Top 21 Mormon Temples: The Definitive List
The numerous Mormon Temples vary wildly in terms of design, size, occupancy, and originality. For the purposes of this list, any temple – dedicated, announced, or under construction – is fair game, including Mormon temples before the succession crisis that might not be in Church hands anymore, but not “Mormon” temples that were built later on by splinter groups (e.g. Kirtland is in play, but the Community of Christ’s temple in Independence is out).
Bear in mind that at the time of writing, there are 144 dedicated temples, 12 under construction, and 12 announced, thus making this list represent a mere 12.5% of Mormon temples. Ergo, some temples won’t make the cut. But that doesn’t make any of them any less important. After all, they are all on equal footing when it comes to the work performed therein.
So without further ado, follow along for the definitive, completely subjective list of the Top 21 Mormon Temples.
21. Laie Hawaii Temple
Dedicated 1919 by Heber J. Grant
The Laie Hawaii Temple represented a bold foray into Polynesia and a major cultural and economic investment in the North Shore area of Oahu.
It shares an architectural pedigree with the Cardston and Mesa Temples and was the only Pacific outpost of the Church until the Hamilton New Zealand Temple.
20. Preston England Temple
Dedicated in 1998 by Gordon B. Hinckley.
Sure, London beat the Midlands on a temple by a good forty years, but the Midlands were the first area of the UK – if not Europe – where missionaries set foot. And today, this part of the UK is arguably the most densely LDS of any part of Europe, so it’s only appropriate that this region receives its own temple.
Also, bonus points for the overuse of brass on the second level. Seriously, it’s everywhere almost to the point of cruise ship gaudiness. But like they say, when in Chorley….
19. Hamilton New Zealand Temple
Dedicated 1958 by David O. McKay
Alright, so we barely left Polynesia, but New Zealand’s temple gets props for being the first temple in the southern hemisphere and being built to stimulate growth in the area rather than as a response to existing membership. While we might still build temples in response to future growth projections, that is an increasingly rare occurrence. President McKay was bold!
So the next time you have to question whether it’s better to be an Aussie or a Kiwi, just remember that New Zealand’s temple is about a gagillion times more inspiring than the few found in Australia. Sorry, Aussies. You’re great folks, but you live in a country of mini-temples and that random one in Sydney that’s about the size of a thumbtack.
18. Provo City Center Temple
It’s hard not to love the incredible journey of the former Provo Tabernacle to the second temple in Provo. It’s not the first temple to reappropriate an existing building, but it’s arguably the most dramatic and is the very essence of a “statement” temple.
Bonus points for proximity to NuSkin.
17. Hong Kong Temple
Dedicated 1996 by Gordon B. Hinckley
Hong Kong makes the list for being the Church’s first multi-use building. The temple occupies only a few floors of the structure. Just think about what an innovative move that was. We’d later see this approach in Manhattan, New York.
Moreover, with Hong Kong having reverted back to Chinese control in 1997, this means there’s a Mormon temple in actual China, even if it’s a Special Administrative Region.
16. Vernal Utah Temple
Dedicated 1997 by Gordon B. Hinckley
President Hinckley proved himself quite a visionary when it came to temples. We’ve already seen the multipurpose building used for the Hong Kong Temple and the innovative, if cookie-cutter, “mini” temples that doubled the number of dedicated temples in just over a year.
The Vernal Utah Temple makes use of the old Vernal tabernacle and represents the Church’s first foray into repurposing existing buildings as temples. Copenhagen, Denmark and Provo City Center would follow.
15. Monticello Utah
Dedicated 1998 by Gordon B. Hickley
Monticello represents the first of the so-called “mini” temples of the early 2000s. Designed as an effort to get smaller, uniform design temples into locales with fewer members, the Monticello Temple represents a huge step forward in terms of bringing the temple to the saints.
The importance of these temples cannot be overstated. Sure, they involve what some might interpret as uninspiring, anonymous design, but by building these tiny temples (many barely over 10,000 sq. ft.), we were able to realize President Hinckley’s vision of having one hundred temples in operation by the end of 2000. And we did it. And now members in Perth, Australia don’t have to fly to Melbourne or Hong Kong.
