The Angel Moroni
With the dedication of the Brigham City Temple this weekend, Cyrus E. Dallin’s recent 150th birthday, and the anniversary of the Angel Moroni appearing to Joseph Smith being today as well, I thought I would talk about the Angel Moroni statues that appear on the temples. I will discuss the history of these statues, their symbolism, different varieties, and stories about them. To help make what I’m talking about clear, I will approach this post in a question-and-answer format.
Question 1: Why do we have Angel Moroni statues on our temples?
Moroni has great importance and symbolism in the Latter-day Saints’ faith. One of the last times I posted, I wrote about this angel’s role and importance in the restoration of the gospel. Moroni was the last prophet of the Nephite dispensation who completed the record we now have as the Book of Mormon. Over a millennia later, he led Joseph Smith to those plates and gave the young prophet extensive training and teaching to prepare him to become the Prophet of the Restoration. This important and central role in the founding of the Church has given this ancient prophet a lofty place in the Mormon psyche.
Latter-day Saints look at Moroni as the primary fulfillment of the verse in Revelation that reads: “And I saw another angel fly in the midsts of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people. Saying with a loud voice, Fear God and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come; and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” (Rev. 14:6-7.) A few of our hymns connect Moroni to this verse (see Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , 11; 13), and it has often been referenced to support the Church’s belief in the Restoration. For example, President N. Eldon Tanner stated: “This revelation was fulfilled and clearly understood when the Angel Moroni did fly in the midst of heaven and appeared to Joseph Smith and told him of the plates which contained the gospel in its fullness” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 62).
It seems that the angel on the Nauvoo temple drew upon this verse, but was never specifically pointed out as Moroni. Since many angels were involved in the process of the Restoration, it could have been meant as any of them or symbolic of them all at once. One interesting addition to the discussion around the angel on the Nauvoo temple is a painting that’s housed in the Salt Lake City Daughters of the Utah Pioneers museum. In this painting, the names of the pioneers of 1847 are listed on a scroll with an angel that closely resembles the Nauvoo temple weather vane holding it. What is most interesting about this angel is that its face is painted to be Joseph Smith’s face. While I’m not sure when this painting was completed, or who by (I would guess it’s a much later rendition), the idea of Joseph being a mortal angel bringing the everlasting gospel to the earth could fit within normal Mormon theology.
While the Nauvoo angel was somewhat ambiguous, the next angel to be placed on a temple was specifically stated as being Moroni. “The earliest architectural sketches of the temple show that a statue representing a flying angel was considered. Before the angel was sculpted, however, Church authorities accepted the suggestion of a young sculptor, Cyrus E. Dallin, who was engaged for the project to sculpt the angel in an upright position. That statue—twelve feet, five and a half inches tall—also depicted the angel described in Revelation 14 and was formally identified as the angel Moroni (see Improvement Era, April 1968, p. 6).” (“I Have a Question”, Ensign July 1994.) The angel on top of the Salt Lake Temple has become one of the most widely recognized symbols of the faith within and without the Church. All temples following the Salt Lake Temple that have an angel on them follow the pattern of this temple.
Since temples are the crowning architectural representations of the Restored Church, it is not surprising that another symbol of the restoration crowns their tops. Moroni stands on the vast majority of temples, trumpeting out the truth of the Restoration and proclaiming to all who see him that we ought to fear and worship God. Thus, these statues symbolize that the Restoration occurred and that the highest rites of that Restoration occur within the building beneath.
