Sooner or later – maybe both sooner and later – the Mormon faith promoting rumor mill will churn out another round of the old classic “Moroni dedicated the site of the Manti Temple.” The last time I heard it was at the end of the Book of Mormon Sunday School course two years ago, when our class handout included a “quotation” to that effect from Brigham Young, with the “citation” of Journal of Discourses – no volume or page, just the Journal. (Note: No hint of the story appears anywhere in the Journal.)
Most of the claims for this ancient dedication which have appeared in LDS publications over the years quote or paraphrase this paragraph:
Early on the morning of April 25, 1877, President Brigham Young asked Brother Warren S. Snow to go with him to the Temple hill. Brother Snow says, “We two were alone; President Young took me to the spot where the Temple was to stand; we went to the south-east corner, and President Young said, ‘Here is the spot where the Prophet Moroni stood and dedicated this piece of land for a Temple site, and that is the reason why the location is made here, and we can’t move it from this spot; and if you and I are the only persons that come here at high noon to-day, we will dedicate this ground.’”
Occasionally that paragraph is bolstered by reports that when temple workers began to dig for the foundation, they encountered boggy ground, or a spring, and wanted to adjust the foundation by a few feet so as to place that water source outside the temple walls; according to those accounts Brigham Young would not allow them to adjust the location by so much as an inch, because that was the spot dedicated by Moroni.
The story is repeated as fact, without question, in some prominent publications, perhaps most notably Orson F. Whitney’s Life of Heber C. Kimball. His biography gains cachet from the fact that Whitney was an apostle – but the book was published in 1888, while Whitney was not called to the Quorum until 1906. A little Googling will convince any searcher of the widespread repetition of the Moroni dedication claim – including at least two Ensign articles .
The story is a cornerstone of local (Manti) pride. Avard Fairbanks’ bronze statue of “The Mortal Moroni” stands in a garden near the temple. The story is repeated in local tourist promotional brochures. (Can anyone who has seen the Manti Pageant in recent years confirm whether or not it is still part of that script?)
I was reminded of the story yesterday when, on the way to something else, I scrolled past this microfilmed map:
The map, and another close copy of it, are relatively well known and have been published a time or two by former BYU professor H. Donl Peterson, and have been scanned from his materials and published on the Web more times than I can count. More about this map later.
But where did the story come from? Is it reliable?
In 1987, John A. Peterson of the Acquisitions Department of what is now called the Church History Library prepared a report for Jane A. Braithwaite of the Manti Destiny Committee (a private, non-profit organization promoting and preserving the history of Manti and the Sanpete Valley) detailing his attempts to document the source of the tale. He had scoured all known pertinent records, including restricted temple records, looking for any confirmation. His search included at least these sources:
CR 348 19 – Manti Corner Stone Services, April 14, 1879
CR 348 20 – “[Private] Dedication of the Manti Temple – Dedication Services held in the Celestial Room of the Temple, at 12 o’clock on Thursday Morning May 17th, 1888” (which files include copies of the dedicatory prayer and sermons)
CR 348 21 – Manti Temple Historical Record, 1873-01934
CR 348 22 – Manti Temple – Setting apart of temple workers, 1888
CR 348 33 – Manti Temple – Bulletins, 1884-1955
CR 348 37 – Manti Temple – Attendance Roll, 1888-1894
CR 348 37 – Manti Temple – Reunion List, 1895
In none – none – of these sources is there any hint whatsoever of an ancient dedication of the temple site, no mention of Moroni, nothing that could be seen as supporting the story, although the story, if true, would have found a natural place in any of these records.
There are, however, numerous references in the dedications of the site, the cornerstone, the completed temple, the completed Celestial Room, etc., to the site’s dedication by Brigham Young, without hint that Brigham’s was any sort of re-dedication:
In 1877, Brigham Young’s recorded statements include multiple references to “we dedicate to thee” and “we dedicate the spur of the Mountain.” In 1879, John Taylor’s remarks at the cornerstone services say that “Nearly four years ago President Brigham Young … selected this ground as a suitable site whereon to build a Temple” and “we are now assembled on this sacred spot to carry on and continue that labor, which our late venerable and respected president commenced.” In the same services, Apostle Charles C. Rich’s prayer referred to “this ground which was dedicated and set apart for that purpose by thy servant Brigham.” Apostle Moses Thatcher’s talk mentioned that “The Prophet Brigham Young bowed upon this ground … and dedicated it.” In 1888, Wilford Woodruff’s prayer acknowledged that “thou didst enable thy chief apostle Brigham to perform [this work]; that he was moved to build and to appoint Temples … and to designate that one should occupy this delightful spot.” (emphasis added in all cases)
In that 1888 dedication, the brethren present each expressed their feelings concerning the temple and its holy purposes, and none mentioned Moroni. No record of any of the public dedicatory sessions makes mention of Moroni.