14. St. George Utah Temple
Dedicated 1877 by Wilford Woodruff
Is it for once having a smaller steeple that was eventually struck by lightning and needed to be replaced with the larger one Brigham Young originally envisioned before the local saints pushed back on the extra effort? That’s a great story, even if some urban legend is wrapped up in it.
However, it’s also the longest-operating current temple and is the first temple dedicated in Utah. This temple represents the permanence of the Latter-day Saint movement.
Of interesting note, its interior was originally similar to Nauvoo in that the upstairs consisted of a large room with movable partitions. Later renovations brought the temple up to “code.”
13. Los Angeles California Temple
Dedicated 1956 by David O. McKay
She’s a beast. Before the annex to the Salt Lake Temple, the Los Angeles California Temple was by far the largest in the Church at 190,614 sq. ft., but it wasn’t always going to be that way. The temple was originally conceived in the 1940s, but World War II delayed construction (a similar fate awaited the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple). During the limbo, a full priesthood assembly room was added to the designs, as well as revisions that enlarged the ordinance rooms to an unprecedented (and still uneclipsed) capacity of three hundred patrons per room.
The land for the temple was purchased from a Los Angeles film studio, and the current lot is a massive plot of land containing the temple, a visitors center, distribution center, mission home, temple apartments, and a stake center.
12. Kyiv Ukraine Temple
Dedicated 2010 by Thomas S. Monson
Among the many things Ukraine possesses that Russia does not, including some modicum of rule of law, civil society, and democracy, it also boasts the only temple in the entire former Soviet Union. Sure, Russia now has a stake, but Ukraine had one first.
The Kyiv Ukraine Temple was announced way back in 1997, but plans stalled for about ten years before construction finally started. Even years after the first stake in the old USSR was organized, rumors swirled that the organization of the Kyiv stake was premature and area authorities were waiting to see if membership numbers would stabilize in the region.
Either way, this temple is a final outpost until the great swathes of Eurasia finally give way to Hong Kong. The next closest temple not in Europe is in Africa.
11. Washington DC Temple
Dedicated 1974 by Spencer W. Kimball
When it was dedicated in 1974, the Washington DC Temple was the only American temple east of the Mormon Corridor. As federal agencies attracted Latter-day Saint families to the DC region, membership grew. The area continues to be the hub of Mormon activity in the eastern United States.
The DC Temple is the tallest temple in the Church at 288 feet. It’s also the only temple outside of Utah to be built with six ordinance rooms, following the rally-round-the-celestial-room design of the Jordan River, Provo, and Ogden Utah temples.
And a last little bit: the temple contains seven floors, which is symbolic by design. Six floors represent the creative periods and the seventh (which is a large assembly room) represents the day of rest.
10. São Paulo Brazil Temple
Dedicated 1978 by Spencer W. Kimball
Thirty-seven years ago, few could have imagined the Church’s explosive growth in Brazil. The São Paulo Temple is the Church’s first temple in South America, but certainly not the last, and as it represents the Church’s ever-swelling membership in South America, it deserves the number ten spot on our list.
President Kimball shocked a regional conference in Brazil when he announced not just that a temple would be built in the country, but even brought out artist’s renderings coupled with the announcement that São Paulo would be the temple’s home.
Brazil, in general, represented a huge turning point for the church when it came to issues of race, as it proved difficult for one to be labeled “black” in a country where most everyone represented an amalgam of races. Formerly stringent standards for priesthood conferral (and later, temple endowments) were slowly loosed in the years leading up to Official Declaration 2.
9. Cardston Alberta Temple
Dedicated 1913 by Joseph F. Smith
This is arguably one of the most gorgeous temples in the Church and it represents a number of firsts:
- First temple in Canada
- First temple outside the US
- First temple designed by outside architects
- First temple without a priesthood assembly room
It’s also one of three temples without any spires (though there was a brief stint where one could have potentially roped the Boston Massachusetts Temple in with that group).
If you ever get a chance to go to Cardston, first, hit up the Dairy Queen and say hi for me. Second, visit this wonderful building.
8. San Diego California Temple
Dedicated 1993 by Gordon B. Hinckley
Alright, full disclosure – I got married here. So I have a bias. But I’ll try and remove that from the discussion.
The San Diego California Temple stands alone – alone in the sense that there’s no other temple that looks like it. Sure, some temples look unique, but they tend to follow general templates and floorplans. There’s no other temple in the Church remotely like San Diego.
