Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Manti Temple 100 years old

in mint condition for centennial
Published: Saturday, May 7, 1988

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Across the rural West are remnants of early settlers - a wagon wheel, a log cabin, a flintlock rifle.

But amid such remnants in this community stands a remarkable pioneer monument - the Manti Temple, which will be 100 years old May 21. Standing on a ridge overlooking the Mormon settlement, the temple is starkly different from its surroundings. The temple towers 179 feet high and is 171 feet long and 95 feet wide. It is built of cut and polished cream-colored stone, taken from beneath the peach-colored bank of earth just behind it.

"We believe that if you take into consideration the small number of people in this area at the time the temple was built, then this is one of the most significant monuments in the Church," said temple president, Alma P. Burton. "We regard the temple as a jeweled crown on the hill."

He said the descendants of the temple builders have been faithful to the legacy they have received, and temple work has moved forward.

"Our main purpose in commemorating the centennial of the temple is to instill in the hearts and minds of members the importance of temple work and the Spirit of Elijah."

Pres. Burton said members of the 28 stakes of the temple district in central and southeastern Utah - which includes some 15,000 recommend holders - are enthusiastic about the events to be held May 21, 100 years to the date after the public dedication. A 375-voice choir will perform in a special general meeting at 2:30 p.m. on the south lawn. Some General Authorities and stake presidents are scheduled to speak at this meeting, which is open to the public. A dance festival, featuring native dances and costumes, and a patriotic program, presented by 2,500 youths in the temple district, will be held that evening.

This year's Manti Miracle Pageant, to be presented July 7-9, 12-16, is also considered part of the commemoration. A General Authority will speak before each performance, at 8 p.m.

To prepare for the centennial, the northern slope of Temple Hill was cleared of brush and debris and planted in grass and pines. A 172-page book on the history of the temple has been produced. About 16,500 copies of the book, titled "The Manti Temple," were sold before it was printed. Members rallied to support the work projects, said Lee R. Barton, centennial committee chairman and recently released Manti stake president.

He said that just the planning of the events has increased members' focus on the temple. "After the events, the impact of the centennial will be much greater throughout the temple district," he declared.

Victor J. Rasmussen, who headed the project to produce the book, recounted the history of the temple. Although the book is published, he continues to collect anecdotes about the temple.

President Heber C. Kimball of the First Presidency prophesied that a temple would be built on the hill above the settlement of Scandinavians, and that material from the temple would be taken from the hill just to the east.

Although the prophecy was widely discussed among the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish immigrants, construction on the temple was not started for some time. In the 1870s, however, eager members built a foundation for a temple that was later used for the Manti Tabernacle.

The tabernacle site, however, was not used, and on April 25, 1877, President Brigham Young dedicated a site on Temple Hill. He charged members to complete it as soon as possible. An unusually talented group of artists and artisans from the nearby counties gathered at the site to fulfill prophecy of a temple. Work began a few days after the site dedication.

Hans Hansen of Manti was plowing when he was notified that his oxen were wanted on Temple Hill to begin work on the site. He drove the oxen to the site and began what became a two-year project of digging and scraping. Eventually the cap of the hill was blasted down to the bedrock. The last blast of 875 pounds of gun powder dislodged 4,600 tons of rock and debris that had to be hauled away and discarded.

For 11 years, members in the temple district sacrificed to build the temple. They were assessed 50 cents a month in cash or commodities. Men walked to the site from surrounding counties and worked day after day to cut stones in the adjacent quarry. The stones were cut during the winter as holes were drilled in the rock, and then filled with water. As the water froze it cracked the stones. During the warmer months the stones were planed, sized and sledded to the temple.

While one man worked at the temple, his neighbor would run two farms. Later, they would trade places. Women sewed clothing for the men who worked on the temple. Some of the men labored until their hands were cracked and bleeding. They dipped their hands in sheep tallow to help healing, wrapped them in rags at night and returned to work the next day.

During the first years, none of the workers were paid, but later they were given cash or commodities. As the masonry work was being completed, carpenters and other craftsmen joined the masons and began the long process of completing the interior.

Most notable inside are the twin self-supporting spiral staircases 76 feet high, created by William Asper and his assistants, including Andreas "Steamboat" Olsen. Olsen's skill in joinery is evident on the railings of the spiral staircases where no joints can be felt, even after 100 years. The 151-step staircases are noted architectural achievements.

The roof structure was built by Olsen, who had learned in his native land of Norway to build sailboats. It is said that he designed the roof as an upside down boat with no sharp angles, but with great strength.

Also inside are paintings by prominent LDS artists C.C.A. Christensen, Dan Weggeland, Minerva Teichert and Martin Linzie.

Through the years, improvements have been constantly made to the temple.

In 1907 steps leading up to the front of the temple, which had been included in the original temple plans, were installed to replace a rope railing. In 1940, the steps were removed in favor of a lawn. Many other changes have been made over the years.

The most serious threat to the temple during its century of existence came when the east tower was struck by lightning in 1928. The fire burned for three hours, although little damage was done. People rushed to connect hoses to douse the fire, but by the time the hoses were threaded up to the temple top, they did not have enough pressure to reach the fire. Water was later pumped up by fire engines to dowse the smoldering flames.

The most significant improvements came in 1982-85 when the temple was renovated. Three new sealing rooms were added and the building was "finished to perfection."

It is now ready, according to temple leaders, to begin its second century.