Outside of the temple statues, the Angel Moroni has strong symbolism and recognition within the LDS community. For example, when John Koyle began proclaiming that he had a vision of a mine filled with gold, prepared to rescue the saints in the last days, he said that it was Moroni who came to him (see W. Paul Reeve, et. all, Between Pulpit and Pew [Logan: Utah State University Press, 2011], 128, 134-36; Austin and Alta Fife, Saints of the Sage and Saddle [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956], 281-282). On a more orthodox note, the angel symbol has served as an unofficial symbol of the Church, with seminary certificates and copies of the Book of Mormon and pamphlets the Church has published in the past having had the image on them. Even books for and against Mormonism published by “unofficial” sources have used the statue to designate “Mormon” (for example, One Nation Under Gods). It even has been used to poke fun at the Church, as in 2007, when a coffee shop in Utah used the image of the angel drinking coffee through the trumpet in advertisements and shirts (http://www.ksl.com/index.php?nid=148&sid=1023445). In addition, gravestones of Latter-day saints have occasionally been decorated with an Angel Moroni symbol (the USVA symbol for a Mormon—http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USVA_emblems_for_headstones_and_markers), marking them as a Mormon. These examples demonstrate that Moroni has vast importance to Latter-day Saints.
The symbol on the gravestone brings up another possible symbolism of the trumpeting angel. Both the events of the Restoration and the angel flying in the midsts of heaven are preparatory events for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Revelation 14; Introduction to the Book of Mormon; etc.). We learn from the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible that “the Son of Man shall come, and he shall send his angels before him with the great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together the remainder of his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (JS-M 1:37). Trumpeting angels are to herald many events in the last days (see Revelation 8:2; D&C 77:12, 88:95-116) including the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:52-53; D&C 29:13, 26 43:18; Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 276). Though not all of these angels are Moroni (the angel for the resurrection, for example, is designated as Michael [D&C 29:26]), the angel with a trumpet serves as a reminder of the judgment day that the Restored Church is preparing the world for and that we are personally preparing for by entering the temple.
The Angel Moroni statue is symbolic of declaring the Restoration has taken place, preparatory to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Moroni was the messenger sent to train Joseph Smith and lead him to the Book of Mormon, and has often been identified as the angel spoken of in Revelation 14:6-7, a verse often cited in describing the statues. These statues have become an important symbol to members of the Church.
Question 2: Do all temples have an Angel Moroni statue on top?
I have attended the temple relatively often, and once in a while I have heard temple workers joke (after they’ve mispronounced a name) that the Moroni statue on top translates the names to what they’re supposed to be and broadcasts it off to the proper place. I live in Logan and noticed that the temple workers here don’t usually tell that joke. Recently, I was in the Logan and was telling another patron the joke after dealing with some Hungarian names when my wife pointed out that the Logan temple didn’t have an Angel Moroni on top. Finally, it made sense to me why they didn’t joke about it at that temple.
So, no, not all temples have an Angel Moroni statue. At first it was not a standard thing, but gradually became an iconic feature of the LDS temples. Currently, there are eight temples in the Church that do not have this feature. Five (the Logan, Manti, and St. George, UT; Hamilton, New Zealand and Oakland, California) temples were built before the trend set in and have not been retrofitted with one while the Laie Hawaii temple, Cardston Alberta temple, and Mesa Arizona temples (also built before the trend took hold) lack steeples to hold him.
The idea of a weathervane—a useful thing for the community—dominated the plans for the earliest temple steeples in our time. The first temple built and dedicated in this dispensation was the Kirtland, Ohio temple, dedicated in 1836. It did not have an angel statue on its steeple—just a weathervane. The next temple to be built was the Nauvoo, Illinois temple. This was the first temple to include an angel of some sort—in this case, also a weathervane. The weathervane pattern continued with the St. George, Logan, and Manti temples, but they weren’t designed as angels. As mentioned, the Salt Lake Temple was originally designed to have two angel weather vanes with one on the east center tower and one on the west center tower, but the design was changed to one upright statue by the time it was dedicated in 1893. This grandest of our temples broke the pattern of weathervanes and prepared the way for the angel epidemic we see in temple architecture today.
