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25 Things You Didn't Know About the Tabernacle

by | Oct. 02, 2017

Mormon Life

We wanted to reshare this article in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the first time the Salt Lake Tabernacle was used for general conference!

As one of the most iconic and aesthetically unique buildings on Temple Square next to the temple itself, the Tabernacle has long held a place in Mormon heritage. Home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the gathering place for general conference for 150 years, the Tabernacle was extensively renovated from 2005-2007 to preserve its history and extend its life. Many people are familiar with the structure, but few know about some of the fascinating details and stories behind its construction and role in early Mormon history.

Structure

1. The current Tabernacle was based on a concept for a canvas tabernacle that was going to be built near the Nauvoo Temple to accommodate the thousands who came to listen to the Prophet speak. However, as persecution increased, the canvas tabernacle was abandoned and materials for it were used to outfit wagons going west with the Saints instead.

2. A large fountain was installed in the middle of the room from 1875 to the mid-1880s. The fountain was surrounded by four statues of lions and was intended to cool Tabernacle occupants down and make them more comfortable during gatherings.

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The Tabernacle decorated for Pioneer Day. If you look in the center, below the chandelier, you will notice the fountain.

3. The Tabernacle pillars are made of red sandstone, which was quarried from local Red Butte Canyon.

4. A baptistery was installed in the basement of the Tabernacle in 1890, but it was removed as part of renovation work during 2005-2007.

5. Three talented Mormon architects were commissioned to work on different parts of the Tabernacle: Truman Angell, the Salt Lake Temple architect, William Folsom, the Manti Temple architect, and Henry Grow, a civil engineer and experienced bridge builder.

6. The Tabernacle was purposely built on the same east-west axis as the Salt Lake Temple to show its significance in the Saints’ worship.

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An outdoor view of the Tabernacle in the 1870s. If you look carefully in the background, you may notice the rising walls of the unfinished Salt Lake Temple to the east.

7. The Tabernacle has been awarded the title of a National Historic Landmark as well as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Other projects to receive this title include the Golden Gate Bridge and the Panama Canal.

8. The Tabernacle was first used eight years before it was officially finished and dedicated. It was used for October 1867 conference and was dedicated for use at that time by Brigham Young. When it was completed in October 1875, John Taylor gave the official dedication.

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The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings in front of the small, original Tabernacle organ celebrating Utah's statehood in 1896.

9. The Tabernacle was one of the first structures in Utah to be equipped with electric lighting. 

10. The original wooden latticework of the roof still stands. It was, however, reinforced with steel to help keep the building safe while still preserving the original craftsmanship.

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An inside perspective of the latticework of planks inside the roof of the Tabernacle, looking down.

11. The roof of the Tabernacle is nine feet thick.

12. 1,000 seats were eliminated during renovations when legroom between benches was increased from 9 inches to 14 inches. This was done because the building no longer needed to have maximum seating capacity, due to the construction of the Conference Center.

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