Though we sometimes hear of Church buildings miraculously surviving natural disasters, that is not always the case. In 2010, just a little over a week before Christmas, the historic Provo Tabernacle caught fire. The interior of the building burned to the ground, and only the outer walls of the tabernacle survived.
However, the fire that destroyed much of the tabernacle turned into a blessing when President Monson announced in the October 2011 general conference that the demolished tabernacle would become the site of the Provo City Center Temple.
Similarly, there have been times when the tragedy of the destruction of a temple by fire has turned into a blessing for Latter-day Saints.
1. Apia Samoa Temple Fire
On July 9, 2003, at around 6:30 p.m., workers renovating the Apia Samoa Temple detected a fire inside the building. Though they tried to put it out, the fire quickly spread throughout the temple.
Samoan member Mika Lolo had just finished dinner when he saw the fire trucks drive by. When he followed the trucks, he could see the flames coming from the front of the temple and could feel the heat as the fire burned the temple to the ground.
"I was just speechless [and] I was crying like a baby," Lolo said, according to rsc.byu.edu.
The Saints in Samoa were devasted by the fire, and the timing was particularly difficult. Temple renovations were nearly complete, and many were looking forward to the doors finally opening again in October.
When President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the temple in 1983, he prayed, "May the structure in all of its aspects be preserved from the ravages of nature and any vandalism or defilement of man,” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, "Dedicatory Prayer: Apia Samoa Temple," August 5, 1983).
But through some miracle, not every part of the temple was destroyed. The fiberglass angel Moroni survived, despite the fact that fiberglass is a very flammable substance.
The exact cause of the fire was never announced by the Church, according to rsc.byu.edu. However, the Sunday following the fire, this profound statement was read by local leaders to the Saints in Samoa:
"We have suffered a great loss in the stake, we have suffered a great loss in Samoa, we have suffered a great loss in the church, and we have suffered a great loss in the world in the fire that destroyed the Samoa Temple. But the thing that is important to us is what did not burn. Every ordinance that was done in that temple is still valid and still alive; the records are still available. We did not lose them. We don’t know whether the prophet is going to give us another temple or not, but we had twenty years to do a lot of work for our people and it’s all there and it’s all good."
A week after the temple fire, the First Presidency announced plans to rebuild. In October, the same month the temple was supposed to be open for the use of members, the Church broke ground.
For two years, the Saints in Samoa anxiously waited to have a temple yet again in Apia.
Then, natural disaster threatened the Apia temple once again in February 2005. At the time, the temple had a temporary water-proof but not wind-proof roof and the windows, too large for coverings, were left open. As Hurricane Oaf, a category five storm, neared Apia, it looked like the temple and the inhabitants of the island were in danger. Then, at the last second, the hurricane veered from its course, saving the island and the temple from extensive damage.
On September 4, 2005, the temple was once again dedicated by President Hinckley. In the dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley said:
"Our Eternal Father in Heaven, we rejoice in the knowledge that there is again in these favored islands of Samoa a sacred house befitting Thy divine nature. . . . Now Father, we pray that Thou wilt watch over this sacred structure and preserve it from the kind of destructive force which destroyed its predecessor building. Wilt Thou sanctify it and hallow it, that all who enter herein may do so with a knowledge that they are in Thy holy habitation" (President Gordon B. Hinckley, "Dedicatory Prayer: Apia Samoa Temple," September 4, 2005).
2. Nauvoo Illinois Temple Fire
After intense persecution, the Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois, made the difficult decision in 1845 to leave Nauvoo the following spring.
The temple, which wasn't yet completed, would be left behind.
As a result, the attic of the temple was dedicated and endowment sessions were held around the clock. Brigham Young, who originally planned to leave Nauvoo February 4, 1846, delayed his departure by two weeks when he saw members crowding outside the not-yet-complete temple, waiting to receive their endowments.
Before the Saints left Nauvoo, 5,615 members were able to receive their endowments in the Nauvoo temple, according to history.lds.org.
On October 9, 1848, the Nauvoo Temple caught fire.
"About 3 o’clock (in the morning) fire was discovered in the cupola. It had made but little headway when first seen, but spread rapidly, and in a very short period the lofty spire was a mass of flame, shooting high in the air, and illuminating a wide extent of country. It was seen for miles away. The citizens gathered around, but nothing could be done to save the structure. It was entirely of wood except the walls, and nothing could have stopped the progress of the flames. In two hours, and before the sun dawned upon the earth, the proud structure, reared at so much cost—an anomaly in architecture, and a monument of religious zeal—stood with four blackened and smoking walls only remaining" (Andrew Jenson, “The Nauvoo Temple,” Historical Record, June 1889, 872–873).
Only the outer walls survived the fire, but those too were destroyed after a tornado in 1850 left all but the crumbled west face and some of the stones were salvaged for other buildings.
In 1937, the Church began slowly purchasing the land of the original temple block until October 1999, when President Hinckley announced the Nauvoo Temple would be rebuilt.
At the cornerstone ceremony, President Boyd K. Packer said, "The temple was destroyed and burned, and the stones of the temple were scattered like the bones had been cremated, and the temple, in effect, was dead. . . . So the temple died. But now, this day, it has come to a resurrection. The Temple stands here again" (R. Scott Lloyd, “Bonding with an Earlier Era,” Church News, Nov. 11, 2000).
Lead image from lds.org