The Construction of the Manti Temple

Nani Bendixen, “The Construction of the Manti Temple,” in BYU Religious Education 2009 Student Symposium (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 135–147.

The Construction of the Manti Temple

Nani Bendixen

Nani Bendixen is a senior in English language.

The Manti Temple lies in Sanpete County on a little green hill in the middle of the state of Utah. Most of the immigrants who settled in Sanpete County came from Scandinavia. Almost as soon as they arrived in Salt Lake City, they were instructed to continue their journeys to rather remote settlements such as Manti. The following story, told by an eighteen-year-old girl, illustrates this:

Our company arrived at the church corral in Salt Lake City late one stormy day in November, 1860. Excitement and confusion prevailed while the immigrants pulled and lifted belongings from the wagons. Since it was my turn to prepare supper, I hurriedly built a fire and filled our charred kettle with water. As usual, the meal was “black pot mush” which was a mixture of flour, salt, and water. While tending the fire, I noticed a tall, gaunt, long haired stranger [this was Porter Rockwell] sitting on a pole fence nearby. He was chewing tobacco, that’s what he was. I’m sure of that, because he was spitting the vile stuff in my fire. All at once he got down off the fence, mounted a mule, and galloped away to town. In about an hour when we were finishing our supper, he returned, climbed the fence, and shouted, “All you Danes and Swedes have got to go south to Sanpete. Brigham said so!” This stranger’s blunt command served as my brief introduction to the land of the Saints.[1]


President Brigham Young had no doubts about the necessity of a temple for those Scandinavian Saints. “Go to work and build a Temple in Sanpete,” he told them. “As soon as you are ready to commence, I will provide the plan. The ground is already selected. We do not ask whether you are able to do this; but ask yourselves if you have faith sufficient to do it, for we know that you are perfectly able to do it if you are willing, and do it inside of three years from next April.”[2] It would take more than three years, but the people had faith, and the long-foreseen temple was built.

President Heber C. Kimball prophesied concerning the exact spot on which the temple would be constructed. It would be on the “hill,” he declared, and building materials would be taken from the hill to the east.[3]

Some who were not Apostles were also privileged with visions of the temple, years before construction of it began. The daughter of Lewis Anderson shares the following account:

Once when father was fifteen years old, he rode a load of wood on its way to Moroni. The horses became frightened on a hill and the load of wood was knocked to the ground. . . . He had broken his collar bone, arm, a leg in two places, ribs, and a finger. . . . Father had to lie in bed at home for weeks for all those bones to knit. . . . Father was afraid he would always be crippled and a burden to [his parents]. One day when he was feeling very depressed, a picture came before him. It was a picture of a building. He said it looked as though someone was holding it, but he could not see any hands. It stayed long enough for him to study it. He remembered all the details of the outside of the building. And he didn’t have any idea what the building was, because he had never seen a building or picture like it before. Well, it just disappeared, faded away.

Father got well, grew up, married, and went on two missions to the Northern States. When he came home from his last mission, the Temple was ready for dedication. He hadn’t seen it during construction. . . . When he got to the south side of Ephraim, . . . he saw the Temple. The vision he had long ago all came back to him. He exclaimed, “There is the building I saw when I was a boy!” . . . Later he served twenty-seven years as president of the Temple.[4]

The Saints in Sanpete County had had some disagreements about where the temple should be located, but Church leaders had no doubts. On April 25, 1877, President Young took Warren Snow up on the southeast corner of that little hill in Manti and said, “Here is the spot where the Prophet Moroni stood and dedicated this piece of land for a Temple site, and that is the reason why the location is made here, and we can’t move it from this spot; and if you and I are the only persons that come here at high noon today, we will dedicate this ground.”[5]


It took two long years to prepare the ground for the foundation of the temple. The little gray hill on which the temple was to stand was solid rock; consequently, it was quite a challenge for the Saints to dig their way through it. The workers tunneled twenty to thirty feet into the hill and then dug ten-foot wings at the end, forming a T. They subsequently deposited several hundred pounds of gunpowder in the tunnel, causing an explosion that dislodged twenty-five hundred tons of rock, dirt, and trees that had to be moved away.[6] Some of the rock that was blown out for the foundation can still be seen in Manti today, because many of the settlers used it to build their houses.[7] This “explosion in a tunnel” process was repeated numerous times, and the work progressed rather quickly. The most time-consuming part of the procedure was removing all the debris. When that was done, the ground was ready for laying the cornerstones and the foundation. These were “built of a buff colored white limestone, quarried from near warm springs about a mile south of Manti.”[8]


