Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the February 2022 edition of the Daily Universe Magazine.
Richard Cowan sat in the newly constructed Provo Temple, listening to the angelic sound of a choir singing the “Hosanna Anthem.” When the signal came for the congregation to join in the singing of the hymn “The Spirit of God”, he looked around to see others, like himself, too muffled to sing.
“It wasn’t until we came out that one of us really felt like talking,” Cowan said of the signing. “It was just such an overwhelming spiritual experience.”
The Provo Temple was dedicated in two sessions on February 9, 1972. The dedication sessions were broadcast via closed-circuit television to the Marriott Center and other campus buildings. During the dedicatory sessions, President Joseph Fielding Smith’s prayer was read by his first counselor, President Harold B. Lee. The end of the prayer eloquently explained the purpose of the Provo Temple:
“We humbly pray that you will accept this building and pour out your blessings into it as a house into which you will come and in which your Spirit will direct all that will be done, that it will be accepted for you. May your Spirit and your blessings assist and guide all who officiate there, so that a sense of holiness reigns in every room of this holy house. May all who enter have clean hands and pure hearts, and may they be built up in their faith and leave with a sense of peace and praising your holy name.
Cowan is co-author of the book “Provo’s Two Temples”, which traces the history of the temples of Provo and downtown Provo. He attended the dedication and dedication of the Provo Temple while serving as a stake president and as a religion teacher at BYU.
The single spire of the temple, originally in gold, rose in the center of the round building. Cowan said many people believed the temple structure symbolized a pillar of fire coming out of a cloud. The spire was painted white after a statue of the angel Moroni was placed on top in 2003.
As the temple reaches its 50th anniversary, Cowan reflected on its importance to Provo residents, Missionary Training Center missionaries and BYU students. Cowan said the Provo Temple “set the tone” as a temple that performed more ordinances than any other, at least until the Mount Timpanogos Temple opened in 1996. He called the temple de Provo as the “spiritual heart of the community”.
President Russell M. Nelson announced his intention to rebuild the temple during the October 2021 General Conference. Cowan estimated that reconstruction will begin in the fall of 2023, after the completion of the Orem Temple. “We want to have a local temple available where missionaries and students from BYU and others can go,” Cowan said.
Provo Temple worker Ann Calder is one of many community members affected by the 50-year-old building. She said she liked working at the temple because of the great people.
“There is a wonderful spirit and there is so much to learn,” she says.
Despite the desire of some members of the Provo community to preserve the temple’s original structure, Calder said she is confident in the rebuilding plan.
Provo Temple Timeline
August 14, 1967 In a meeting with the 28 stake presidencies in the area, Presidents Hugh B. Brown and N. Eldon Tanner, counselors in the First Presidency, announced their intention to build a temple in Provo. President Tanner told attendees that in 1966, 52 percent of all temple work was done in the Salt Lake, Logan, and Manti temples. At a similar meeting in Ogden, the First Presidency announced plans to build a similar temple there.
October 30, 1967 Church architect Emil B. Fetzer and church building committee vice chairman Fred A. Baker discussed the flow of patrons and possible plans for the temples during an overnight flight to destination from London. Fetzer described a temple with a recommend office, foyer, and offices on the first floor, a chapel and sealing rooms on the second, and six ordinance rooms surrounding the celestial room on the third.
January 24, 1968 Fetzer presented his plan for the Provo and Ogden temples to the First Presidency. Fetzer wrote in his memoirs that he first explained the flow and function of the interior of the temple. Finally, he placed a render of the exterior on an easel. Fetzer wrote that he heard a “very audible and distinct gasp”.
“I didn’t know what they expected to see,” he wrote, “but that wasn’t it.” After a First Presidency counselor asked President McKay if he found the design offensive, President McKay replied, “No! I like it very much.” The design was approved.
August 1969 Ben E. Lewis, chairman of the fundraising committee, reported in Church News that stake members in the temple district contributed more than the estimated one million dollars toward the construction of the temple.
September 15, 1969 More than 12,000 people, including 11 General Authorities, gather for the dedication ceremonies.
January 8, 1970 President David O. McKay, ninth President of the Church, dies at age 96.
May 21, 1971 With more than 6,000 spectators and 19 General Authorities watching, the new First Presidency (President Joseph Fielding Smith with counselors President Harold B. Lee and President N. Eldon Tanner) laid the cornerstone of the temple. Construction of the temple continued inside.
January 10–29, 1972 The public was invited to an open house to view the completed temple. The Church News reported that more than 246,000 visitors attended the open house.
February 9, 1972 The Provo Temple was dedicated in two sessions. About 74,000 members attended in the temple and via closed-circuit television at nine BYU campus buildings, including the Marriott Center, George Albert Smith Fieldhouse, Joseph Smith Building and Harris Fine Arts Center. President Joseph Fielding Smith prepared the dedicatory prayer and asked President Harold B. Lee to read the prayer for the Church’s 15th temple.
The prayer included the petition “that this great temple of learning, Brigham Young University, and all that is associated with it…prosper to the full. Let your illuminating power rest upon those who teach and those who are taught, that they may ‘seek knowledge even by study and also by faith.’ … May those who teach and study in all fields of scholarship have their souls enlightened with spiritual knowledge that they will look to your house for blessings, knowledge and learning that surpasses all that can be found elsewhere.
1997 The opening of the Temple of Mount Timpanogos split the temple district of Provo. For the first time in 26 years, the Provo temple was not the most productive in the Church.
October 1999 The Church has standardized the naming of temples. The Provo Temple is now officially called the Provo Utah Temple.
May 12, 2003 The Angel Moroni statue was added to the spire of the Provo Utah Temple. The initial rendering showed a statue on the spire, but President McKay preferred no statue. The spire was built with the structure to support a statue. While the crane was in place, the golden spire was painted white.
February 18, 2010 After announcing plans to remodel and reconfigure the Ogden Utah Temple, Temple Department executive director William R. Walker of the First Quorum of the Seventy said there were no plans to a similar renovation of the Provo Utah Temple (Ogden’s twin).
March 25, 2020 The First Presidency has closed all temples due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
May 11, 2020 The Provo Utah Temple is one of 17 temples selected to reopen for living sealing ordinances. The temple added all living ordinances on August 17, 2020, proxy baptisms on April 26, 2021, and all proxy ordinances on June 14, 2021.
October 3, 2021 At the close of General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced his intention to rebuild the Provo Utah Temple following the dedication and commissioning of the Orem Utah Temple. No official date has been given for the start of the reconstruction.
November 24, 2021The Church has released a rendering of the reconstructed Provo Utah Temple. The design does not refer to the modernist expression of Fetzer’s design, but rather reflects the current architectural massing and style of temples similar to Pocatello Idaho, Deseret Peak Utah, Taylorsville Utah, Saratoga Springs Utah, Orem Utah, Payson Utah and Red Cliffs Utah. Square footage and interior details have not been released.