A monumental occasion took place Tuesday morning as the gold-leafed statue of the angel Moroni was set in place atop The Gila Valley Arizona Temple.
After seven months of construction, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' newest temple in Arizona has reached its final height and form, standing 11 stories from the base of the building to the tip of Moroni's trumpet. The precast stone walls have been installed with stained glass windows throughout and, from the outside, the only thing apparently left to construct is the landscaping and parking lot. The outside construction of a meeting house adjacent to the temple is apparently close to completion, if not complete as well.
The date of Sept. 22 was symbolically chosen to install the statue because the angel is said to have appeared to the church's founder, Joseph Smith Jr., on Sept. 21 and 22, 1823.
The Moroni statue symbolically faces due east, possibly to either announce Jesus Christ's return as proclaimed in Matthew 24:27 or to point toward the Earth's first alleged temple in Eden. There is no official LDS Church standard for Moroni's easterly direction and four temples, the Seattle Washington Temple, Spokane Washington Temple, Nauvoo Illinois Temple and Taipei Taiwan Temple; all have Moroni statues that face west due to the lots and placement of their spires.
There are eight temples, including the Mesa Arizona Temple, that do not have a Moroni angel at all.
The Gila Valley Temple will be the LDS Church's third temple in Arizona. The church currently operates the Mesa Arizona Temple and the Snowflake Temple. Two other temples, the Phoenix Arizona Temple and the Gilbert Arizona Temple are slated for construction.
Construction workers first lifted the temple's spire and welded it into place at about 6 a.m. By 10 a.m., the angel Moroni was installed on his perch to the joy of an enthusiastic crowd that lined the sides of Highway 70. A wire connected to the lower base of the statue acts as an electrical ground to displace electrical energy to the earth as in a lightning rod.
Mark Bryce, Pima stake president and designated local church spokesperson for the temple, was on hand for the occasion and expressed his feelings about the statue's placement.
"It's the greatest event to happen in this Valley since the creation," he said. "And the dedication will supersede that."
Bryce's family has been associated with the church since the early pioneers in Utah, and his great-great-grandfather, Ebeneezer Bryce, was present when the capstone and Moroni statue was placed on the Salt Lake City Temple on April 6, 1892, after 39 years of construction. The temple was dedicated the following year on the same date.
Construction of the temple is handled by Jacobsen Construction Company Inc., which is based in Salt Lake City, and is expected to be completed by spring 2010. At that time, the company will hand over the temple to the LDS Church, which will complete the interior details and announce a period for an open house and dedication date.
During the open house, the temple will be open to anyone who wishes to walk through and view the interior. Guides will be available for tours and will explain what the various rooms are used for, including a baptismal font placed on the backs of 12 oxen. The guides will also be available to answer questions at the open house, which is expected to last two to four weeks.
"There will be ample opportunity for members and nonmembers of the church and those not of our faith to view it," Bryce said. "We'll show them the whole thing."
After the open house, the temple will be dedicated and only members who are approved by church leaders will be allowed to enter.
According to the LDS Church, temples are houses of the Lord for members and are "the most sacred places on earth. Temple services bind families together forever, teach the purpose of life and explain God's plan of salvation."
Anyone, regardless of religion or lack thereof, may enter an LDS meeting house (chapel,) but a templegoer must be an LDS Church member with a current Temple Recommend.
LDS members consider temples to be places of "peace separate from the preoccupations of the world" and that they "provide a place where church members make formal promises and commitments to God.
Bryce was recently appointed the local coordinator for the open house and dedication. He said he wasn't sure who would speak at the dedication, but church dignitaries from the highest level of the church will be in attendance.