Salt Lake Temple Foundation Stones

The following is a story about the Salt Lake Temple foundation stones told by Boyd K. Packer. While the southeast cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple has symbolic significance, in this story Elder Packer relates why the foundation stones had to be replaced and why these stones may have been changed in anticipation of a future cataclysmic event.

It was on the twenty-third anniversary of the organization of the Church, 6 April 1853, that the cornerstone was put in place and the construction officially began.

It would be years before the railroad would cross the Rocky Mountains from the east and the Sierras from the west to meet at a point north of the Great Salt Lake. For years ox teams had been dragging granite stones from the mountains twenty miles to the southeast.

Granite slabs for Salt Lake Temple “‘Good morning, Brother,’ one man was heard to say to a teamster. ‘We missed you at the meetings yesterday afternoon.’ ‘Yes,’ said the driver of the oxen, ‘I did not attend meeting. I did not have clothes fit to go to meeting.’ ‘Well,’ said the speaker, ‘Brother Brigham called for some more men and teams to haul granite blocks for the Temple.’

“The driver, his whip thrown over his oxen, said, ‘Whoa, Haw, Buck, we shall go and get another granite stone from the quarry.’”1

At the quarry President Woodruff had watched men cut out granite stones seventy feet square and split them up into building blocks.2 If there was no mishap, and that would be an exception, the teamster, “too poorly clad to worship,” could return within a week.3

In due time the railroad came south and a spur was run to the quarry and to Temple Square. Then the stones could reach Temple Square in one day. The canal being dug to convey the granite stones to Temple Square would thereafter be used to carry irrigation water.

On Temple Square the stones were shaped into blocks for the walls, for oval windows and treads. For the four circular staircases which rise up through the corner towers, six hundred eighty-eight steps, all of them exactly alike—each of them weighing over 1,700 pounds, each taking weeks to chisel out and polish.

Symbols are chiseled on the granite stones which depict the sun, the stars, the planets, and the earth. To be sure that the stones representing the phases of the moon were accurate, Elder Orson Pratt, a competent astronomer, set up an observatory on temple block. He could open the slats in the roof to study the heavens with a three-inch lens.

The symbolism is not mysterious. The clouds with rays of sunlight shining through are immortalized in Elder Parley P. Pratt’s great anthem: “The morning breaks, the shadows flee; Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled! The dawning of a brighter day … Majestic rises on the world.”4

The Big Dipper, with the pointers ranging to the North Star, means that the lost may find their way by the aid of the priesthood.

The east towers represent the Melchizedek Priesthood and the west towers the Aaronic Priesthood.

These and all the other symbols were carefully drafted by the architect, Truman O. Angell, under the watchful eye of President Brigham Young.5

Granite_for_temple That wicked spirit which had inspired Governor Boggs of Missouri to issue the extermination order against the Saints in 1838 broods forever over the work of the Lord. President Brigham Young had predicted: “We never began to build a temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring.” He added: “I want to hear them ring again. All the tribes of hell will be on the move, if we uncover the walls of this temple.”6 President Young had said when they entered the Valley: “If they let us alone ten years we would ask no odds of them.”7 Ten years to the day after they entered the valley, the pioneers were celebrating the 24th of July in the canyons when a messenger arrived with word that Johnson’s army was marching west to settle the “Mormon question.” Colonel Thomas Kane came to mediate.

President Young told him: “[We] have been driven from place to place; … we have been scattered and peeled. … We have transgressed no law, … neither do we intend to; but as for any nation’s coming to destroy this people, God Almighty being my helper, they cannot come here.”8

It was Colonel Kane who worked out the agreement under which the army was permitted to enter the valley and move through the city to a place beyond.

The First Presidency ordered the settlements evacuated and the Saints to move south. Every evidence of construction was cleared away from Temple Square. All the stones were hidden. The foundation, which, after seven years’ work, was now nearing ground level, was covered over and the block was plowed. It looked then like a field ready to plant.

After peace was established and work could resume, the dirt was removed from the foundation of the temple, which at places was thirty-two feet deep. They found a crack or two running from the foundation stones down to the large rubble stones which formed the footings. A decision must be made! President Young refused to make it without revealed instruction. After seeking counsel from those around him and through that spirit of revelation which was constant with him, he ordered the foundations torn out and replaced.

Since human nature has not changed, one can imagine that there were murmurings. “If he is a prophet, why could not he have gotten that revelation a year ago, or five years ago? Now all that work is wasted.” Not so! President Young said: “When the Temple is built I want it to stand through the millennium, in connection with many others that will yet be built.”9 Someone asked Brigham Young once if they would ever live to see the temple completed. He responded: “I do not know. . . . This I do know: There should be a temple built here.”10

Salt Lake Temple under construction They counted on the principle of the arch on each window distributing the immense weight of the stone above it. When the foundation was replaced with shaped granite stones, sixteen large inverted arches were built into it. There is no record as to why they decided to do that. That manner of construction was then unknown in this country.

If someday perchance there be a massive force wanting to lift the temple from beneath, the arches may well act to distribute the pressure.11

The Wasatch Front – where the Salt Lake Temple is located – contains a number of active and “blind faults”.12


  1. David O. McKay, Salt Lake Temple dedication services, 21 May 1963, pp. 7–8.
  2. Journal of Wilford Woodruff, 4 July 1889, Church Archives.
  3. David O. McKay, Salt Lake Temple dedication services, 21 May 1963, pp. 7–8.
  4. Hymns, 1985, no. 1.
  5. Truman O. Angell, “The Salt Lake City Temple,” Millennial Star, vol. 36, no. 18 (5 May 1874):274–75.
  6. Discourses of Brigham Young, comp. John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977), p. 410.
  7. Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 107.
  8. Journal of Discourses, 5:226.
  9. Journal of Discourses, 11:372.
  10. Contributor, vol. 14, no. 6 (Apr. 1893): 257.
  11. The entire story is from Packer, Boyd K. “A Temple to Exalt”. August 1993. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 25 July 2009.
  12. University of Utah Earthquake Education Services. 28 July 2009.

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  1. Rebecca’s avatar

    Thanks for posting this–it came in handy for some research I am conducting.

  2. Greg’s avatar

    You’re welcome Rebecca. Best of luck.

  3. DeAnna DeBry’s avatar

    Greg, I enjoyed your article, and wanted to know where you got your picture for the nearly-completed temple. I’d like to have a copy.

  4. ERIC’s avatar

    Read my blog, googling Spencer and Visions of Glory. You may well have your answer as to why those stones were arched…..

  5. Greg’s avatar

    Thanks Eric! Finished reading Visions of Glory last weekend.

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