The Temple District of Nauvoo — the area near and inclusive of the Nauvoo Temple, which was first completed in 1846 and rebuilt in 2002 — was dedicated on Saturday, May 29, 2021, by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (to view the broadcast of the dedication click here). This renovated portion of Historic Nauvoo in Illinois is now available for in-person and virtual tours.
The history of the early Church in Nauvoo comprises seven brief but seminal years (1839–1846) for the development of the faith’s temple-related doctrines, including the introduction of baptism for deceased ancestors and other temple ceremonies, the idea that family relationships can be eternal, and the sacrifice-saturated construction of the Nauvoo Temple.
“The sacrifices that were made to build this temple are among our greatest historical heritages,” Elder Cook said at the dedicatory ceremony. “I treasure the sacrifices and dedication of our faithful early members who worked closely with the Prophet Joseph Smith. Despite poverty and other challenges, it is inspiring to contemplate what they accomplished.”
In his dedicatory prayer, the Apostle pled that God “bless this entire district to be a place of serenity where Thy Spirit may dwell. May it forever stand as a memorial to those who built the temple and evoke feelings of awe and reverence for the Savior Jesus Christ and His restored gospel in all visitors to Nauvoo.” Elder Cook continued, “We pray that those who visit this site may feel the significance of the temple and be inspired to come to the house of the Lord.”
For Latter-day Saints today, the main message from Historic Nauvoo should be the temple and its teachings, said Church Historic Sites Director Jenny Lund. “It is the revelation of temple ordinances and purposes and temple building that is so impactful in the lives of Saints today, all around the world.”
Lund said the renovation of the Historic Nauvoo Temple District is a follow-up to the reconstruction of the Nauvoo Temple in 2002.
“With that magnificent building on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, it became really clear [after 2002] that there was an important message missing in Historic Nauvoo — and that was, ‘Why is this building here, and why did these people construct it [in the 1840s]?’” Lund said.
In 2014, the Church created a 25-year plan to improve the historic site’s core messages, historical landscapes, authenticity and guest experience by 2039 — the bicentennial of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo. The completion of the Temple District is the first phase of that plan.
In their remarks Saturday, Elder Cook and Church Historian and Recorder Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. spoke in detail about the features of the updated Temple District. These include three restored homes (the Weeks, Gheen and Hyde homes), one rebuilt home (the Hunter home), a new exhibit about the art of cutting stone for the original Nauvoo Temple, a revitalized West Grove and a wayside marker that honors a poem written by Eliza R. Snow while she lived in the Temple District in 1845. The Nauvoo Visitors’ Center also features a new exhibit about the temple. Another home — that of Orson and Marinda Hyde — was also rebuilt and included in Elder Cook’s dedicatory prayer, though it is not part of the Temple District.
For Lund, the completion of the Nauvoo Temple District is a crowning career event “because of the impact this place can have.” Hundreds of thousands of people will visit Historic Nauvoo over a decade, both in person and through online virtual tours. The messages from Historic Nauvoo “get at the heart of what it really is to be a Latter-day Saint,” she said. “I don’t think Latter-day Saints realize the origins of the temple ordinances that we participate in. I think they think about it as, ‘Well, yes, that was probably Nauvoo.’ But to be able to understand the stories behind that and understand the significance of that meaning will be critical for people.”
Olsen expressed gratitude for the opportunity to “historical and spiritual heavenly and earthly, human and divine sensitivities and imperatives in this particular setting. It’s a Latter-day Saint version of those lofty notions, but it is a compelling offering that we offer not only to Latter-day Saints who may not fully understand these truths, but to all people to reflect on their own sense of spirituality and their own sense of an identity that transcends mortality. Working on this project has reinforced that notion to me as much as or more than any other project that I’ve worked on in my 40-year career.”
“We are thankful,” Elder Cook said in the dedicatory prayer, “for holy sites where important events occurred in restoring Thy Church and the fulness of Thy Gospel, where we can commemorate and experience the legacy and sacrifice of those who went before. These historic sites serve as material witnesses of the blessings and interactions of Thee with Thy children. They help us remember. They provide moral courage and spiritual strength to those who visit and learn stories of how the early Saints overcame adversity and sacrificed so much to build temples.”
Aside from the Temple District, Historic Nauvoo also features tours on the homes of the early Apostles, main street and the trades in Nauvoo, and the exodus west of the Saints. Visit NauvooHistoricSites.org to schedule an in-person or virtual tour today in Historic Nauvoo.