INTERIOR DESCRIPTION OF THE NAUVOO TEMPLE
By Lisle Brown
All Rights reserved, July 1, 1998

The following description reflects the appearance of the temple when the Latter-day Saints dedicated it in May 1846. It was as complete as they could do under the unsettled circumstances, but clearly the building was not nearly as compete in all of its interior furnishings and appointments as the other temples which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has built.

The Vestibule

Using a flight of ten broad steps--eight steps to the landing and then two steps in the three archways--persons entered the Temple through a vestibule at the west end of the building. The archways were approximately nine feet wide and twenty-one feet high. The vestibule, forty-three feet by seventeen feet in dimension, was composed of limestone on all four of its walls. The floor was probably made of wood. (This is a supposition, because, when the anti-Mormon mob briefly occupied the temple in the Fall of 1847, they made a hole in the vestibule floor to reach a "room" below, which had no other access. It seems unlikely that they would have dug up a heavy limestone floor for that purpose.)

There were four doors within the vestibule. Two large double doors on the east wall opened to the first floor of the main building. The doors on the north and south opened to the landings of the two circular staircases in the northwest and southwest corners of the temple. These two stairwells provided the only access to the rest of the building.

One report stated that on the east wall of the vestibule was another entablature, similar to the one in the facade, which read in bright gilded letters:

THE HOUSE OF THE LORD
Built by The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-Day Saints
Commenced April 6th, 1841
HOLINESS TO THE LORD

The Stairwells

The two stairwells, constructed of dressed limestone walls, occupied the two western corners of the building. They were not true circles, but were flattened on four sides. There were also not exactly symmetrical-- being sixteen feet in diameter from east to west and seventeen feet in diameter from north to south. The flattened circles apparently provided room for landings and other support structures for the winding wooden staircases.

The staircases provided access to all of the temple, from basement to attic with landings at each floor. They were illuminated by windows during daylight and by lamps at night. William Weeks' elevation of the front facade does not show the half-circular windows at the basement level of the two stairwells. The photographic eveidence is unclear. However, a painting by David Smith, Joseph Smith's youngest son, of the temple's damaged facade, clearly shows the half-circular windows at the basement level in the north and south corners of the facade.

The staircase in the northwest corner was only roughed in, with only temporary boards resting on the risers. Workmen used this staircase to gain access to the building during itsconstruction, especially during the winter of 1845-46 when persons were using the other staircase to reach the attic for ordinance work. The southwest staircase was completely finished for use, including lamps for night illumination, and it may have been carpeted in part, probably near the attic landing.

The Basement

Each basement staircase landing, which was made of wood, opened to a short hallway, leading to the east, which provided entrance to the basement proper. Between the two hallways was a "room" beneath the vestibule, in which an old well had been dug, but not used. This area was not paved, nor finished in any manner. Apparently there was no access to this area at all, because the anti-Mormon mob had to make a hole in the floor above to gain access to it.

The basement proper was composed of a large baptisry, one hundred feet long by forty feet wide, with six rooms of varying sizes on either side. The walls of the side rooms were made of stone and abutted the massive stone piers which supported the floors above. Each of these rooms, except the two on the west end, were set two steps higher than the baptistry floor. They were used as dressing rooms for those using the font. The baptistry was painted white throughout and had a red brick floor, set in a herringbone pattern. The floor sloped down from the side rooms towards the font, apparently to allow water to run towards a drain beneath the font. The font stood in the center of the room .

Approximately twelve feet east of the entrance hallways and ten feet from either the side of the western most support peirs rested two highly polished limestone blocks, roughly fourteen inches square, which projected seven inches above the brick floor. These were discovered during an archeological investigation of the temple site. These objects are not mentioned in any account of the basement, and their purpose can only be conjectured. They may have held some type of support columns, dividing the font from the entrance to the basement. The two side rooms beyond the entrance were reportedly used for clerical purposes. The limestone blocks may have been merely decorative with a vase or something similar resting on them. Then, they may have been part of a feature planned, but not used, in the final construction. They remain an enigma.

The Font

The font was clearly the most impressive feature of the Temple; it was mentioned by every visitor who wrote about the Temple. There were actually two fonts built during the temple's existence, a temporary wooden one and a permanent limestone one.

The first font was constructed entirely of white pine -- tongue and groved -- and painted white. The font proper was an oval basin, sixteen feet long, twelve feet wide, and four feet deep. The lip of the font was seven feet from the floor. The moulding of the font's cap and base were beautifully carved in an "antique style." The sides were finished with panel work. There were two stairways on the north and south sides of the font, leading up and down into the basin. Each stairway had side railings.

The font was held up by twelve oxen, carved out of pine planking, glued together. The oxen were patterned after the most beautiful five-year old steer that could be found in the region. The animals' heads, shoulders and legs projected beyond the base of the font, and their legs appeared to have sunk to their knees into the pavement. Their horns were patterned after the most perfect horn that could be found.

Apparently the decision was made to replace this wooden font in 1845, because the water was causing mildew, with its accompanying oder, and perhaps rotting the wood as well. The final font was made of the same limestone as the temple walls. The pattern of this font followed the wooden one in most of its features. The limestone basin was similar in dimension as the wooden basin. The basin also rested on the backs of twelve oxen, four on each side and two on each end. The oxen's legs appeared to be sunk to their knees in he brick pavement. The oxen were carved of solid stone, except their ears which were made of tin. At the base of the basin the stone was carved to suggest drapery, through which the oxen projected. Beneath the font was a drain.