It would be a while before the next temple to include a statue on top would be built. That temple was the Los Angeles, CA temple, dedicated in 1956—63 years after the Salt Lake Temple was built. In the years between five temples had been dedicated (Laie Hawaii; Cardston Alberta; Mesa Arizona; Idaho Falls Idaho; and Bern Switzerland). The next gap was 18 years and six temples, with the Washington, D.C. temple breaking the dry spell in 1974. Then was the Seattle, Washington Temple in 1980, with only two temples getting through without angels in the intermittent years. Since 1980, almost every temple has had an Angel Moroni placed on top with a few exceptions. “In certain geographic locations, building codes or use permits restrict use of the statue…. In some areas, a statue may give more ornamentation than desired. In other areas, the statue is absent because a wrong impression may arise from its presence (such as in areas where statues on church buildings are understood to represent objects of worship). Limits imposed by the architectural design of some temples may be another reason” (Ensign July 1994). Overall, however, the Moroni statue has become the standard.
The trend towards a Moroni on top of the temples has become so strong that most temples that initially went without have been retrofitted to include one. As mentioned, only eight temples still have no Angel Moroni, all of which were built before 1980. Seventeen operating temples were dedicated by the end of 1980, however, and only four of these originally had an angel decorating their steeples. An example of this retrofitting is that “a statue of the angel Moroni was added to the Idaho Falls Temple in the early 1980s, approximately forty years after its dedication.” (ibid.) Another example I had the chance to observe was the Ogden, UT temple. Initially dedicated in 1972 without a statue, one was placed on top of its spire in the early 2000’s. Judging by the list of Moroni-less temples today (if it is accurate), all of the temples built without one since 1980 for various reasons have had one placed on them, and many of the earlier ones have as well.
So, not all temples have an Angel Moroni statue on them, but most do now. It was not a standard thing in the first 150 years of the Church, but has become so since that time. Now only eight of the 130 plus temples in operation go without this iconic symbol of the Church.
Question 3: Are all Angel Moroni Statues Alike?
Many Latter-day Saints are surprised to learn that not all Moroni Statues are the same. Elaine Cannon (LDS author and former general Young Women president) related that: “I had a conversation with a clerk in a store that sells souvenirs and materials about the Church. I asked for pictures of the various sculptures of the angel Moroni used in various temples. He insisted that all of the angels on the temples were exactly alike. I disagreed with him because I knew otherwise. He said, ‘It’s Moroni, isn’t it—that angel? So what’s to be different?’ He was insistent, absolutely certain of his opinion, and he also was young and inexperienced.
“It may be an easy mistake to believe that because these angels touching the worldwide skies above scattered LDS temples all represent Moroni, they are exactly alike…. They are not alike. As an art form, they have been rendered by several different sculptures, just as there are countless expressions by painters of the Holy Family. Each work reflects the artist’s own perspective.” (Elaine Cannon, The Truth About Angels [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 84-85.) Most of us have not seen the actual angel Moroni, so of course representations would not all be alike—each person has done his best to represent what he thought the angel should look like. Just as it has been a gradual process to standardize the presence of Moroni on the temples, it has been a gradual process to standardize the appearance of these statues.
The earliest temple to have an angel on its spire was the Nauvoo Temple. As previously mentioned, it was in the form of a weathervane. There are no up-close photographs of this angel, but from the main sketches we have of it, the angel seems to be wearing a priestly robe and cap, holding the Book of Mormon as it flies through the midsts of heaven, trumpeting out the message of the Restoration. Above it stand the symbols of the compass and square (possibly a representation of heaven and earth meeting). Later temples would draw on similar symbolism, but change many specifics.
The next temple we spoke about was the Salt Lake City temple. The final design of this angel was an upright Moroni statue in classic Roman style with flowing robes, a crown on head, and trumpet extended to announce the gospel’s return to the earth in its fullness. There is no book in its hands, just the trumpet extended. “The idea conveyed by the statue is that of a herald, or messenger,” said Elder James H. Anderson, “in the act of blowing a trumpet, and embodiment of the prophesy of an angel brining the Gospel to the earth in this latter-day dispensation.” (James H. Anderson, “The Salt Lake Temple,” The Contributor, vol. 14, no. 6 [April 1893], 274.)