With the foundation completed, construction of the temple walls began. Considering the rudimentary tools they had to use back then, the rockwork of the walls is incredible. Some say that it would be difficult to duplicate, even with today’s technology. It is so flat that a person can actually look down the wall and tell if there is a fly on it. Many workers joked that all they used in construction was a “spirit level.”[9]

The immigrants found or made the necessary materials for building very near the site of the temple itself. It was built of white oolite stone from the mountains east of the temple and from a quarry owned by the Parry brothers that was northeast of Ephraim.[10] Victor Rassmussen writes: “The lime for the mortar was obtained by burning lime rock from the hills west of the valley. The sand for the mortar was obtained by crushing limestone quarried from the hill east of the temple. The burning and the crushing of the limestone, as well as much of the carpentry work, were done in a building located at the southwest of the temple hill.”[11]

The quality of the stone the Saints chose to use for the temple was very high. A well-known story recalls Edward Parry, the master mason, seeing one of the stoneworkers about to place a cracked stone on the building. “I will put the crack on the inside. No one will know it is there,” said the stone layer. “That is not quite right!” replied Brother Parry. “You will know it, I will know it, and the Lord will know it. Now remove the stone and replace it with one without flaws!”[12]

On another occasion, Edward Parry awoke in the morning to find that his mules were missing. Parry was in the habit of taking these two mules to the temple every day to assist in the construction work, hoisting rocks to different levels of the building. After anxiously searching all around, he finally walked to the temple site without them. When he arrived, his two mules were there, already in place, ready to be hitched up for the day’s work.[13]


All of the wood for the temple, except for that used in the staircases, came from locations very near the temple. Manti boasted four sawmills. A site just northwest of the city, known as Devil’s Kitchen, grew timber so straight that the settlers were able to cut poles sixty to seventy-five feet long, which they used for the scaffolding.[14]

The Scandinavian background of the workers was obvious in the construction techniques they used. In one part of the temple, a Norwegian boat builder was in charge of designing the ceiling. He had never built a large building before and was not sure how to go about it, so he simply used the design of a boat and turned it upside down.[15]

The most amazing architecture in the Manti Temple lies in the two circular stairways in the western towers, which wind upward 151 steps. Having no central support, the stairways are two of only three like them in the United States (the other in the Octagon in Washington DC).[16] Standing at the top of the stairs and looking down is like looking into a large well, six stories deep.[17] Not only is the support system of the stairs unique, but so are the railings, spindles, and paneling. Many have commented that the joints on the black walnut railings are so smooth that they cannot be felt.[18] Over five hundred baluster posts for the stairs were turned on the same lathe, with four stamped, walnut medallions glued to each.[19] Another challenge was met in bending the panels just the right way. The distance between each floor is not the same; thus a different incline is maintained. This means that a new mold was required for each level to accommodate the curves of the panels; just one pattern would not suffice.[20]

In the eleven years that the temple was being built, no one died of injuries incurred while working on it. Edward Parry had a memorable experience while the temple was under construction. One night, he was awakened by a very realistic dream. In it, he saw a man fall from the temple scaffolding to his death. Frightened, Parry awoke and went immediately to the temple site. Searching the scaffolding closely, he found a place where one of the ropes had worked itself loose. If the loose rope went unheeded, someone would certainly be injured as a result. Parry quickly fixed the problem and then returned home, sleeping peacefully the rest of the night.[21]

Interior Decoration

When the main structure of the building was complete, work moved to decorating the inside. The Saints took great care in the details of everything. One unique feature of the Manti Temple is the carpet in the celestial room, which contains twenty-seven different colors all woven together.[22] Also of note is the symbolic hardware, which contains writing and symbols in both Arabic and ancient Egyptian. John Patrick Reid specialized in designing the door catches, hinges, and knobs. His grandson, Hugh W. Nibley, described the designs on them. The following is his analysis of just one small artifact within the Manti Temple.