The major difference between the two fonts was in the orientation of the stairways; in the limestone font they were positioned on the east and west ends, instead of the north and side sides in the wooden font. This change provided better, less restricted access to the font.

A well on the east side of the font provided it with water. There may also have been a tank in the east end of the basement, possibly either for storing or heating water.

The First Floor Grand Hall

Entrance to the first floor assembly hall, called the Grand Hall, was through two large double doors at the east end of the vestibule. The Grand Hall occupied the rest of first floor beyond the vestibule. On either side were seven large, arched windows, with four similar windows along the east wall. The ceiling was arched, some fifty feet in breadth, in the center. The walls were painted white; the floor was stained wood.

On the north wall, just inside the entrance, there were two small rooms. Thomas Bullock called one of these rooms, the "architect's room," suggesting that these rooms were initially used by William Weeks as offices. Their intended use after the building was completed is not clear.

The Pulpits

There were two set of pulpits, one at the east end of the Grand Hall and the other at the west. These pulpits were similar to those in the Kirtland Temple with four levels and three semi-circular stands making up the top three levels. The lower level was a drop-table, which could be rasied and used for the Sacrament.

The pulpits on the east stood between the windows and they were reserved for the Melchizedek Priesthood. Accordingly each pulpit had initials identifying the priesthood officers who occupied that stand: Each of the highest three pulpits bore the gilded initials P.H.P. (President of the High Priesthood); the next lower had P.S.Q. (President of the Seventy Quorums); the next lower had P.H.Q. (President of the High priests Quorum) and table at the bottom P.E.Q. (President of the Elders Quorum).

On the wall over the eastern pulpits, in line with the curve of the arched ceiling, the following was painted in beautiful, gilded letters:

The Lord Has Seen Our Sacrifice - Come After Us.

The pulpits on the west end were reserved for the Aaronic Priesthood. Each pulpit also had initials identifying the priesthood officers who occupied that stand: Each of the highest three pulpits bore the initials P.A.P. (President of the Aaronic Priesthood); the next lower had P.P.Q. (President of the Priests Quorum); the next lower had P.T.Q. (President of the Teachers Quorum) and the table at the bottom P.D.Q. (President of the Deacons Quorum).

The Pews

The hall was fitted with enclosed pews, similar to the Kirtland Temple, with two aisles. There were also pews for a choir and a band. The hall could reportedly seat for about 3,500 persons. The seats of the pews had moveable backs, so that they could be swung to face either direction, depending who was presiding - the Melchizedek Priesthood or the Aaronic Prieshood.

The First Floor Mezzanine Rooms

Access to the first floor mezzanine was directly from landings of the two staircases in the west end of the building. A foyer, corresponding in size to the vestibule below, connnected the two stairway landings.

Evidence suggests that the first floor mezzanine was apparently composed of fourteen small rooms, seven rooms along each side of the north and south walls, resting between the arched ceiling of the first floor. These rooms were illuminated by the first row of circular windows. There is no evidence that these rooms were completed, except perhaps for the partitions dividing off each room.

The Second Floor Assembly Hall

The second floor hall was similar in constrution to the Grand Hall, except it was about seventeen feet longer, because it ran out over the foyer on the first floor mezzanine below. A graceful stone arch, forty-one feet in length, which supported the massive timbers for the tower above, ran north and south between the circular stairwells.

This floor, which was to have a set of double pulpits, as well as pews, similar to the floor below, was not completed. It had seven large windows along the north and south wide, with four windows along the east wall. Doors were not hung, the plastering was not done, and the floorboards were only rough timber, not the finished tongue and grove. Temporary benches were occasionally set up for meetings.

The Second Floor Mezzanine Rooms

Access to the second floor mezzanine was similar to the first floor mezzanine, directly from landings of the two staircases in the west end of the building. There was no foyer connecting the stairwells.

The second floor mezzanine was also apparently composed of fourteen small rooms, seven rooms along each side of the north and south walls of the building, between the arched ceiling of the second floor. These rooms were illuminated by the second row of circular windows in the entablature of the building. There is no evidence that these rooms were completed, except perhaps for the partitions creating each room. A staircase was built in the second room from the southeast corner to an attic room above, which provided another method of access to the attic besides the circular stairwells .

The Attic

The two stairways terminated at the attic floor, opening to a foyer. The attic was built of wood, not limestone, and was composed of two sections: a flat-roofed section at the western end, upon which the tower rested; and a pitched-roof section which ran the rest of the length of the building towards the east.

The flat-room section was further divided into two sections, the foyer on the west side, and a suite of rooms to the east, which were used as a pantry, wardrobe and storage rooms when the attic was used for ordinance work. The area was illuminated by six windows along the foyer's west wall. Outside windows also provided light along the north and south sides. Four octagonal windows were placed in the roof, so as to provide light to the interior rooms.

A doorway with double doors opened to the attic rooms to the east, which was located beneath a pitched roof. This area was composed of a large hall, running the length of the attic. On the east end of this room was a large, twenty-foot arched window, which provided the room with ample light. Additional light came from a series of sky-lights set in the ceiling. Doors to twelve small rooms (six on each side) ran the length of the hall. These small rooms had windows on the outside walls, and the incline of the roof prevented a six-foot-tall man from standing erect along the outside wall. The second from the south-east had a stairway leading to one of the mezzanine rooms below.

The Tower Rooms

An octagonal tower rose from the front attic story. The tower, which was reached by a stairway, was divided into three sections. The lowest section was the belfry containing a bell, which was rung at appropriate times. Another stairway led to the middle section, which contained the four clock work mechanisms. Another short stairway led to an observation deck, which permitted an expansive view of the surrounding countryside.