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Hinc Lucem et Pocula Sacra

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 02, 2011

A hundred years ago, if you had visited the Sacred Grove you might have seen an odd-looking copper tablet, 14-1/2x 10 inches, about 1/8-inch thick, nailed to one of the Grove’s trees. Die-cut letters were crudely hammered into the surface of the tablet:

GO PRAY – AGAIN I COME
HINC LUCEM ET POCULA SACRA

When Willard W. Bean was called in 1915 to live in the Joseph Smith house, to farm the Smith land and be caretaker of the Church properties there, including the Sacred Grove, he found the weathered sign fastened to a tree at the edge of the Grove. Without knowing where it had come from or who had erected it, Bean moved it from the edge of the Grove to a prominent maple tree near the center of the Grove. When visitors asked the meaning of the Latin phrase, Bean could translate it roughly as “Light and sacred knowledge go forth from this place.”

Apostle James E. Talmage saw the tablet when he visited the Sacred Grove in 1920. He didn’t know what to make of it. On the one hand, he felt it could be “an expression of reverence,” albeit an odd one. On the other hand, though, he was fearful that the sign could be twisted into a source of ridicule for the Church, either because naive Church members would venerate it as mysterious “evidence” for the sacredness of the site, or because opponents of the Church would claim that Mormons had invested a crude, man-made object with religious significance. Already, he said in 1920, “fanciful and even fantastical stories” about the sign’s origin were in circulation. (Unfortunately for us, he didn’t record what “fantastical stories” were being told!)

The stories he had heard bothered Elder Talmage, so much so that he discussed the tablet and its origins with people back in Utah. In one such conversation with E. Frank Birch, President of the Tintic Stake, he fretted about “the readiness with which some people accept fancy for fact” – and discovered that he had been fretting to exactly the right person. President Birch knew about the sign and its origins.

Within a few days, and at Elder Talmage’s request, President Birch prepared the following statement:

Silver City, Utah, Sept. 8, 1920.

Dear Brother Talmage: –

On consulting my missionary journal and refreshing my memory, I am able to state that on December 15th, 1910, at Ambridge, Penn., Elder William Larse Jensen, of Ovid, Idaho, introduced to me a man by the name of Carl Lynn, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This gentleman, Carl Lynn, told me, at that time, that he had prepared and placed in the Sacred Grove, at Palmyra, N.Y., a copper play with engravings in English and Latin, part of which read: “Go Pray. Again I Come.” Mr. Lynn showed me what he claimed to be a fac-simile of the plate bearing the inscription.

E. Frank Birch, President of Tintic Stake.

Much relieved at having the power to convincingly state that the plate “was the work of a well-meaning, though somewhat eccentric, individual,” Elder Talmage announced to the Church at large that “neither the tablet itself nor its presence in the Grove is of any significance.”

The sign is no longer posted in the Sacred Grove. I do not know when it was removed, or whether it has been preserved in Church collections somewhere.

But oh, how I wonder what “fantastical stories” were being circulated in my grandparents’ generation!



17 Comments »

  1. So is this an invitation to make up some stories? That could be fun!

    All in all, though, a nice little gem of a story.

    Now, for my fantastic story: The plate, having inscriptions in latin and English, was placed there by Henry Sinclair after he and his Templar companions finished building the Newport Tower in Rhode Island in the 14th century. They were led there by one of the Three Nephites, who then vanished after warning them that Dan Brown would enrich himself at their expense by publishing sensational, poorly written novels of great conspiracy theories. Their agent was holding out for Umberto Eco.

    Comment by kevinf — February 2, 2011 @ 11:18 am

  2. Ha! Thanks for playing the game, kevinf! I suspect that whatever stories might have been circulating — or that JET feared might have been circulating — would have seemed almost as over the top to us as yours. But somebody somewhere is always ready to believe something, or at least is ready to accuse us of such beliefs, no? (I’m thinking of OBHuntington’s fantastical memory of tall Quakerish moonmen, and how many people are still ready today to accuse us of believing that Joseph Smith ever taught any such thing.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 2, 2011 @ 11:26 am

  3. Wonderful. I’ve never heard of this before.

    I don’t think I can top Kevin, here it goes.

    It was placed by the translated Apostle John (who of course by then had learned Latin) using copper left over from the Kinderhook plates, which aren’t really 19th century forgeries. Hidden in the text is a coded message describing the location of the 116 lost manuscript pages making up the Book of Lehi.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — February 2, 2011 @ 11:43 am

  4. We should vote on which story is the most fantastical!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 2, 2011 @ 11:56 am

  5. Wow, I’ve certainly never heard of this before! I wonder if someone threw it in the trash or took it as a memento.

    A couple summers ago I went to Palmyra and heard the most amazing stories about what that family had to go through living in the Joseph Smith home for the church. The only way their children were allowed to go to school with the rest of the community was to sit in the back of the classroom with their desks facing backwards.

