After the extermination order was issued by Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs, the Latter-day Saints were forced from their Missouri homes in the winter of 1838-39. After spending the remainder of the winter in Quincy, the Saints settled on the bank of the Mississippi in Commerce, Illinois.
Joseph described Commerce as “so unhealthful, very few could live there; but believing that it might become a healthful place by the blessing of heaven to the Saints, and no more eligible place presenting itself, I considered it wisdom to make an attempt to build up a city.”1The name Nauvoo means “beautiful situation.”
After Nauvoo began to be constructed, the Lord again commanded the Saints to begin building a temple in January 1841.2 Daniel H. Wells, who at the time was not a church member, donated the site on which the temple originally stood.3Wells later joined the Church and became a counselor to President Brigham Young in the First Presidency.
The Saints were to 'come ye, with all [their] gold, and [their] silver, and [their] precious stones, and with all [their] antiquities; and with all who have knowledge of antiquities, that will come, may come, and bring the box-tree, and the fir-tree, and the pine-tree, together with all the precious trees of the earth; and with iron, with copper, and with brass, and with zinc, and with all [their] precious things of the earth; and build a house to my name, for the Most High to dwell therein.'4
The temple was built through the tithes of time and money of the members.5 The building of the temple inspired some of the women in Nauvoo to organize a society to help support its construction. The organization was officially formed as the Relief Society in March 1842.
The baptismal font of the temple was built in the basement and put into use before the rest of the temple was completed. The font was dedicated on November 8, 1841 and the first baptisms for the dead performed in the temple occurred on November 20, 1841.6
After the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, the Saints worked to complete the temple before they were forced to flee to the Rocky Mountains.
Brigham Young spoke of the necessity to complete the temple when he said, “If we do not carry out the plan Joseph has laid down and the pattern he has given for us to work by, we cannot get any further endowment—I want this to sink deep into your hearts that you may remember it…We want to build the Temple in this place, if we have to build it as the Jews built the walls of the Temple in Jerusalem, with a sword in one hand and the trowel in the other.”7
On November 30, 1845, the attic of the temple was sufficiently completed to allow that portion to be dedicated and endowments were given in that area of the temple throughout the winter of 1845-46.8 The entire temple was dedicated privately by Joseph Young on April 30, 1846, and publicly by Orson Hyde the following day.9 However, most of the Saints living in Nauvoo had gone west by this time.
The temple was the target of arson on October 9, 1948, the fire allegedly being started by Joseph B. Agnew. Afterwards, a tornado came through Nauvoo and knocked down one of the walls. The remaining walls were dismantled for safety reasons and the stones were used to construct other buildings in Nauvoo.
In the General Conference of April 1999, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced that the Nauvoo Temple would be rebuilt:
'In closing now, I feel impressed to announce that among all of the temples we are constructing, we plan to rebuild the Nauvoo Temple. A member of the Church and his family have provided a very substantial contribution to make this possible. We are grateful to them.
It will be a while before it happens, but the architects have begun their work. This temple will not be busy much of the time; it will be somewhat isolated. But during the summer months we anticipate it will be very busy, and the new building will stand as a memorial to those who built the first such structure there on the banks of the Mississippi.'10
The reconstructed temple was dedicated on June 27, 2002, on the 156th anniversary of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr's., and his brother Hyrum's martyrdom.
Key events of the original temple:
-The Lord commanded the Saints to build a temple in January 1841.
– Baptisms for the dead were first performed in the basement in the baptismal font on November 20, 1841.
– The Nauvoo Temple was originally dedicated in May 1846.
Although there are two temples currently in Illinois (the other is in Chicago), there are technically three built in the state (the original in Nauvoo is counted)