Sidney Rigdon, Martin Harris, Edward Partridge, W. W. Phelps, Joseph Coe, A. S. Gilbert and his wife, I started from Kirtland, Ohio, for the land of Missouri, agreeable to the commandment before received, wherein it was promised that if we were faithful, the land of our inheritance, even the place for the city of the New Jerusalem, should be revealed. . . . At St. Louis, myself, Brother Harris, Phelps, Partridge, and Coe, went on foot by land, to Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, where we arrived about the middle of July; and the residue of the company came by water [on the Missouri River] a few days after. (Times and Seasons 5:434)
The Land of Zion Located
Following his arrival in Jackson County, the Prophet received a revelation which at last designated the place for Zion and the exact spot for the Temple. This was the first revelation given in Zion, of which there is a record, and it was very important. It said in part:
Hearken, O ye elders of my church saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the Saints: wherefore this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion. And thus saith the Lord your God, If you will receive wisdom here is wisdom. Behold, the place which is now called Independence, is the Center Place, and the spot for the temple is lying westward upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse; wherefore it is wisdom that the land [for the Temple] should be purchased by the Saints; and also every tract lying westward [from the courthouse], even unto the line running directly between Jew [Indian] and Gentile [Missouri settlers]. And also every tract bordering by the prairies, inasmuch as my disciples are enabled to buy lands. (DC 57:1a–f)
On August 1, 1831, the Lord gave another significant revelation which contained instructions to dedicate the land of Zion. It said, "And let my servant Sidney Rigdon consecrate and dedicate this land, and the spot of the temple, unto the Lord" (DC 58:13a). The Land of Zion was dedicated first and the spot for the Temple the following day. The dedication of the Land of Zion took place at the Colesville settlement (near what today is 35th and Paseo in Kansas City, Missouri).
Where Should the Temple Stand?
Soul stirring thoughts must have raced through the young Prophet's mind as he walked from Saint Louis to Independence and beyond, to where a little band of Saints from Colesville, New York, had settled to what was then the western boundaries of the United States, and where Kansas City now stands. Joseph beheld the beauty and abundance of the verdant forests and the rich expanses of prairie land. But though the land was rich, most of the Missouri settlers appeared to the Prophet to be poor materially, socially, and spiritually. The raw frontier culture made the Prophet see the value of Zion even more.
Joseph recorded his feelings by writing:
But our reflections were great, coming as we had from a highly cultivated state of society in the east, and standing now upon the confines or western limits of the United States, and looking into the vast wilderness of those that sat in darkness; how natural it was to observe the degradation, leanness of intellect, ferocity, and jealousy of a people that were nearly a century behind the time, and to feel for those who roamed about without the benefit of civilization, refinement, or religion! Yea, and exclaim in the language of the prophets, "When will the wilderness blossom as a rose? . . . and where will Thy temple stand unto which all nations shall come in the last days?" (Times and Seasons 5:434; RLDS History of the Church 1:202; italics added)
If the site of the Temple had been selected by Joseph's earthly wisdom and not by the Lord's, he probably would have selected another location for—there were other hills in the area which were higher and more prominent and beautiful.
The Big Blue River ran northward in an almost straight line, emptying into the mighty Missouri River. The little valley through which the Blue coursed its way was centered about five miles west of Independence and five miles east of Indian Territory (Kansas). Joseph found that the Colesville Saints had a settlement near the western side of that valley. On his way to the Saints' settlement, Joseph passed through this valley and viewed on either side of it a number of prominent hills with gently rounded tops, which could be seen for miles. Some of these hills could have provided a beautiful location for the Temple.
The natural scenery in the Blue Valley, from today's Swope Park north to Highway 24, would have provided an ideal spot for a majestic temple crowning one of these scenic hills. The Colesville Saints were settling that area, and other Saints and Bishop Partridge were very soon to purchase many beautiful places, including what is now Vogel Park and the Paseo in Kansas City.
As Joseph viewed those virgin scenes he asked, "Where will Thy temple stand unto which all nations shall come in the last days?" The Lord answered according to His eternal wisdom, and named the "spot" in what is now Independence.
The Temple Location Given by Revelation
The Saints who had already settled in the Land of Zion wondered where the Temple was to be built. A period of time elapsed before the location was made known. Bishop Newel K. Knight recorded:
And this was the place where the Lord had promised to reveal unto us where the New Jerusalem should be built up, and where Zion should be; and our hearts went forth unto the Lord desiring the fulfillment, that we might know where to bestow our labors [to build] profitably. We had not long to wait, for during the month the Lord gave a revelation to Brother Joseph, designating the spot. Being no longer at a loss to know where the exact spot for the building of the temple and the city of Zion was, we immediately prepared for our labors.1
It should be noted that he spoke of the "exact spot."