Of interesting note, the temple was largely designed by Roman Catholics who had never seen a Mormon temple until they were invited to the Las Vegas Temple open house in 1989.
This could have been ranked higher, but it gets docked points for the weird exit area used for weddings. Seriously, the couples actually leave the giant staircase atrium (the west tower) and then go down a set of utility stairs before exiting a non-descript door that overlooks Interstate 5. It’s weird.
7. Accra Ghana Temple
Dedicated 2004 by Gordon B. Hinckley
Ghana’s temple is not the first temple in Africa. That honor goes to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple, which predates Accra by nearly twenty years.
So why is Accra included in this list and not Joburg? The Johannesburg Temple was built after the 1978 revelation on the priesthood, but much of South Africa and its extant membership stems from a different age and descends from European colonists. There’s no harm in that, but it’s not quite as “African” as Ghana in that sense. (And we recognize this is an extremely simplified view of a very complicated issue.)
We give Accra this rank for being the first temple built in Africa that serves a largely post-1978 population. It’s a very symbolic building in this sense, and the Church’s continued exponential growth in Africa is only a sign of the great things to come.
6. Freiberg Germany Temple
Dedicated 1985 by Gordon B. Hinckley
When dedicated, the Freiberg Germany Temple was the smallest temple the Church had ever constructed, at 7,840 sq. ft. It’s since doubled in size and just went down for a lengthy renovation that will last until 2016.
But Freiberg gets this slot because it is the first temple built in a communist nation – then-East Germany. (Yes, it beat West Germany to a temple.)
This came about because for years the Church had worked with the East German government to allow members in East Germany to travel to Switzerland to attend the temple. The East Germans, burned out on the continual barrage of requests for visas, asked the Church if it would construct a temple right in East Germany so that Mormons would stop asking for visas to Switzerland. What do you think Salt Lake said to that?!
The temple went from announcement to dedication in under three years, thanks to assistance from the East German government. However, while the best materials available were used as much as possible, most of the temple was built “on the cheap,” which could be a reason for its lengthy closure that started last month.
5. Bern Switzerland Temple
Dedicated 1955 by David. O McKay
A sister to the Hamilton New Zealand Temple, the Swiss temple was the first in Europe (barely beating the London England Temple – though we can debate whether the UK is “Europe”). It was also the first “overseas” temple of the Church and the first temple built where English would not be the primary language. And there lies the reason for its ranking.
The Bern Temple is the first temple to use a film to present the endowment ceremony. President McKay was deeply interested in new media as a means of spreading the gospel, and this spread into his approach to solve the “problem” this temple faced. Europe had members, but not enough in each language served by the temple to present live endowment sessions. The simple solution was to film a single film and then dub it. This reduced the number of workers needed to officiate a session and opened up endless possibilities for presenting the endowment going forward, resulting in a fundamental change to the Church’s approach to announcing and designing future temples. And it’s for that the Bern Switzerland Temple ranks in our top five.
4. Kirtland Temple
Dedicated 1836 by Joseph Smith
The importance of the Kirtland Temple cannot be overstated. Even if it currently falls out of LDS hands and was not the source of the fulness of temple worship, the Kirtland Temple was pivotal in Latter-day Saint history. Can any of us argue with a building in which the fulness of the sealing power was restored, the Savior himself appeared, and the Saints consecrated their means and efforts to build a house worthy of the Lord’s presence? Not really.
After the Kirtland Safety Society fiasco, the temple fell out of Church ownership and shifted hands many times over the years, even serving as teacher’s seminary at one point. The Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) eventually gained ownership, as Joseph Smith’s descendants were followers of the faith and laid claim to it. They maintain it to this day.
But on the upside, it’s open for tours!
3. Nauvoo Temple (1.0)/Nauvoo Illinois Temple (2.0)
Original dedicated 1846 by Orson Hyde
Current dedicated 2002 by Gordon B. Hinckley
We combined both Nauvoos for simplicity’s sake, even if they have very different stories. Suffice it to say, if Nauvoo 2.0 had never been built, Nauvoo 1.0 would still occupy this spot. But since reconstructing the temple was a gasp-inducing announcement that reverberated throughout contemporary Mormonism, the combined temples’ spot in the rankings has only been bolstered.
