The Gilbert Arizona Temple, dedicated March 2, 2014, stands like a stunning, desert jewel, the tallest and by far the most magnificent landmark in east Maricopa County, not far from Phoenix. The fourth temple in Arizona, with two more underway in Phoenix and Tucson, it is a “sanctuary of serenity” and a “refuge of peace” in a world that sometimes seems more and more chaotic.The Gilbert Temple becomes the 142nd operating temple in the Church and at 85,000 square feet, the largest temple to be built in 17 years.We have arrived before sunrise to take this photo essay, but already the sun is painting a dramatic pink backdrop as we pull into a quiet parking lot, disturbed only by a slight desert breeze. Photos are best this time of day when the first light of morning catches and outlines the temple. The temple door gleams golden in early morning’s light, and before long two other photographers will join us on the scene.Why is Arizona suddenly the scene of so much temple building? New temple president David Le Seuer, says, “It is a tribute to all of the commandment- keeping, consecrated, tithe paying, sacrificing members of the Church, both who preceded us here in this valley and those who have moved here recently. Their faithfulness is the primary driver of the location of this temple.”Indeed, to be here this weekend for the Cultural Celebration and Temple Dedication is to sense first hand the sacrifice of pioneers who weren’t finished when they got to Utah, but were sent even farther to cultivate a desert where water was scarce and soil as hard as concrete. Those who stayed were devoted disciples and tough and able, and their children have inherited a hardiness and faith that is a credit to their forebears.More than 400,000 Latter-day Saints live in Arizona and their numbers and influence continue to grow.Oh, how the temple shines with impeccable perfection in this early morning as we rush from one shot to the next, lugging our camera gear.
We are a temple-building people, which is a privilege we scarcely understand. King David, who had been beloved of The Lord, was not allowed to build a temple. Few people on earth have been allowed this privilege. To build a temple, to be invited to a temple, to make covenants in a temple is an opportunity that may take a lifetime to comprehend.
A temple is a place of beauty and exacting standards, more than any other building. Perfection and artistry is the standard of workmanship. President Henry B. Eyring tells the story of touring a temple with President Gordon B. Hinckley, who was famous for touching the top of every door jamb to see how the mitered corners fit. If they weren’t perfect, they had to be done again. Places that will never be seen in the temple, corners that are out of eyeshot still have to be immaculate and excellent. Nothing second rate is allowed.
Julie Benson, who was the historian for the temple dedication said that she was a tour guide when the construction workers came through for a tour. They had not worked on a building with this degree of care and craftsmanship before, and they said that never again in their lives would they work on something which demanded this degree of perfection. One worker described that it took him several months of work to do the woodwork and corners in a single hallway.
Why does this level of excellence matter? Because a temple is not only the symbol of humanity’s upreach to the divine, it is also the reality of God’s reaching back to us. It is God’s house and to be acceptable to him, it has to be the very best we can offer. When a temple is built, the prophets pray that this House will be an acceptable offering to him.
The open house for this temple lasted from 18 January to 15 February, and in that brief time entry was in high demand. More than 407,000 people came, making it the largest open house in the history of the Church with long lines that wound around the temple. The next largest open house was at the Brigham City Utah temple.
The original plan was for the guides to give a spoken tour, but that idea had to be abandoned the first morning as the crowds continued to surge. All tours became merely quiet walking tours–and people came away with many questions about the Church. The guides said that among the questions frequently asked were those like this one posed by an older Christian couple, “Where can we worship with you people?”Other questions that came, “What does it mean to be baptized for the dead?” “Who’s that lady in a dress at the top of the spire?” and a big one–“Where did you find so many wonderful people to volunteer here?”
For the temple open house, dedication and cultural celebration, it required an estimated 10,000 volunteers who all gave substantial time. President LeSueur estimated the number of man hours easily topped 200,000. These included many unsung and unnoticed jobs–including acting as security guards over night–and the faithful lined up to do them willingly.
Through the temple doors came people who had always wondered what went on inside an LDS temple, and the answers cleared up misconceptions and false ideas. When a temple has an open house and people are able to see what happens inside a temple, they often come away with greater appreciation for the LDS faith and its people. No one is certain what percentage of those who came through the open house are not members of the Church, but an oft-repeated estimate is about 1/3. Their response again and again is that this is a beautiful and serene place.
Temples take their design motif from the surrounding flora of the area where they are built. The design motif for the Gilbert Temple is the agave, which you can see here in both the art glass and the design around windows and doors. The agave plant also is sculpted into rugs, stair railings, ceilings and windows inside the temple–and its soft blues and grays determined the color scheme for the interior of the temple.