    I would think ANY fantastical story would have to have the 3 Nephites involved hands down.

    Comment by Amy — February 2, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

  6. This is great, Ardis, thanks. What, if anything, is the history behind the globe-capped obelisk on Ensign Peak with the iron placard bearing the engraving, “Kolob”? See here: http://flickriver.com/photos/laurel714/5004588924/

    Comment by Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) — February 2, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

  7. But I love the moonmen stories! Do you mean they are not real? I vote for Kevin’s!

    Comment by Cliff — February 2, 2011 @ 12:25 pm

  8. Amy, their story is amazing without doubt and I appreciate your noting that — they deserve to be better known. As with most Mormon sites, though, missionaries have embellished the stories. The Beans’ oldest son did have to sit at a desk in the back of his classroom due to complaints by other parents that they didn’t want their children to have to go to school with a Mormon, but there is no indication that the desk (bolted to the floor) was facing other than forward. That lasted only a short time before the teacher became so ashamed that the Bean child was moved into a regular seat, without any apparent retaliation by other parents. (I’ve seen several variations of this story, and knowing how folklore works it seems far more likely that the original story has been embellished than that the original story has been toned down.) I love that they named their daughter born there “Palmyra”!

    Observer, the MIA of my very own stake (Ensign Stake) placed that monument on Ensign Peak in 1934. The stones were gathered from various places along the Mormon Trail. There are other place names inscribed (some obliterated by vandalism) — I think that “Kolob” in this case refers to the MIA’s trip to Kolob Canyons (Zion) in southern Utah, and therefore only indirectly to the PoGP’s Kolob.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 2, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

  9. Cliff, it’s a real story, all right. Does that count?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 2, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

  10. Here’s hoping that copper plate still exists somewhere and will be eventually rediscovered. I like it a great deal: both the sentiment and the use of Latin. I also like it as an example of a humble person’s tribute: an artifact representing their idea of the best way to memorialize what they held sacred.

    Comment by Mina — February 2, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

  11. Thanks for recognizing and stating that, Mina. I’ve tried to find out something about Carl Lynn, without success (yet). I’m very glad JET recorded his name, at least, so that there is the possibility of learning more about him. At the time he put up his tablet, the Grove was still in private hands, without any kind of outward marker at all.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 2, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

  12. So how many years before 1910 had Mr. Lynn installed the plate?

    Comment by Clark — February 2, 2011 @ 1:43 pm

  13. Don’t know, Clark. That’s one reason I had hoped to identify Carl Lynn — his baptism date would give a likely terminus post quem for installation. (Hey, it’s fair to use that term for this Latin inscription!)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 2, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

  14. I’ve been thinking about this plaque/story all day.

    Hinc lucem et pocula sacra is also the motto of Cambridge University. Poculum is literally “cup” in latin, so the phrase is usually translated as “from here comes light and sacred draughts (of knowledge).”

    Just thought I’d throw that into the mix…

    Comment by Mina — February 2, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

  15. I think any fantastic story about the origin of the plate would have to include Moroni’s wandering in the wilderness before he deposited the plates. The use of Latin would suggest that Moroni was in cahoots with the Romans from the Spaulding manuscript.

    Comment by Steve C. — February 3, 2011 @ 7:45 am

  16. Well, if you want another funny “Mormon fraud” story – see the link below blaming the Mormon Battalion (1846) for making a Jewish inscription of the Ten Commandments in New Mexico.

    The fact that the Battalion had marched 15 very hard miles along the Rio Grande River that day and that the inscription is is over 15 miles away from their campsite argues against any Battalion member being involved.

    For the Battalion to be guilty, the perpetrator would have had to leave camp after arriving in late afternoon, journey 15 miles without a guide into Apache territory (something the local Mexican population were too scared to do), have known sufficient Hebrew to carve the Los Lunas stone during the dead of night and then return another 15 miles in time for roll call the next morning.

    Sorry – it’s implausible for a Battalion member to have pulled this off. Move along people. Nothing here to see.

    http://www.badarchaeology.net/forgotten/los_lunas.php

    Comment by Kevin — February 5, 2011 @ 11:25 am

  17. ‘Hinc lucem et pocula sacra’ is the wording used since 1600 by the printers for the University Press of Cambridge, England, to accompany their device. Its origin is untraced so far, but it has been spotted in the works of Robert Leighton, Scottish Archbishop of Glasgow(1611-1684). He quoted it once in his Meditation on Psalm 32, and translated it as “Hence light we draw, and fill the sacred cup.” It could derive from the latin version of Psalm 36 8-9,‘They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. 9: For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.’ (Vulgate: ‘inebriabuntur ab ubertate domus tuae et torrente voluntatis tuae potabis eos: quoniam apud te fons vitae in lumine tuo videbimus lumen.’ But this is another unplumbed mystery.

    Comment by D Pinto — September 28, 2013 @ 7:25 am

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