While Joseph was in Independence in July of 1831, the revelation was given which revealed the spot for the Temple. It said:
Behold, the place which is now called Independence, is the Center Place, and the spot for the temple is lying westward upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse. (DC 57:1d)
This revelation mentioned that the Temple Site lay "westward" from Independence. This was true at that time because Independence then consisted of only the village square and a few houses clustered around it. But today, of course, the city has spread for miles in all directions.
The Temple Site is located on a wide ridge which runs westward from the Independence square for a half mile, and then turns southwestward. The Old Road (Lexington Street) runs along the top or center of the ridge. The spot which was selected for the Temple was the highest rise or knoll on the ridge in that vicinity. This spot is one-half mile (0.5), or six city blocks, from the Courthouse on the square.
The Beauty of the Temple Site
This small knoll or hill was a beautiful spot in 1831. The land fell away from it gradually on the east and south, and more sharply on the north and west. The knoll itself was about a city block in size and was covered with a forest of trees. Apostle Parley P. Pratt, one of the first missionaries to arrive in Zion, stated that the Temple Site in 1831 was covered with "a noble forest."2
Joseph described the "common trees" in and around Independence in these words,
The timber is a mixture of oak, hickory, black walnut, elm, cherry, honey locust, mulberry, coffee bean, hackberry, box elder, and basswood, together with the addition of cottonwood, buttonwood, pecan, soft and hard maple. . . . The shrubbery was beautiful, and consisted in part of plums, grapes, crab apples, and persimmons. (Times and Seasons 5:450; RLDS History of the Church 1:207)
The Elders Who Attended the Temple Dedication
There were less than one hundred Saints in Jackson County on the day that the Temple spot was dedicated. It will be remembered that Parley Pratt said that there were sixty members at Colesville a month following the dedication. There were also the missionaries who had come recently from the East, although not all of those who had started the journey had arrived. However, only about eleven elders attended the dedication of the Temple Site. As far as is known, no one else was in attendance.
Perhaps the reason that others did not attend was the strenuousness of the journey from the Colesville Settlement and back. Transportation was a problem, since there was only a dirt road on which to travel, and the Saints had few, if any, horses and wagons.
It is important to know the names of the elders who were present for the Temple Site dedication. Accounts differ as to the number and identity of the men present. Church historian Oliver Cowdery listed the names of eight men whom he said were present at the service. They were: Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Frederick G. Williams, William W. Phelps, Martin Harris, and Joseph Coe.3
Joseph Smith's history also stated that eight men were present, and it names seven of them. It failed to list Peter Whitmer and Frederick Williams. Instead, it gave the name of Edward Partridge, whom Oliver did not list (Times and Seasons 5:450; RLDS History 1:209). Newel K. Knight recorded in his journal that he was present at the Temple Site dedication.4
Ezra Booth also declared that he was present. History shows that he was in Independence at that time.5 If all these brethren were present, and no doubt they were, there was a total of at least eleven elders present.
They were men of influence and talent. Most of them were men of great spiritual depth. Their testimonies as to the location of the sacred spot for the Temple are important. Oliver Cowdery was the second elder of the Church and one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris was one of the three witnesses also, and was called by revelation to give much financial aid to the Church. Sidney Rigdon and Frederick Williams were later to become members of the First Presidency.
W. W. Phelps was called by revelation to be the first printer in Zion. He published the Book of Commandments and the Church newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star. Edward Partridge was called to be the bishop of Zion. Newel Knight also became a bishop. Peter Whitmer, Jr., was one of the eight witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and one of the original four missionaries called by revelation to take the gospel to the Lamanites. Joseph Coe was called by revelation to accompany Joseph Smith to Jackson County. He walked with Joseph from St. Louis to Independence. It is through the testimonies of these elders that the exact spot for the Temple can be proven.
The Trip to the Temple Site
On August 3, the day after the dedication of the land of Zion at the Colesville Settlement, the Temple Site was dedicated. This meant that Joseph and the other elders either traveled the twelve miles from Colesville to Independence on August 2, after the Land-of-Zion ceremony; or the next day, before the Temple ceremony began. The twelve miles was a half day’s journey in good weather, or a day’s journey if the road was muddy.