A circle is surrounded by botanical motifs and is circled by small rings. One of these rings instead of a simple circle or ring is an Ankh, or Crux Anasta, the best known of all ancient symbols, as it stands for life. (In the usual salutary title placed after the names of initiates, Ankh, Djed, Seneb, the Ankh symbol represents an umbilical cord and the three words mean health to the naval and marrow to the bones and strength, often in the royal tombs the last of the three is the Was-symbol which means, according to Gardnier, “power in the Priesthood.”) In this drawing the Ankh sign is at the top of the circle. A quarter of the way around, right next to the hole for the screw is the Egyptian Hetep symbol meaning peace and salvation. On the opposite side of the circle from the Ankh sign is the Shen sign, the personal seal and sign for eternity, one everlasting round.[23]


Many aspects of the Manti Temple are unlike any of the other temples in existence. It used to be said that “the Manti Temple is the only temple you can go through without a recommend.” At one time, there was a large tunnel constructed under the east tower, and a person could actually come from either the south or the north and drive past both temple walls, thus going “through” the temple. However, the tunnel has since been closed.[24]

The temple’s water source is noteworthy. Originally, all the water came from a small spring located within a mile of the temple. President Young had purchased it from William K. Barton in 1870. It has been observed that, through the years, as the need for water has increased, the spring’s production has also miraculously increased. In 1981, the Church connected into the city water system to provide for the needs of the kitchen, but it still relies on the little spring to provide all the irrigation for the landscape.[25]


On the afternoon of April 25, 1877, Brigham Young dedicated the site for the Manti Temple. The cornerstones were each separately dedicated on April 14, 1879. The temple building itself was dedicated by Apostle Lorenzo Snow on May 21, 1888. In all the dedication prayers, many requests were made in great detail. In the temple dedicatory prayer, the ground, hill, steps, terraces, trees, shrubbery, and pathways were all mentioned specifically. So were the various rooms with all of their furnishings, including the chairs, altars, desks, stands, windows, doors, and curtains; the various courts, the floors, ceilings, roof, partitions, stairs, and ornamentations; the ventilating, warming, and lighting fixtures were all dedicated to God. And all of the people who would serve in the temple were blessed in their specific callings and duties.[26] Unquestionably, the Spirit was present as the Saints prayed together that day, making known their specific needs as well as the blessings which God desired to pour out on their heads.

During the temple dedication services, there were several spectacular spiritual manifestations. Former prophets and apostles who had already passed on were present for that sacred occasion. When Brother John W. Taylor, was speaking, “a bright halo surrounded him, in which the personages of President Brigham Young, John Taylor, and a third personage whom [some] believed to be the Prophet Joseph, were seen.” Brother Jedediah M. Grant was also seen standing next to his son, Heber J. Grant.[27] Brother Smyth was playing a selection from Mendelssohn on the organ when “a number of the Saints in the body of the hall and some of the brethren in the west stand heard most heavenly voices singing. It sounded to them as angelic, and appeared to be behind and above them, and many turned their heads in that direction wondering if there were not another choir in some other part of the building. There was no other choir.”[28]


Throughout the years, there have been many improvements made on Temple Hill. For instance, the rock surface of the temple had never been cleaned, but in the 1890s smoke from the furnace at the north end of the annex was discoloring the building. Thus, one of the first improvements was the construction of a new smokestack with a flue taking the smoke from the basement of the annex out to the hill on the east side of the temple.[29] Other improvements included extending the annex twenty-five feet to the north for a new entrance into the temple, remodeling the kitchen and cafeteria, enlarging the linen room, adding a nursery (all in 1956), and remodeling the baptismal area, with additional dressing rooms, and lockers (1958).[30] The first Hammond Organ was brought in during 1942, serving until 1978, when a new Conn Organ replaced it.[31] On the morning of August 26, 1928, a frightful event occurred: lightning struck the east tower. Despite the dangerous circumstances, little damage was done. Many people said “it was the slowest burning fire they had ever seen.” This heart-stopping episode encouraged the installation of a lightning rod soon after.[32]

There have been many improvements to the temple grounds as well. In 1906 the huge terrace walls were torn down. That was followed by much grading of the land, resulting in a beautifully sloped hill. An immense cement stairway was built on the west side in 1907, only to be removed in 1940. In its place, more lawn was planted. [33] In 1912 new boilers were installed.[34] A 250,000-gallon cement reservoir was constructed in 1949, providing an “up-to-date water system.”[35] The first floodlights were installed in 1935,[36] followed by a new floodlighting system in 1954.[37] New cement curbing and asphalt were added to the road west and south of the temple (1955).[38] Evergreen shrubs were planted in the parking lots (1958), and new metal gates were installed at the north, west, and south entrances (1960). The added lawn called for a new sprinkler system, which was completed in 1971.[39]

