I’ll admit it, I don’t know much about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (otherwise known as the Mormon religion). My knowledge of it can mostly be attributed to the HBO series Big Love (I’m semi-kidding here). And while I did see the musical The Book of Mormon, I didn’t care for it so that’s all we’ll say on the most famous satirical religious musical of all time (it’s a show that’s gained popularity from sheer hype, nothing else). When I made my plans to go to Utah, the main purpose of my visit was to get to a national park. While I’ve been to a slew in the East, they’ve mainly been tied to American history; they haven’t been the famous “outdoorsy” ones a person normally thinks of when they hear the term national park being uttered.
I arrived in Salt Lake City about mid-afternoon and between being up at 3 AM for my flight, and my subsequent long day of travel (a flight from Pittsburgh to Dallas, and then Dallas to the Utah state capital), I was exhausted by the time evening came around. So the next day before we picked up our rental car, we trekked the short distance from our hotel up to Temple Square, which is basically THE pinnacle of the Mormon religion.
I first learned the name Brigham Young when I was in middle school and read the children’s book Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie. It’s the diary of a young girl who is traveling with her family on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s, but along the way her group’s wagon train encounters Brigham Young’s wagon train. He and his followers were on their way to the Great Salt Lake. It’s mentioned how the Mormons were basically told to “get out” of Illinois (they had been a displaced sect for decades by that time) and so they decided to travel west where they could be left alone and essentially have as many wives as they wanted. (Obviously there’s much more to the Mormon religion, I’m just giving a completely condensed version here).
When you first arrive at Temple Square from the south portion of Main Street, you are greeted by a statue that is basically in honor of those pioneers that embarked on a journey few of us in today’s world could ever imagine (disease, dangerous river crossings, treacherous conditions, attacks from Native Americans). And yet they traveled thousands of miles by horse and wagon to an area that was the remotest of civilization at the time (and in some ways still is, outside of Salt Lake City).
The piece de resistance at Temple Square is the Salt Lake Temple. No joke when I say it’s as stunning and massive as anything you would find in Europe. Construction on it started in 1853 and finished in 1893, all by the hands of Mormon pioneers. We learned from a Mormon docent who chatted with us that sacred ordinances take place here such as marriages and baptisms. Non-Mormons are not permitted inside and Mormons themselves need to apply in a sense in order to be able to enter it.
The Tabernacle is probably most famous on account of the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra. Thirty-minute organ recitals are also given daily seven days a week. Had I had more time in Salt Lake City, this is something I would have loved to attend.
The building that I liked the most in Temple Square was not nearly as grandiose or striking as the Temple and yet with its being tucked back a bit from Main Street and ensconced in trees (if only it had been spring or fall), it was still quite lovely. The Assembly Hall dates from 1882 and offers free concerts and recitals.
And thanks to a tip from the individual we spoke to, we learned that on the 10th floor of the Joseph Smith building (Smith was the founder of the Mormon religion), we learned that there is a prime view of Temple Square. Visitors are allowed to ride the elevator up and take pictures. As you can see, it really offered a lovely view.
There are countless other buildings one can visit in Temple Square and while I wish I had had more time to spend there, I’m just happy that I got to see what I did. Although I also would have liked to walk to the state capitol building (it was further north), Temple Square is undoubtedly one of the most unique religious spots one can visit in the United States.