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Capturing the Beauty of Churches: Historic Chapels of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

As the years have gone by, the architecture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has grown and evolved. We live in a truly blessed time when hundreds of temples dot the Earth, and thousands of meeting houses are found throughout the world that house wards, branches, and even small meeting groups gathering to worship.

However, we sometimes forget the deep history of many early meeting houses. So many of these historic places required members of the Church to gather together to help build their meeting house, pooling not only funds but actual labor to build their houses of worship. With the building being such a community effort, many of the early historic meeting houses have small details and elements that are particular to the sacrifice of the members that built them.

Manti North Ward Chapel, Built 1911. Photo Courtesy of Historic LDS Architecture.

It’s here that the blog Historic LDS Architecture is helping to educate and create an awareness of the beautiful meetinghouses that are found throughout the world. Back in 2010, Bridger, the founder of the blog, was singing in a concert at the Provo Tabernacle, now the Provo City Center Temple. This concert was held before the fire that devastated the historic building would occur, and Bridger recalled “feeling distinctly impressed at the beauty of the building” and that he “had never realized this building existed, much less appreciated the beauty of its fine woodwork and colorful stained glass windows” in a brief conversation we had concerning the blog’s founding.

Midway Ward Meeting House, Photo Courtesy of Historic LDS Architecture.

After returning from his mission, Bridger felt inclined to further research the historic architecture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Initially, Bridger began researching the famous pioneer temples and tabernacles, but as the research continued there began to be more locations to visit and document. Throughout the entire United States and even spots in Canada and Mexico, beautiful and unique buildings built by the faithful members of the Church in that community began to fill the posts of Bridger’s blog.

Wilshire Ward Chapel, Built 1929. Photo Courtesy of Historic LDS Architecture.

Bridger wrote in a brief email regarding one favorite experience in finding these locations:

“My family has been patient with me, because it’s meant that I’ve dragged them around on detours while we are on trips. On one visit to Idaho with a parent and some siblings, I insisted we stop at Brigham City so I could photograph the beautiful stained glass window in the Brigham City Third Ward. After our visit, we climbed back into my car to find that it was dead. My family was stranded at the chapel for 3 hours while I had the car towed and fixed! In later years, my wife has had to put up with long detours, from Cardston (Alberta, Canada) to Los Angeles, just so that I can visit old buildings.”

Stained Glass Window of the Salt Lake Fourteenth Ward Chapel, Built 1910. Photo Courtesy of Historic LDS Architecture.

Additionally, he wrote regarding what inspires to continue to write his blog:

“My favorite part is when the local members learn what I’m doing and show me around. They are proud of these beautiful chapels and tabernacles that give identity to their town. They will tell me about the history, send me old articles and photographs that they found, or point out the window, the painting, or the carving that their ancestor helped build, creating beauty in a wilderness, building Zion in the desert. I have had sacrament meeting in a cavernous chapel in California with a large stained glass window of Christ at the front, knocking on the door. I have sat in on Sunday School in a chapel near Salt Lake City that has a wood carving of Joseph Smith praying in the Sacred Grove, with a light shining upon his face. I have stood in awe at the base of the open spiral staircases in the Manti Temple, looking up into the tower that pioneers so carefully built. In those moments, the architecture becomes part of the gospel message. People tend to think the LDS Church has very little unique architecture, but I hope to change that perception with my blog.”

Weston Idaho Chapel, Built 1951. Photo Courtesy of Historic LDS Architecture.

As Bridger’s blog has continued to grow, there are a variety of Instagram accounts that have begun to pop up on the site that are feature individuals documenting their own appreciation of historic church buildings as they make their trips along the United States. Many members of the Church are beginning to find more historic locations that tell of the rich history of our meeting houses. Each one is a sacred place where so many lives can be blessed and strengthened, and we can learn more about our loving Father in Heaven and His son Jesus Christ. When the Church was in its earlier years, members made great sacrifices to build their place of worship, and there was a sense of community felt within each of the beautiful buildings. Bridger’s blog helps to capture that feeling of community we experience as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He concluded in his email:

“I didn’t anticipate the blog going as long as it has, or becoming as popular as it has. When I started the blog, I was a college student; I have long since graduated, married, had a child, and pursued my own professional career. But I keep finding time to visit the small, hidden gems around me. It’s almost like a second calling, and when I visit a small chapel and find some old stained glass, or original pews, or bricks laid by the members themselves, it feels like the building speaks to me, thanks me for coming, asks me to remember this, to tell others. And so I do.”

Provo Fifth and Eighth Wards Meeting House, Photo Courtesy of Historic LDS Architecture.

Click here to view Historic LDS Architecture and read more about the beautiful historic meeting houses that have been documented.

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About Devin Justesen

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Devin is a graduate of Brigham Young University where he studied English and Business Management. He is a writer, photographer, movie-fanatic, and a lover of street tacos. He served his mission in Tokyo, Japan.
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