Whether Joseph and the others came to the site on August 3 from the west, the direction of Colesville; or from the east, from Independence Square, is not known. But either way, they traveled along the Old Road, which is now known as Lexington Street. The Temple area must have been a familiar place to them, for they had traveled by way of the road several times in the three weeks that Joseph was in Jackson County. And of course, the five missionaries who had arrived the winter before, would have passed that way even more often.
When Joseph and the elders arrived at the knoll, they left the road, turned south, and penetrated the thick forest for a distance of approximately two hundred feet. The elders followed the Prophet until he stopped and informed them that they now stood upon the place which the Lord indicated to him that the Temple would stand.
Apostle William E. McLellin described the scene in later years, saying that Joseph took an ax and cut a path into the forest to the exact spot, and that “It was all covered with young saplings thickly standing. Joseph cut his way in through this growth of trees, brush and saplings, and marked the spot by blazing a tree nearby, cutting away the underbrush for a few feet around and setting up a small stone that had been picked up in the ravine below” (The Saints’ Herald 29:67).
The Dedication Ceremony
The dedication of the Temple Site was one of the most significant moments in the history of the Restoration Movement. It must have been an awesome moment for these elders who had been welded together closely by many spiritual experiences and tremendous physical sacrifices. They had endured much persecution and financial loss for the gospel's sake, in addition to traveling over eight hundred miles to be present. Now they were being rewarded by having the privilege of participating in an event that was a milestone in the history of the Church, and necessary for the salvation of Zion.
The little group realized the seriousness of the occasion. Joseph recorded,"the scene was solemn and impressive" (Times and Seasons 5:450; RLDS History of the Church 1:209). Indeed, they knew that what they were doing was not for themselves and their day alone, but for all the pure in heart in all ages "for an everlasting inheritance" (DC 57:1g).
As mentioned previously, Joseph led them to the spot by cutting away the brush and blazing a tree. This not only marked the place, but also laid claim to the land, for blazing was a custom recognized by the law of the land in that day. Only after that legal act did the dedication ceremony begin.
The dedication service consisted of:
- Joseph pointing out the "spot" for the Temple.
- The blazing of the tree.
- The reading of a Scripture.
- The laying of a stone as a marker.
- A prayer by each elder present.
- The dedication and prayer by Sidney Rigdon.
After Joseph blazed the tree, these words were read from Psalm 87:
His foundation is in the holy mountains. The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God. Selah. I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there. And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her: and the highest himself shall establish her. The Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there. Selah. As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there: all my springs are in thee. (italics added)
Following the Scripture reading, the elders watched the Prophet Joseph Smith place the stone as a marker in the exact spot where the northeast cornerstone of the Temple would one day be. Oliver Cowdery wrote, "Joseph Smith, Junior, laid a stone at the northeast corner, of the contemplated temple in the name of the Lord Jesus of Nazareth."6
In the same account Oliver explained that after Joseph laid the stone, each of the elders present offered a prayer. Oliver wrote, "all present had rendered thanks to the Great Ruler of the universe."
The prayers of these men for God's true Temple, which has not yet been constructed, uttered in a sacred setting, was a great act of faith. The Scriptures say, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). Surely their prayers will yet be answered.
The Lord had directed by revelation that Sidney should do the dedicating. He said, "And let my servant Sidney Rigdon consecrate and dedicate . . . the spot of the temple, unto the Lord" (DC 58:13a). Historians indicate that Brother Sidney was perhaps the Church's greatest orator. Elder Rigdon's dedication of the spot for the Temple consisted of the pronouncement of dedication and must have been most inspiring.
After the ceremony ended, the elders rejoiced concerning what had transpired. One editor commented upon the joy of these early Saints, who began shortly to hold church services at the Temple Site, by saying, "No wonder that as the songs of Zion reverberated through the groves that crowned the hilltops, and echoed through the rocky glens, that this consecrated land grew dear to their hearts." (Journal of History 5:140).
- Newel Knight's Journal (typescript, LDS Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah), p. 16.
- Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt (Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, Utah, 1970), p. 195.
- John Whitmer, The Book of John Whitmer Kept by Commandment (typescript, RLDS Research Library, RLDS Temple, Independence, Missouri), p. 11.
- Newel Knight's Journal, p. 16.
- E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio, 1834), pp. 108-109; Doctrine and Covenants 52:5d.
- Whitmer, The Book of John Whitmer Kept by Commandment, p. 11.
(Vision 21 [October 1995]: 9–12)
Prints of the Dedication of the Temple Site are available in various sizes for purchase at the Restoration Bookstore or from our online store.
For more information about the Temple Lot and the purpose of the future Temple, The Temple of the Lord can be purchased at the Restoration Bookstore or from our online store.