Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Mystery of the Nauvoo Angel!


The Nauvoo Angel
Hello!  Sorry I haven't posted for a bit...I had a good excuse though! This past weekend I was able to take a quick trip to Old Nauvoo.  Nauvoo, Illinois is one of my Church's most important historical sites. George and I were on a "road trip" to pick up an expensive and unwieldy piece of painting equipment in Davenport, Iowa.  I looked up Davenport on the map and found it was located on the Mississippi River and only about 100 miles from Nauvoo, Illinois.  I was so excited!  Nauvoo had always been on my "bucket list" of places I wanted to see in my lifetime.  Funny about buckets...it was raining buckets on Saturday, my only chance to go!  When life hands you Nauvoo...you make the best of it!

Beautiful Temple in the Rain.
 
The current Nauvoo LDS Temple was rebuilt in 2002 on the site of the ruined temple built by Joseph Smith and his followers back in 1846, just before the Mormon Exodus to Salt Lake City.  I love the history of our Church and my pioneer ancestors.  Being able to visit Nauvoo helps to give me more perspective...and understanding of the hardships the people endured.  Every year 1000s of our young people go on "Trek" at Martin's Cove in Wyoming.  They spend a week pulling handcarts and attempting to walk in the shoes of those pioneers.  They learn to appreciate the sacrifices of the early Mormon pioneers.  What really made me think was the fact that it took me only two days to travel the distance they struggled months to cover.
 
Historic Nauvoo Temple
I have long been fascinated by the history of the original Nauvoo Temple.  I always loved pictures of the temple so graceful on its hillside overlooking the Mississippi River.  I often marveled that the Saints were able to leave this lovely temple behind just as soon as it was completed.  A 1992 article written by Don F. Colvin in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism tells us...
 
"As most of the Saints left Nauvoo under threat of mob violence in early February 1846, a special crew stayed behind and completed the temple. Three months later the building was considered complete and was publicly dedicated on May 1, 1846. Dedication services were repeated over a three-day period and witnessed by thousands. Visitors paid a one-dollar admission fee, and the funds were used to help workmen move their families and join the main body of the Church on the plains to the west.

Tintype photo of completed temple.
 
"When most of the remaining Church members were driven from the city in September of 1846, the temple was temporarily abandoned. Mob forces desecrated and defiled the sacred structure. Some physical damage, though not extensive, was sustained. Attempts were later made to sell the temple, but these proved unsuccessful. The building was consumed by fire in October 1848, by the deliberate act of arson. Only the bare walls were left standing. A French Icarian community purchased the site and was preparing to reclaim the structure when it was struck by a tornado, which knocked down some of the walls and damaged others so severely that they had to be razed. Much of the structural stone was later reused in other Nauvoo buildings."

Damaged and Desecrated.
 
Doesn't this old photograph break your heart?  I know mine aches to think of it.  I picture one of my pioneer ancestors looking back across the wide expanse of the Mississippi for one last glance at the temple on the hill...perhaps catching the glint of sunlight on the gold leaf of the angel weather vane. Did she wipe away a tear as she turned away?   How I wish I had been there to see it in its glory!  So much had been suffered and sacrificed for that sacred building.  But thankfully, many Saints were able to receive the blessings of the temple before leaving...they would need that strength for the journey.
 
The First Angel...and a Mystery.
 
Old Print with Angel
 
The angel atop the old Nauvoo temple fascinates me.  I have always enjoyed the primitive folk-art of the 1800's...especially the figures carved as weather vanes.  The Nauvoo angel was part weather vane and lightning rod.  The Perrigrine Sessions Journal described it as a "representation of an angel in his priestly robes with a book of Mormon in one hand and trumpet in the other which [was] over laid with gold."  The angel, flying in a horizontal position, represented the "angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel." (D&C 133:36, Rev. 14:6)  If you want to know more about the symbolism of the weather vane, there are many interesting sites online.
 
Angel Moroni on the Salt Lake Temple.
George and I were married there almost 38 years ago.
 
Those familiar with our Church know that a gold angel is placed atop each of our temples.  He is Moroni from the Book of Mormon.  Each statue is a little bit different...but in each he is blowing a trumpet like Gabriel.  It is said that each Angel Moroni faces the east...all except the Nauvoo Moroni.  He faces the west...as if remembering the westward migration of the people who once made Nauvoo a prosperous and beautiful city. 

 
30" Nauvoo Angel
I bought this at Zion's Mercantile in Nauvoo.
 
The Mystery at last!
What happened to the angel figure which once crowned the old Nauvoo Temple?  Many people assume that the statue was destroyed in either the fire or windstorm that brought the temple to ruin.  But is it possible that the original Angel Moroni from Nauvoo flew over the city of Cincinnati atop another church for 100 years?  Some people say "Yes!"  The story is from a Nov. 25, 1999 article on the KSL News Website.
 
In the late 1960's an LDS Stake President, John Taylor, who worked for Proctor and Gamble, would look out his window and see a "beautiful figure, shining in the sun, because it was covered with gold leaf."  A genealogist in the area told him that she had seen in the records of the Salem Evangelical Church that a delegation had gone from Cincinnati to Nauvoo.  They bought the figure from the destroyed temple, called it "Gabriel" and put it on their steeple.
 
One day a windstorm toppled the angel from it's steeple.  The Cincinnati church commissioned another one and gave the damaged one to John Taylor.  He called a man from Nauvoo to come in his pickup truck and carry the angel back to Nauvoo.  Before it left, President Taylor took pictures of the angel.
 
Unfortunately...a prominent Church historian looked at the pictures and told Taylor that although it was definitely folk art of the mid 1800s...he doubts that it was the angel on the Nauvoo Temple. He gives some of his reasons in the article.  But in the meantime...where is the angel that left for Nauvoo?  No one knows.  It may have been destroyed or is in someone's barn somewhere.  Many people to this day still believe that "Gabriel" is Moroni and that someday he (the angel figure) will  be returned to the Church.  I sure hope so!  Until that day, I will enjoy my small copy hanging in my living room. 
 
Temple view from across the Mississippi.
The picture I would have taken if weren't raining cats and dogs!
Of course it wouldn't be autumn...sigh!
 
Hope you enjoyed this journey...
I hope to return some (sunny) day!
 
 
 
 
 

3 comments:

Christine said...

Thank you, I found it all very interesting.
I am so glad you made an item on your bucket list and that the weather didn't deter you! Just an excuse to go back!!
xx

chris mckinley said...

I love your posts about your trips, I always learn so much from your posts!

Anonymous said...

Can you order the angel online?