The creator of this angel was the world-renowned sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin—a man from Mormon heritage living in Utah, but who was not a member of the Church. When President Wilford Woodruff extended the commission, Dallin initially turned it down, stating that he did not believe in angels and felt someone with a “greater spiritual capacity” would be better suited for the job. His mother (who had joined the Church in England and traveled to Utah where she joined the Presbyterian Church) encouraged him to reconsider. He brought the same objections up; she reminded him “Every time you return home and take me in your arms you call me your ‘angel mother.’” Encouraged, he accepted the commission, studied Moroni’s character, and completed the statue. All in all, the project was a spiritual experience for the famous artist. He said, “I consider that my ‘Angel Moroni’ brought me nearer to God than anything I ever did. It seems to me that I came to know what it means to commune with angels from heaven…. We can only create in life what we are and what we think.”
Cyrus attended the placement of the angel, a year before the dedication of the temple itself. It is reported that President Wilford Woodruff turned to him and asked, “Now, Mr. Dallin, do you believe in angels?”
His response was, “Yes my mother is an angel.” (Quoted in Chad S. Hawkins, The Mountain of the Lord [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010], 97-98.)
Due to the fact that it was his “mother angel” that led him to create this masterpiece, and because the angel has a slightly feminine appearance to the robes, hands and face some people have suggested that Dallin based the statue on his mother (for example, Cannon, The Truth About Angels, 87). “Close-up photographs of the statue indicate, however, that the face is definitely masculine” (Matthew B. Brown, Paul Thomas Smith, Symbols in Stone [American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, Inc., 1997], 166). Later incarnations of the angel have been made to be more masculine with narrow, straight lines in the robes and a strong, clenched grip in the left hand.
There are, however, a few statues that are like the Cyrus E. Dallin one. In the early 1930’s, the Church commissioned Norwegian convert Torlief Knaphus to create a replica of the famous statue for use on the Washington D.C. Ward chapel. He did so, and it was put in place on that building until 1976 (not long after the temple was dedicated there)—the only non-temple building to be honored with a Moroni statue. “It [the statue] is now owned by the LDS Motion Picture Studio and was used in the 70mm film Legacy and in the video Mountain of the Lord… and is now on display in the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City, Utah.” (J. Michael Hunter, “I Saw a Mighty Angel Fly,” Ensign Jan. 2000.) Later on, “LaVar Wallgren, a Latter-day Saint craftsman and artist, made two castings of the Knaphus replica. One was placed on the Atlanta Georgia Temple; the other was placed on the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple, with the use of a helicopter.” (ibid.) As of 2000, these are the only four angels to be built as replicas of the Salt Lake City temple Moroni.
Interestingly enough, Knaphus was also the creator of the only other major Moroni statue that is not on a temple. Up on what is called the Hill Cumorah in New York state—a place reverenced by Latter-day Saints as being the place that the angel Moroni led Joseph Smith to in order to get the plates and be tutored by him for four years leading up to the time he was able to remove the Book of Mormon—there is a monument. This 65-ton granite obelisk is topped by a Moroni statue—Book of Mormon in hand, other arm to the square. Knaphus was commissioned to create this statue in 1934. “He made seven sketches but could not decide which one was the best representation. He hiked to Salt Lake City’s Ensign Peak, where he prayed and asked to know which of his sketches was acceptable to the Lord. Brother Knaphus said he saw a finger of light point to a particular sketch and was impressed that Church leaders would choose the same one, which they did.” (ibid.) This statue is unique in that it was not created for a steeple on a building—it was meant solely to mark a sacred place for believers.
Perhaps the most unique Angel Moroni on a temple is the Los Angeles, CA temple statue. Millard F. Malin—a Utahn—created this statue in Utah and cast it in New York out of aluminum, covered with gold. What makes this statue unique among Moronis is that it is cast with Native American features and wears a headband, sandals, and Mayan-styled robes. In addition, he carries the gold plates in his left arm. The artist indicated that he drew on the Arnold Friberg’s artwork in designing the statue (http://www.keepapitchinin.org/2009/04/30/the-angel-moronis-secret/), a fact that probably isn’t too surprising on close inspection. This fifteen foot, five inches tall, 2,100 lbs statue was placed on the L.A. temple in late 1953, with the building’s dedication dating three years later (Ensign, Jan. 2000).
