Temples in the Tops of the Mountains

Temples in the Tops of the Mountains: Sacred Houses of the Lord in Utah by Richard O. Cowan and Clinton D. Christensen (BYU RSC and Deseret Book Company, 2023) helped me solve a long-time mystery about my life. You see, when I was six years old, I went to the Vernal, Utah Temple open house. For some reason, I walked away believing that there was only one temple baptismal font for the whole church that they just moved between temples. I even told my Primary that is what I learned at the open house when they asked me about it. Obviously, that’s not the case—each temple has its own baptismal font (and the book also informed me that there are some temples that will soon have two baptismal fonts)—but I have always wondered what led me to that conclusion. 

For years, I’ve just assumed that my young brain made it up entirely. Temples in the Tops of the Mountains, however, gave me a missing clue. The book thoroughly examined the origin, construction, and life of each of the temples built in Utah and as a part of that, it discussed how the exterior shroud and supporting oxen used with the baptismal font at the Vernal Temple were originally part of an exhibit at a visitor center at Temple Square that were then moved to the Vernal Temple when the exhibit was changed in Salt Lake City. Thus, I likely heard that as part of the open house and assumed that they had moved them from the Salt Lake Temple and extrapolated from there.

In any case, I loved Temples in the Tops of the Mountains. It is designed as a coffee table book (or whatever the Latter-day Saint equivalent would be—soda pop table book?), but it is very well-researched and informative. It draws together earlier scholarly work on the temples, including books like All That Was Promised: St George Temple and the Unfolding of the Restoration, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, Temples to Dot the Earth, and The First 100 Temples but adds to them with what seems to be very open access to the records in the Church History Library (including the histories of the more recent temples that were kept during their construction). Throughout, pictures and diagrams share what the temples looked like throughout their histories, events related to the temples, general layouts of the temples, etc. It makes for a very appealing book—both for visual appearance and for the scholarship contained therein. 

One of the downsides of publishing on the history of temples in Utah is that we keep building them. For example, even since the time that the book was published less than a year ago, the following relevant events have occurred:

  • Saratoga Springs Temple, Orem Utah Temple and Red Cliffs Utah Temple have been dedicated and are now in use
  • St. George Temple and Manti Temple finished renovations and were rededicated
  • West Jordan Temple and Lehi Temple were announced at April 2024 general conference
  • Layton Temple and Taylorsville Temple have held or are currently holding open houses and are preparing for dedication in the near future

Thus, it is already out of date. That’s of no fault of the authors and does not detract from the value of the book’s contributions to recording and publishing temple history, but is something of which to be aware.

Asides from the insight into the Vernal Temple, the book added some interesting trivia to my quiver of information. For example, it gave more information about things like:

  • The decision to do away with Angel Moroni on most new temples in connection with the Deseret Peak Temple in Tooele:
    • “It was the first of a long series of temples planned without the statue of Moroni. This change came at a time of greater emphasis on the Savior,” including the emphasis on the name of the Church and the new logo for the Church (p. 322).
  • As part of the forthcoming visitor center at Temple Square, they will have replicas of ordinance rooms to function as an ongoing open house.
  • The book clarified that the Manti Temple site was not dedicated by Moroni:
    • “Diligent research by the Church History Department has not turned up any contemporary reference to Moroni by any Church leaders who spoke at the groundbreaking, cornerstone ceremony, or dedication. On the contrary, their remarks point to President Young as the one who chose the site” (p. 56)
  • On the other hand, it also mentioned that Brigham Young claimed that the St. George Temple site was dedicated by Nephites:
    • “We cannot move the foundation. This spot was dedicated by the Nephites” (p. 29). 
  • Speaking of myth busting, it also pointed out that it is unlikely that the Provo and Ogden Temples were intended to represent the cloud of smoke by day and pillar of fire by night:
    • “Fred Baker, who worked closely with Emil Fetzer in designing the temple, recalled, ‘We didn’t have any symbolism in mind. … The truth is that we were so focused on what happened inside the temple, it never entered our mind’ that there should be any symbolism outside” (p. 118).

All told, I am a fan of Temples in the Tops of the Mountains: Sacred Houses of the Lord in Utah by Richard O. Cowan and Clinton D. Christensen. As a Latter-day Saint growing up in Utah with an interest in temples, the book brought back a lot of memories of visiting many of the different temples in the state while deepening my understanding and appreciation of these monumental buildings. And, on a more personal note, I am satisfied with its coverage of the history of the Ogden Temple, which is something I have long dreamed of having in a book form at this level of detail.

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