In preparation for its centennial anniversary, the Manti Temple was extensively renovated. Thus from 1981 to 1985, many major projects were completed, including building a two-story addition east of the annex, extending the annex north for a larger foyer, and redoing the entrance to match the stonework in the rest of the building. A separate entrance to the baptistry was made on the south side, and four new sealing rooms were constructed. An automatic fire sprinkling system was installed, and the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, heating, and cooling systems were replaced. The temple sewer system was tied into the city’s sewer system, and rainwater damage in the priesthood room was repaired. To top everything off, the entire roof of the temple was replaced.[40] The Manti Temple is now more beautiful and convenient than ever.


The Saints in Sanpete County gave their all to build this temple because they knew how much it would bless their lives, both now and in the hereafter. It is only within the walls of a holy temple that couples can be sealed for eternity, endowments can be received, and proxy work for deceased ancestors can be performed. Former temple president Anthon H. Lund related this account of an experience had by one member in relation to the sacred work performed in the temple:

I remember one day in the temple at Manti, a brother from Mount Pleasant rode down to the temple to take part in the work, and as he passed the cemetery in Ephraim, he looked ahead (it was early in the morning), and there was a large multitude all dressed in white, and he wondered how that could be. Why should there be so many up here; it was too early for a funeral, he thought; but he drove up and several of them stepped out in front of him and they talked to him. They said,

“Are you going to the temple?”


“Well, these that you see here are your relatives and they want you to do work for them.”

“Yes,” he said, “but I am going down today to finish my work. I have no more names and I do not know the names of those whom you say are related to me. But when you go down to the temple today you will find there are records that give our names.” He was surprised. He looked until they all disappeared, and drove on. As he came into the temple, Recorder Farnsworth came up to him and said, “I have just received records from England and they all belong to you.” And there were hundreds of names that had just arrived, and what was told him by these persons that he saw was fulfilled. You can imagine what joy came to his heart, and what a testimony it was to him that the Lord wants this work done.[41]

The “Jeweled Crown”[42] of Manti took eleven years of hard work and dedication to build, but the joy the Saints received from serving inside its walls far outweighed the costs of putting those walls in place.


[1] Barbara Lee Hargis, “A Folk History of the Manti Temple: A Study of the Folklore and Traditions Connected with the Settlement of Manti, Utah, and the Building of the Temple” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1968), 36.

[2] Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1877), 18:262–63.

[3] Victor J. Rasmussen, The Manti Temple (Provo, UT: Community Press, 1988), 1.

[4] Hargis, “A Folk History of the Manti Temple,” 53–54.

[5] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 3.

[6] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 7.

[7] Dennis Lyman, History at Temple Hill: Manti, VHS (Sandy, UT: Temple Hill Video, 2003).

[8] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 23.

[9] Thomas Weston Welch, “Early Mormon Woodworking at Its Best: A Study of the Craftsmanship in the First Temples of Utah,” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1983), 42.

[10] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 23.

[11] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 20.

[12] History at Temple Hill: Manti.

[13] History at Temple Hill: Manti.

[14] Welch, “Early Mormon Woodworking at Its Best,” 41.

[15] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 28.

[16] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 104.

[17] History at Temple Hill: Manti.

[18] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 104.

[19] Welch, “Early Mormon Woodworking at its Best,” 64–66.

[20] Welch, “Early Mormon Woodworking at its Best,” 81–82.

[21] Chad S. Hawkins, Holy Places: True Stories of Faith and Miracles from Latter-day Temples (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 121.

[22] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 33.

[23] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 33–34.

[24] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 41.

[25] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 43–44.

[26] N. B. Lundwall, comp., Temples of the Most High (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 103–112.

[27] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 56–57.

[28] Lundwall, Temples of the Most High, 116.

[29] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 59.

[30] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 70–73.

[31] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 62.

[32] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 66–67.

[33] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 59–62.

[34] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 62.

[35] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 70.

[36] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 68.

[37] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 70.

[38] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 70.

[39] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 73.

[40] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, 77–79.

[41] Lundwall, Temples of the Most High, 120.

[42] Rasmussen, Manti Temple, v.