The story goes that this statue has the initials “M. C.” carved on the big toenail of the left foot. The reason this occurred was that “Elder Matthew Cowley, one fo the Twelve Apostles at that time and beloved as a spiritual giant with a great sense of occasion as well as humor, had come to inspect the angel sculpture while the clay was still damp. Because Matthew Cowley had lived in California for many years before he became an Apostle, the Los Angeles Temple was a special, personal project. Therefore, this angel inspection was significant for Elder Cowley. Paul Buehner [the owner of the company that produced the angel] described the joy and emotion of Elder Cowley as he studied the statue…. Elder Cowley was so excited about the angel that on an incredible impulse he decided to leave his own loving stamp of approval—he carefully carved his initials ‘M. C.’ on the big toenail of the angel’s huge left foot. The Buehner Company decided to leave in the etching.” (Cannon, Angels, 89.) The apostle left his mark on the LA temple statue.
The next temple to be adorned with an Angel Moroni was the Washington D.C. Temple. Nine different sculptors submitted designs, and Utahn Avard Fairbanks’s design of an upward-facing angel holding the plates was accepted. “He sculpted a three-foot model that was taken to Italy to be enlarged, cast in bronze, and covered with gold leaf.
“When the clay enlargement was finished, Brother Fairbanks invited the temple architects to Italy to see it. One of the architects, Keith W. Wilcox, mentioned that the angel looked like it was drinking from the horn rather than blowing it. Brother Wilcox demonstrated how a trombone player “buzzed” with his lips to make a tone, and with Brother Wilcox posing, Brother Fairbanks changed the angel’s mouth.” (Ensign, Jan. 2000.) The massive statue was so heavy that it crumpled the crane that was initially selected to put it on the spire, postponing the placement for a few days (see Cannon, Angels, 90.) Replicas or copies of this 18’ angel were created in 15’2” and placed on the Jordan River, UT; Seattle, WA; and Mexico City, Mexico temples (http://thetrumpetstone.blogspot.com/2010/10/angel-moroni-statues.html; Accessed June 30, 2012).
As placement of the statues on temples became more standard, the design for the angels became more standard as well. The final two (and most common) designs we use today were created by Utahn Karl A. Quilter. “In 1978 the Church commissioned Karl A. Quilter to fashion a new angel Moroni statue. Together Karl Quilter and LaVar Wallgren developed a process of casting fiberglass that made it possible to create lightweight statues less expensively….
“In 1998 the Church again commissioned Karl Quilter to design an angel Moroni statue—this one for use on the smaller temples. It is 6 feet 10 inches and covered with gold leaf. The angel is similar to the other Quilter statues, but it has a more massive build, it is turned slightly to show action, and the left hand is more relaxed. The new design is based on a 24-inch fiberglass statue designed by Quilter as a memento for his grandchildren if they read the standard works within one year.” (Ensign, Jan. 2000.)
To compare this statue with past ones, “in the first version of the figure [the Cyrus E. Dallin sculpture], Moroni’s left arm is hanging at his side, slightly outstretched with his fist clenched. A few renditions later, the figure was slightly modified to incorporate the gold plates.… When Karl Quilter designed his version of the figure, he eliminated the plates and then spent a great deal of time making sure the left arm hung in the proper position—not too rigid, not too limp, but showing slight forward movement….
“Over the years, figures of the angel Moroni have become more robust as sculptors have added muscle tone and bulk to the figure. While sculpting his version of Moroni, Karl Quilter used human models to help him accurately shape muscles and correctly depict a body standing atop a ball.” (Wendy Kenney, “Looking Up to Moroni,” Ensign, Nov 2009.)
