Mormon Temples: How They Work. Part 5.

[Part 4 is here.]

Temple Function and Architecture

As an illustration of the general structure of temples, I will consider the Provo, Utah temple. The Provo temple has a center spire design but rather modern flavor. Its floor space amounts to 128,325 square feet. Most temples are considered to face East, in acknowledgement of the rising sun as a symbol of the future return of Jesus Christ (Mormons are by and large premillennialist). The physical entrance to the temple may not correspond to this direction.

The Provo temple’s entrance is on the west side of the building. Upon entering the temple, one faces the recommend desk. Other elements on this floor include the recorder’s office as well as the staff assisting him, the presidency and matron’s offices. Additionally the dressing rooms (locker area) the initiatory area, clothing rental and some small instruction areas for first time patrons are on this floor. Two separate staircases lead down to the basement level where there is a cafeteria, the baptistry, laundry (washing ceremonial rental clothing) and maintenance equipment and supplies. The Provo temple was originally (1972) designed with escalators between the first and second floors. These gradually became obsolete and parts became unavailable. The temple was equipped with a machine shop (and employed a machinist) where parts for equipment in the temple could be fabricated if needed. The second floor, now reached exclusively by stairs or elevator, contains twelve sealing rooms and a meditation chapel.

The third floor locates the endowment rooms (6) and a Celestial Room designed to efficiently rotate patrons through the experience while experiencing the tranquillity of the temple environment. The fourth floor is an equipment level where air handling systems are located as well as the audio-visual systems used in the endowment rooms. Formerly these included 35 millimeter film projectors and audio cassette tape systems for providing parts of the instruction and dramatic story telling, the synchronized visual/audio systems allowing for several foreign languages and ASL to be broadcast (language receivers operate by infrared) for patrons needing a language other than English. The audio/visual system has since been converted to a dvd system. Two elevators operate between the basement and third floor. The separate stair cases allow ordinance workers and patrons to move between the first and third floors. A single staircase leads to the fourth level.

Many larger temples contain other rooms such as general meeting rooms modeled on the Kirtland Temple’s congregational assembly area. The Salt Lake Temple functions in part as an element of Church administration and has meeting areas for general authority meetings.

In the case of the Provo temple, grounds keeping and food service is shared with Brigham Young University which provides prepared food for the cafeteria and crews for grounds care. This of course is an exceptional practice not shared by other temples. Moreover, many newer temples offer very minimal or no food service at all. In most temples, the baptistry lies in a basement area, symbolizing the grave in its purpose of baptism for the dead.

The different rooms in each temple used for sacramental purpose have common elements based on those sacraments. Sealing rooms in each temple, for example, always contain a symbolic altar which functions as not just an ornament in the obvious way[1] but where patrons kneel, join hands and are sealed by the sealing officiator (sealer). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has published numerous photos of such rooms. Endowment rooms are built in theater format, since much of the function involves dramatic presentation (either as live drama or on film) of elements of biblical images which form a platform for inviting participants to the devoted life, eventually leading to a symbolic heavenly reunion with the Divine.[2]

Finally, while temple design follows interior functional needs, it also allows exterior design considerable freedom. Temple interiors are decorated with numerous paintings, usually depicting some aspect of the life of Christ, the parousia, paintings of Jerusalem or perhaps significant modern Mormon landscapes and often some references to founding events of Mormonism such as the reception of the golden plates (and hence the Book of Mormon) the first vision, priesthood restoration.[3] Additionally, a number of temples incorporate wall murals often depicting various aspects of pertinent religious history. Following Old Testament practice, temples are considered the most sacred of Latter-day Saint structures and are decorated to reflect that devotion.

Temple structure and function. There you have it. Now you know all about what happens in a Mormon Temple. One will probably be coming near you. If so, you will have the opportunity to enter, view the temple inside and out and get some feeling for what many Saints view as one of the highest expressions of their faith. Remember, individual temples may differ in internal organizational structure and architecture, while maintaining basic elements of the system. Each temple is beautiful for not only its exterior and interior appearance, but for the devotion of those who assist in it, and those who enter because of their faith in Christ and the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


[1] The altar of sacrifice and or supplication recalling the sacrifices of the OT and the death of Jesus Christ. In this case one might think of the altar as being one of symbolic sacrifice, the believer offering the consecrated life to God. Baptistries have baptismal fonts which rest on the backs of twelve oxen (statues) usually thought of as symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel. Latter-day Saints have strong doctrinal links to the OT patriarchs and prophets (especially Elijah in regard to the temple) in a number of ways.

