St. George Tabernacle 1863

  • Groundbreaking 1863
  • Dedication 1876
  • Architect Miles Romney with assistance from William H. Folsom.
  • Style: Federalist with some Greek Revival detailing.

Of all the meetinghouses built in the LDS church, the St. George Tabernacle most closely resembles the prototypical New England churches built by architects such as Charles Bulfinch (for example the First Unitarian Church of Burlington). It is a two story rectangular structure with orderly rows of symmetrically placed windows in the Federalist style, although there are some Greek Revival details, such as the cornice returns. It has a colonial style clock tower which may have been included because the building was originally intended to double as a court house.

The entablature has been decorated with stars, a feature Miles Romney may have borrowed from the Nauvoo Temple, a building he had worked on as an architectural assistant. Another uniquely LDS feature is the set of two symmetrically placed front doors. Churches typically have either a single centrally placed entrance or two additional doors flanking a central entrance. The source of this odd arrangement may have been Joseph Smith’s original designs for the Independence and Kirtland temples, both of which feature two separate front entrances. Perhaps Joseph Smith had a theological purpose in mind: the division of the two priesthoods, or maybe the separation of genders in temple ceremonies. In any case, the two-door arrangement was a feature that LDS architects continued to use in a number of early tabernacles.

The interior contains a beautiful wrap-around gallery accessed by spiral staircases. The fine wrought-iron seating in the gallery was originally used in the Salt Lake Temple’s 1892 annex. After the annex was demolished in 1962 the seating was relocated to the St. George Tabernacle.

Behind the rostrum is a magnificent faux door frame in an exotic, one might even say, masonic style. Above the doorway is a painting of a coat of arms with a handshake, an all-seeing eye, and the phrase “Holiness to the Lord.” These are features typically seen in LDS temples but rarely in tabernacles or meetinghouses. The presence of so many temple-like symbols may indicate that at this stage (the 1860s) church members did not yet fully distinguish between meetinghouses and temples. The Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples had been used as church meetinghouses and administrative offices, in addition to their more unique purpose as a sacred place set aside for rituals. Like these early temples, the St. George Tabernacle had similar civic and communal functions. It was only later that temples were set aside as places reserved solely for ritual worship.

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