The first known reference to Moroni in connection with the Manti Temple is dated July 2, 1888 (only a few weeks after the May 1888 temple dedication), when Temple Recorder Moses F. Farnsworth wrote an account of the dedication, parts of which were published (without Farnsworth’s name) in the August 13, 1888 issue of the Millennial Star. The Star publication is the source of the quotation used at the top of this post, the one that forms the basis of most later iterations.
Farnsworth’s complete letter, copied in the Manti Temple Historical Record, records a distinction between the facts of the temple dedication he witnessed and other materials, including the Moroni claim, when he noted, “I have been writing up the dedicatory services, and in addition thereto have gathered some very interesting items pertaining to this holy mountain of the Lord.” (emphasis added) Since the Moroni story played no part in the dedicatory services, it is clearly one of those “additions” gathered post-dedication.
Additional analysis by Peterson in that 1987 report concludes that only Warren S. Snow – who was present at the private dedicatory services in the celestial room in 1888 but who did not then mention Moroni – ever claimed to have heard Brigham Young assert that Moroni had dedicated the Manti Temple site. There were no other witnesses to the purported conversation between Brigham Young and Warren S. Snow, and no other claimed interviews with others. Peterson tactfully concludes that Snow believed that Moroni had visited the Manti hill but that Brigham Young spoke of Moroni only to Snow, “if Warren Snow can be trusted.” I am sorely tempted to be much more blunt than Peterson was …
Back to the map posted above.
That map and its notes fits in with the Moroni-in-Manti story, but goes much, much farther than Snow’s claim, seeming to indicate that not only did Moroni visit the future site of Manti, but also of Salt Lake City, various places in Missouri, Nauvoo, and Kirtland – presumably dedicating all of them as sites of future temples – before depositing the Book of Mormon plates in the hill at Palmyra, New York.
No one knows any longer where this map came from or who drew it – it is unsigned, and the loose pages in the archives offer no obvious connections to any known individual. A note on the back of one copy – not written in the same pen and not even by the same hand as the map – claims this purported provenance for the information: “A Chart and description of Moroni’s travels through this country. Got from Br Robert Dickson. He got it from Patria[r]ch Wm McBride at Richfield on the Seveir and also from Andrew M. Hamilton of same place. And they got it from Joseph Smith the Prophet.”
I am unaware that Joseph Smith the Prophet shared this information with anyone else – can any reader point to any contemporary-to-Joseph indication that Moroni visited these significant Mormon sites and dedicated temple locations? Why would Joseph have noted the location of discovery of the Kinderhook Plates, when Joseph didn’t attempt to translate those plates, apparently recognizing them for the forgery they were soon known to be? Moroni’s route is not drawn on a map that shows physical features or political boundaries – how did Joseph Smith communicate Moroni’s route to McBride and Hamilton without reference to such physical features? Are we really meant to believe that Joseph Smith used the names “Utah” and “Arisona” in the early 1840s?
And apart from this map, the entire story of Moroni dedicating sites for future temples – whether solely the one in Manti, or those in other Mormon centers as well – begs the question “Why?” What would be the point of Moroni’s many-thousand-mile journeys, presumably packing the plates along with him, to dedicate such places? Why dedicate Manti, while bypassing St. George – to say nothing of so many later temples across the continent?
It’s time to retire this illogical, undocumented, suspect, self-serving rumor once and for all, isn’t it? Yes, I realize the irony of attempting to squelch a rumor by airing it publicly One. More. Time. – but I don’t know how that can be done without spelling it out and drawing attention to the inconsistencies and illogicalities. Hence, this post.
My copy of John A. Peterson’s April 23, 1987 letter to Jane A. Braithwaite comes from what is cheerfully referred to in the Church History Library as the “myths binder” – an informal compilation of materials kept at the ready to answer frequently asked questions about all kinds of startling and distorted faith promoting rumors – the various “generals in heaven,” “free the birdies,” Japanese-pilot-couldn’t-bomb-Hawaiian-Temple types of nonsense that form the basis of so many mass email forwards. I don’t have a more official citation to offer, but the binder is available for patron use at the reference desk.