[2] While Latter-day Saints may return to the temple as often as they wish to re-experience the ordinances, covenants and recitations of the temple by acting as proxy for the dead, the earliest Saints could repeat the experience on their own behalf. In a sense, that practice corresponds to early Mormon idea of repeating baptism and other sacraments.

[3] A recent president of the Provo Temple invited a staff member to research the paintings hanging in the temple, attaching historical notes to some of them, and adding a small brass memorial to the frame of each indicating the painter and the title of the painting, if known.


  1. Since most temples are on a MUCH smaller footprint than the Provo temple, it might be interesting to explain the architecture of these newer temples. Some of the more obvious changes are:

    (1) The notion of progressing up floors is accomplished by progressing further and further into the building – celestial room is furthest from the entrance and accessed by moving through the temple appropriately – see next point…

    (2) There is no room for a dedicated meditation chapels. To function in a smaller space, the “chapel” turns into the first half of the endowment room. You then move into a second endowment room at a certain point in the ceremony (this allows for the first room to become a chapel again) and then move through to the celestial room.

    (3) While the baptismal fonts themselves are under ground in the smaller format, the baptismal font room is not – there is no “basement” to speak of.

    (4) There are no cafeterias, clothing rentals, laundry facilities, etc. This requires saints in these areas to be a bit more self sufficient in bringing temple clothes.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    This has been an outstanding series, Bill. Thanks for putting it together. All future temple prep teachers should be incorporating these posts into their curriculum.

    You might be interested to know that I actually printed off the first four, because in my GD class on Sunday the reading is in Ezekiel and is heavily temple-centric, and I figured some discussion of modern temples might ensue and I wanted to be prepared.

  3. Thanks for the review of the now ubiquitous smaller temple, Nicole!

  4. Kevin, I blush. Thanks.

  5. Outstanding, WVS. This will be a resource to many. Thank you.

  6. as an investigator, i’ve found this series extremely informative, containing information i have not been able to find otherwise. thank you.

  7. Thanks, Tracy. aileen I hope it helped. You’re welcome.

  8. Cynthia L. says:

    Great series, WVS! And an important follow-up comment by Nicole.

  9. Thanks, Cynthia.

  10. Latter-day Guy says:

    Loving this series. (Footnote #2 was completely new to me.) Great stuff, WVS.

  11. 10.,
    Same here re FN#2. This has been a really fantastic series and I hope it reaches a broad audience over time as a resource for temple preparation and study.

  12. Great wrap-up, WVS. If you don’t mind, I’d like to include this material all together for my temple prep class. Or, if you wouldn’t mind, would you create a PDF compilation?

    Regarding n2, I can think of 3 times when JS readministered the temple liturgy to the same group during his life. Then you had the Nauvoo Temple, and I seem to remember the Endowment House (though that could have just been re-baptism). I can’t think of other any repeat participations of the endowment of hand. Was it pretty common?

  13. Regarding n2, I can think of 3 times when JS readministered the temple liturgy to the same group during his life. Then you had the Nauvoo Temple, and I seem to remember the Endowment House (though that could have just been re-baptism). I can’t think of other any repeat participations of the endowment of hand. Was it pretty common?

    No, that about covers what I can remember. When I wrote it I thought there were more instances, but after thinking about it, I couldn’t really pin it down. So there were some, but not a lot.

    As far as using it, feel free, use at will and modify as appropriate. (pdf on the way.)

  14. #1 Nicole,

    I can’t speak for all small temples, but the small temple in my district, which was one of the first small temples to be built, still has you progressing upwards, albeit subtly. the hallway is on an incline as it progresses toward the Celestial room. The two endowment rooms are on the same level, except there is a single step before approaching the veil to bring it in level with the celestial room. While the baptistry is not in the basement, the level of the water is lower than the floor and the oxen stand ina room that could be considered a basement.

  15. Re: #14. Our temple is one of the small temples, also, and the 2 Sealing Rooms are at the top of the incline to be at the same elevation as the Celestial Room, which only makes sense.

  16. #14 & #15: It has been a while since I lived in either of the two districts upon which I was basing my description. Both were of ~1999 vintage. You might be right about 1 small step such that the prayer circle takes place on a ‘stage’ and raises the veil and celestial room. I’m afraid my memory is too fuzzy of the sealing room elevation to comment on that.

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