Agave plants have also found their way into temple landscaping. They signify the influence one generation has on another. The older, lower leaves of the agave leave impressions on the upper leaves just as generations leave their imprint on those who follow them. The mother agave grows a tall stalk in the middle bearing the plant’s flowers, which may be considered like her children. Once she has dropped all her children, the mother plant dies, giving her life for her children. This is like Christ, who has our Savior, gave his life for all of us–and when we keep our covenants we become his children.
The agave motif is repeated twice here on this wall of the temple.
John Goodie, a columnist for the East County Tribune, and a devout Catholic, gave exceptional praise to his experience visiting the temple during the open house. He said that the temple felt like heaven to him, and that he could see himself as a temple dweller forever. He said that he could be called temple dweller, John Goodie.
He also told us that on his tour when he went into the Celestial Room–though there were 15 people and only three minutes to be there, he sat down and closed his eyes. He said he is a very spiritual person and he misses his mother a great deal–but in the Celestial Room, he felt her presence.
The Gilbert Temple could be called an oasis in the middle of a desert–as all temples are.
The glow of the sunrise matches the beautiful doors of the temple. The handles are smooth and warm to the touch, inviting all who prepare themselves to come into the House of The Lord.
I loved laying down on the ground to get this wide-angle-lens view looking up at the entrance of the temple. Historians say the light on the temple in Jerusalem was absolutely magnificent in the morning as the sun began to rise upon it. This began to capture some of that feeling that we imagined.
It is amazing what the temple builders have learned in recent years using the pre-cast concrete that adorns the outside of these sacred buildings. They are extremely precise in putting these face materials together. The combination of angles and design truly make for a magnificent structure befitting a House for God.
The grounds of the temple are equally impressive. We could see many beautiful angles and perfect shots for brides and grooms as they start their path together becoming eternal couples.
The statue of the angel Moroni reaches to 195 feet above the ground and is the highest point in Gilbert, Arizona. Moroni is a representation of the gospel being heralded to all nations as talked about in the Book of Revelation: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” (Revelation 14:6)
The beautiful round window with the agave art glass on the east facade of the temple fills the celestial room with glorious, morning light. This window is beautiful on the outside and simple breathtaking on the inside.
In all the press releases about this temple and in the news reporting it is mentioned that this is the largest temple built by the Church in the last 17 years. If you walk around the temple you can feel the large size, but you can see and feel it even more when you walk into the temple. The spaces are larger, the hallways bigger and the staircases are more sweeping than anything in recent memory.
The water features on the south side of the temple are so moving in every way. Our first impression was a reminder of Isaiah: “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11: 9) We could see the symbol of knowledge flowing forth from the temple, especially in this parched Arizona desert, and watering the earth.
The trimmed palm trees with lights on them will be a lovely scene each night in this place. Again, as a photographer, I can see wonderful angles for taking lovely pictures of brides and grooms here.
The four waterfalls follow the pattern of the four windows with living water flowing forth from the temple to a parched and dry earth–a people thirsting for the knowledge of The Lord.
Even though the agave motif in the art glass is so dominant, it was hard not to see a striking line like a waterfall from each of these windows into the constantly-moving waters coming from the temple.
The flowing water coming out from the temple offers such peace to the visitor of the temple. This area of the temple, surrounded by lovely benches, will surely become a popular place for locals seeking some solace from the world.
The sound of the water is so restful, it also brought to mind an Isaiah scripture about those who live the law of the fast: “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” (Isaiah 58: 11)
Local Dennis Call was the designer of the water works on this south side of the temple. Gilbert, Arizona has always been a hay area and so the water was made to look like the hay fields at the time of harvest.
Here you can see the look of the windrows of hay at the time of harvest. This whole south side of the temple is so impressive it almost defied adequate description–truly a place a pure peace.
I couldn’t help but also think of the letter the Prophet Joseph wrote to the Latter-day Saints from within the Liberty Jail in 1839 where he reminded them of the blessings and knowledge The Lord was willing to give to His people: “How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.” (D&C 121: 33)
As we came all the way around the temple my eyes caught the word that bespoke the whole experience. These verses from Zechariah came to mind: In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD; and the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts…” (Zechariah 14: 20, 21)Keep watching this week as Meridian’s coverage of the Gilbert Arizona Temple continues each day. You will especially want to see the story of the Youth Celebration as 12,000 youth danced and sang in the midst of a downpour.