On Dec. 17, 2015, exactly five years after the Provo Tabernacle burned to ashes, the Provo City Center Temple construction was completed, a tribute to not only the legacy of the historic structure itself, but also to the pioneers who settled Utah Valley more than 150 years ago.
The new temple is filled and covered with intricate details, from columbines and lotuses to pioneer motifs.
“Our pioneer ancestors are very much a part of this temple by way of the design elements,” said Elder Larry Wilson of the Quorum of the Seventy on Monday as media toured the new temple.
From the ground up
One of the unique difficulties contractors and architects faced with the new temple was the already existing shell of the old tabernacle. This constrained builders to how large the temple could be. Since they couldn’t build out, the temple was instead built down.
“It’s quite unique in terms of how much of it is underground,” Wilson said.
About 53,000 square feet of the temple is below street level. The baptistry is traditionally underground. However, the font in the Provo City Center Temple, which sits upon 12 bronze oxen, is in an oval shape, a very non-traditional shape for temple fonts, which are typically circular.
Details in the fine mahogany and walnut wood at the base level are simplistic. Circles, lines and other basic geometric shapes are about as unique as the architecture gets in the lower floors of the temple, excluding the bride's and the groom's rooms. But as one scales the ornate 42 steps to the chapel and the ordinance rooms, the details become more lavish and the shapes more symbolic.
Exit signs that were once painted black are dressed in gold on the top floor. Staircases that had simple bevels and architecture give way to columbines, lotuses and other ornate features carved into the walnut and mahogany.
And in the celestial room, seven chandeliers, including a massive one in the center, hang overhead, adding to the beauty of the apex of the temple.
“There’s a little bit of a sense of rising heavenward,” Wilson said.
Columbines and lotuses
As the nearby Payson Utah Temple was adorned in apple blossom designs and motifs, so is the Provo City Center Temple adorned in columbines and lotuses. Columbines commonly grow in Utah Valley; some were even found planted on the temple grounds.
In the bride’s room in the basement, an entire stained-glass window, covered in columbine décor, is fixed in the ceiling, offering skylight to eager brides preparing for marriage. Carpet throughout the basement and throughout the entire temple is covered in columbines as if the patrons are stepping through the valley meadows. And the iconic flower is found etched into doorknobs, benches, wallpaper and even door hinges. The molding on most of the walls is patterned with columbines and lotus flowers.
Lotuses are common in many forms of architecture, especially the Gothic architecture on which the temple is based. Though lotuses aren’t the main feature of the temple decoration, they still make their appearance in upholstery, the 30-foot ceilings and many other subtle spots of the temple.
The tabernacle construction was completed in 1898 by Utah Valley settlers and pioneers. In the spirit of that ancestry and history, much of the temple architecture, décor and design elements are based on what would have been typical in the late 1800s.
Patrons may feel as if they’ve stepped back in time as they see lamps patterned after old oil lanterns. The seating in the new temple ordinance rooms, which seat 96 patrons, is a rarity in that it is benches, as opposed to individual seats. According to Wilson, this choice of seating is only seen in one other temple: the Laie Hawaii Temple.
Gothic arches like those in cathedrals and other period architecture are seen throughout the temple. Wilson said no other temple is designed in such a way.
“I’m trying to think of any other temple where we have Gothic arches, and I can’t think of any,” Wilson said.
Even the font and type of the exit signs are reminiscent of those in the 1800s one might see in a saloon or a tabloid of the time.
Wilson said newer temples more frequently feature artwork and paintings depicting local scenes and environments. Overall, there are 19 pieces of original art in the new temple, not including murals in two of the ordinance rooms, which are also original.
Paintings of local scenes, such as elk, Utah Lake and the fields in the southern part of Utah County, are seen throughout the temple as patrons eventually make their way to the ordinance rooms.
In the chapel, before patrons enter ordinance rooms, two wall-size murals are on either side of the patron benches, both from the temple in Cardston, Alberta. The style of the murals is vastly different from other artwork, though Wilson said the style is very similar to artwork made in the pioneer-era when the tabernacle was first built.
In the ordinance rooms, visitors are greeted to original murals by Robert Marshall and James Christensen, local artists. The murals depict the creation of the Earth told in the Bible and the world today, featuring scenes of the Garden of Eden and even Mount Timpanogos.
From old to new
When the temple was being raised from the ashes of the tabernacle, no one wanted to neglect the history the tabernacle played in Utah Valley.
Though most of the original tabernacle was scorched to ash in the 2010 fire, much of the design work and architecture were mimicked in the new temple.
The newel posts seen along staircases and railings throughout the temple have nearly identical styles to the old tabernacle, imitating the grooves, shapes and design of the old wood.
The four buttresses of the tabernacle were preserved and now feature tight, spiral staircases that will be used by patrons to advance in the temple ceremonies.
As workers peeled away the burnt and charred paint and plaster from the tabernacle walls, they uncovered a hidden layer of unique, painted plaster. The designs were pieced together, and now the stenciled work is the primary motif on the walls of the bride's room and even in the room's carpet.
The pulpit in the chapel of the temple was salvaged from the tabernacle. The then-portable pulpit was not in the tabernacle when the fire occurred, Wilson said. Now, it is possibly the only original interior piece of the old tabernacle within the temple.
“It was then out, and it’s one of the few things from the original tabernacle,” Wilson said.
In practically every temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on the east-facing exterior wall reads “Holiness to the Lord, House of the Lord.” However, on the Provo City Center Temple, this phrase is not only on the east face of the building, but also in the garage, where most patrons will enter, and over the ground-level entrance where other patrons can enter.
The 150th temple of the LDS church will be dedicated on March 20. Coincidentally, William Folsom, the primary architect for the original Provo Tabernacle, died on that same date 115 years ago.
“It’s in a way a memorial to the past,” said Elder Kent F. Richards of the Quorum of the Seventy, “but now, we look to the future.”