The original temple was half-complete when Joseph Smith was martyred. Brigham Young carried on the work, and temple ordinances were carried out even without the building being dedicated.
As Mormons fled west, the temple was formally dedicated in haste in April 1846. Remaining Mormons were driven from Nauvoo by September of that year. In 1848, the building was set on fire by an unknown arsonist. All that remained were temple walls. Later, a tornado toppled one of the walls. Former temple stones were used to build other buildings throughout the Nauvoo area. In 1865, the Nauvoo City Council voted to demolish the remaining facade, destroying what was left of a once-proud edifice.
However, you can still see one of the original sunstones in the Smithsonian today.
From 1937 to 1962, the Church reacquired the temple plot in Nauvoo and in 1999, Gordon B. Hinckley announced a reconstruction. The reconstructed temple does not follow the same floorplan as the original, but it still stands as a testament to the will and perseverance of Latter-day Saints.
2. Salt Lake Temple
Dedicated 1893 by Wilford Woodruff
Wait, what? This isn’t number one? Yes, it’s the single image most associated with Mormonism. Yes, it represents Mormonism to a global audience. Yes, it’s gorgeous both inside and out. Yes, as a nod to the past, it still offers live endowment sessions, which is awesome. But it’s still not number one. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Forty years in the making, the Salt Lake Temple is an icon. It anchors Temple Square. It is steeped in so much history that we can barely sum it up here.
A Herculean effort was required to complete what is now the flagship temple of Latter-day Saints. The struggle associated with its construction is a deep part of Mormon culture, and most Mormons attempt to make the LDS hajj to the Salt Lake Temple at some point in their lives.
It’s also the first temple to feature an angel Moroni. We take Moroni for granted now, but in the old days of the Church, topping a temple with a statue of Moroni was not presupposed. In fact, the Moroni tradition really seems to be more of a norm from the 1970s-onward, and we’ve retroactively added Moroni to other temples, like Provo. Eight temples currently exist without a Moroni: St George Utah, Logan Utah, Manti Utah, Laie Hawaii, Cardston Alberta, Mesa Arizona, Hamilton New Zealand, and Oakland California.
So why not number one? Well, it might be the largest temple, but that’s something of a cheat. It’s the largest because of a few annexes it’s received over the years. Perhaps this is just because of my childhood allegiance to the Los Angeles Temple, but I appreciate that the bastion of SoCal Mormonism was the largest as-is. No annexes required.
Also, its official name is the “Salt Lake Temple,” not the “Salt Lake Utah Temple,” making it the only temple in the Church without a regional modifier in its name after the city name. Just a quibble, but I’m against Utah exceptionalism.
Really, this is a wonderful temple, and it slides in at number two not due to any shortcomings, but merely because it just can’t beat our number one pick. Which is…
1. Manti Utah Temple
Dedicated 1888 by Lorzeno Snow
The Manti Utah Temple has all of the upside of the Salt Lake Temple without any of the hoopla, and that’s a good thing that sets it above Salt Lake’s iconic monolith.
First off, its exterior design is stunning as it sits atop Manti hill. While Salt Lake is decidedly Gothic in style, the Manti Temple is an interesting amalgam of Gothic Revival, French Renaissance Revival, Second Empire, and Colonial styles, but somehow it works.
Also, the original structure was built with an underpass in it. An underpass.
On the inside, the temple’s two towers contain self-supporting staircases that are an architectural marvel of their time.
And like its fellow live session stablemate up in the 801, the Manti Temple feature progressive rooms for the endowment. However, unlike Salt Lake, which moves patrons between two rooms on the first floor before climbing a staircase for the final three rooms on the next level, Manti’s design involves a slow rise from level to level, implying even greater symbolism as one moves closer and closer, higher and higher to exaltation by the end of a session. It’s a small touch, but it’s a nice one, and since temples live and breathe on symbolism, even the smallest symbolic additions are important.
Manti also contains original benches from the pioneer era, unlike Salt Lake’s inevitable incorporation of flip-down padded seats.
And lastly, the Manti Temple still contains original artwork from its construction, including a World Room mural that blows away anything later artists have devised.
If you haven’t been to Manti, go.
Well that’s our definitive ranking of the top 21 Mormon temples. Do you agree or disagree? What’s your list?