The following story originally ran on LDS Living in June 2016 but has been updated to celebrate the last year of the Mormon Miracle Pageant.
On June 22, 2019, the grounds of the Manti Utah Temple will alight and thousands will fill the temple grounds for the last performance of the Mormon Miracle Pageant.
This historic pageant, which began July 23, 1967, has been running for over half a century and has impacted the lives of more than four million attendees who have watched the program over the years, proving that the Mormon Miracle Pageant is aptly named. Not only does the pageant detail the miracles that went into the founding of Christ's Church on this earth, the pageant itself is a miracle and a compilation of creativity, charity, service, and, most of all, faith.
How else, save through miracles, could a pageant started in the 1960s with no budget turn into something that draws 70,000 to 100,000 people each year and has touched the lives of millions?
The Mormon Miracle Pageant began largely as a way to keep kids out of mischief during the long summer months. With kids wearing donated and dyed bedsheets and with lights made out of old soup cans donated by the school, the small community of Manti managed to put on a production that began drawing people from all over the nation and attracting the attention and admiration of general authorities and prophets. Here are a few miracles that went into it's creation.
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The Rattlesnake Miracle
The pageant, performed on the grounds of the Manti Utah Temple, is set on a historic, life-saving site. When the pioneers first arrived in Manti in November 1849, they arrived to find three feet of snow and very little protection. The Saints dug into a hillside, living out of caves and grottos that protected them from the ravaging winter winds and cold.
However, when spring came, the Saints quickly discovered they had tunneled into a massive rattlesnake nest, with hundreds of snakes suddenly swarming their camps. Miraculously, though, no one was injured or bitten by the snakes.
The hill that once saved the Saints physically soon became the site for a temple where Saints could obtain spiritual salvation, the climactic message of the pageant today.
Fun Fact: Did you know the Manti Utah Temple used to have a tunnel and archway through it that cars could drive through? People used to joke, "The Manti Temple is the only temple people can go through without a recommend."
The Miracle of Sacrifice
Among one of the most impressive parts of the Mormon Miracle Pageant is how one small community can put on a production with 1,133 cast members and 1,000+ makeup artists, sound technicians, lighting specialists, costume designers, and traffic controllers.
Seventy-five percent of the cast is 18 or younger. While most kids are sleeping in during the summer or on vacation, the kids in Manti are up late performing and up early rehearsing or cooking charity breakfasts. In fact, every morning during the pageant, the Primary kids in Manti are at the temple by 7 a.m. cleaning up the grounds for the temple patrons that day.
No one in Manti takes vacations when school ends and summer begins. This was even truer back when the pageant lasted two months instead of just two weeks.
"It took our whole summer. No one took any vacations. Summer was pageant time. All the kids knew that and that was their summer and they loved it," said Merilyn Jorgensen, who is currently writing a book on the history and stories of the pageant.
And in all these years, with hundreds of boys carrying wooden swords, with handcarts, and even with pyrotechnics, only one bone has been broken by a cast member.
Fun Fact: The actor who plays the angel Moroni and stands on a platform at the top of the temple used to stand on a tiny wooden platform with no gate and only someone holding onto his ankles to make sure he didn't fall. With storms and winds blowing, the safety features have been updated, so now Moroni wears a full-body harness.
But Manti natives are not the only one's who sacrifice for the pageant. People from all over come to volunteer and perform. This year a father and son from New Mexico came to participate.
Robert Reuel and his son Paris decided that they would have a summer of service this year. While thinking of where they might want to volunteer, Robert received inspiration in the temple that he should check into pageants. With a quick Google search, the Manti Miracle Pageant was the first to pop up, and everything worked perfectly with the timing.
And the father and son have found even more than they were expecting: "We came here so my son could make some new friends," Robert says. "The kids here are wonderful. He's disappeared now—I never see him during the day; he's off visiting with friends and it's been a wonderful experience for him."
The Miracle of Conversion
The most pivotal miracle of all that occurs in Manti every June is the awakening and renewing of thousands of testimonies.
Jordan Call, one of the actors who portrays Joseph Smith, shared that "good missionary moments come from being in the pageant."
For example, one year while he was walking amidst the audience after the show, a man, Travis, came up to him. Travis had not been active in the Church in 15 years.
"He came up to me with tears in his eyes and said, 'Everything you said was true. I went up to a protestor and told him everything you said was true that Joseph Smith really did see Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.'" Because of his experience that day, Travis's testimony was strengthened in a way that helped him become re-activated in the Church.
But those in the audience are not the only ones who come out with stronger testimonies—those in the cast do as well.
"There is a special spirit about it," David E. Allred, who portrays Christ, says. "I think of Christ in new ways than I would have if I hadn't been cast in this role, but I realize too that we're all trying to be like Jesus and so I am no different from anybody else."
Baptisms and engagements have also emerged from the pageant. A teenager who was cast as the witch doctor last year was a nonmember who first heard about the pageant while on a youth campout. The boys saw him doing handstands and other gymnastics and said, "You've got to be in the pageant." He wasn't so convinced himself, but with persuasion eventually joined.
As he participated in the pageant, he would ask questions, feeling overwhelmed by the Spirit. The following fall, he was baptized as a member of the Church.
Fun Fact: One year, the cast members playing Mary and Robert began dating during the pageant. At the final dress rehearsal, right at the moment Mary becomes reunited with Robert to take him to the spirit world, the actor playing Robert dropped to one knee and proposed to Mary in front of the entire cast.
While researching for her new book on the pageant, Merilyn Jorgensen, also known as the "Angel Lady" for her work with the angels in the pageant, was visited by one of the girls who had been an angel in the 1970s. She had heard Jorgensen was writing a book and felt she needed to tell her story.
"She came from a pretty difficult home and told me 'the pageant literally saved me life.'"
Jorgensen has heard many other extraordinary testimonies and miracles while talking to those who've been involved in the pageant for five decades, including some who have seen angels or heavenly beings they thought were actors but later discovered were not cast in the play.
Whether granted with visions, the Spirit, a renewal of testimony, or a chance to serve, there's no doubt that the Mormon Miracle Pageant has transformed lives and touched hearts.