Surprisingly little gold is necessary to cover these fiberglass statues. At the placement of the angel statue on the Brigham City, UT temple, Karl A. Quilter “explained that the gold leaf used on the statue is the size of a 50 cent piece. It is rolled and hammered until it is the thickness of 1/100 of a strand of human hair and is then large enough to cover an acre of ground. The 12-foot high statue is made of fiberglass and weighs 267 pounds.” (http://bctemple.blogspot.com/2011/07/july-12-2011-angel-moroni-statue-lifted.html)
The Quilter statues have become the standard issue in the Church today. Over 100 temples bear his rendition of the angel (http://thetrumpetstone.blogspot.com/2010/10/angel-moroni-statues.html). “Brother Quilter’s Moroni design is now used exclusively in the Church, and the Church owns the molds. About 10 figures can be cast from each mold. Today it takes less than a week to fabricate a figure.” (Ensign, November 2009.) The Karl A. Quilter design of the Angel Moroni is easier to produce, lighter, and more masculine and has become the Angel Moroni of the Church today.
Even with the standard Quilter statues decorating the vast majority of the temples there have been some experiments. For example, five temples with his sculptures on them have a scroll in Moroni’s hand while the rest have him with an open left hand. One of the more interesting experiments was when President Gordon B. Hinckley toyed with the idea of white angels. When he designed the small temples, he envisioned them all having white enamel statues. One was placed on the pilot model of these small temples—the Monticello, UT temple (Church History in the Fullness of Times , 642)—but it was soon discovered that it was too difficult to see the white with clouds in the background. After a year, it was replaced with the traditional gold-leafed statue, which continues to be the standard. (http://mormonsoprano.com/2010/01/04/mormon-trivia-angel-moroni-statue/)
So, not all Angel Moroni statues are created alike. Until the time that it became the norm to place these statues on top of temples, new statues were generally commissioned each time, or were copied only a few times. When it became standard to place the angels on temples, a standard design was commissioned that adorns the vast majority of temples built since that time. However, each commission for an angel statue along the way has been unique.
Question 4: Do all these statues face east?
Most Angel Moroni statues face east, but there are actually a few who do not.
In general, “the Church’s guideline concerning placement of the angel Moroni figures is that where possible, they should face eastward.” (Ensign, Nov 2009.) For example, “originally, the figure on the Los Angeles Temple was placed facing southwest, the same direction the temple faced, but the figure’s orientation was adjusted to face due east upon instructions from President David O. McKay.” (ibid.) There is a strong push towards having all Moroni statues face east where it is reasonably possible.
The main reason for this is that according to scripture (and tradition), at the Second Coming the Savior will come from the east (see Matthew 24:27). The prophet Ezekiel had a vision wherein he saw “the glory of the God of Israel” come from the east and enter the eastern gate of the temple “and, behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house” (Ezekiel 43:1-5; compare 1 Kings 8:10-11, D&C 84:5). Early Christians had beliefs that east was considered to be the symbolic direction of light life, and truth (Symbols in Stone, 144). It is the direction from which the sun rises, and could also represent the dawning of a new dispensation. All in all, east is a direction with great significance to our religion.
While it is preferred that the statues face east, not all do. As a youth, I had visited the Nauvoo, Illinois temple a few years after it was rebuilt. The statue standing on that temple actually stands, “facing west, on the high bluff overlooking the city of Nauvoo, thence across the Mississippi, and over the plains of Iowa” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “O That I were an Angel, and Could Have the Wish of Mine Heart” Ensign, October 2002). For some reason, (since that was the furthest east I had been and paid close to a temple) I figured that all Angel Moroni’s faced towards Jackson County (which, in Mormon traditions is the future sight of New Jerusalem—a place Christ is scheduled to visit as part of the Second Coming). As it turned out, that was wrong too, but I say this to illustrate the point that there are temples that have non-eastward-facing statues. A few other examples include the Seattle Washington (west), Dallas Texas (South), Spokane Washington (West, although originally East), Taipei Taiwan (West), and Manhattan New York (Southwest). (see http://thetrumpetstone.blogspot.com/2010/10/angel-moroni-statues.html. Accessed June 30, 2012.)
While tradition and Church guidelines direct that the Moroni statues are to face east—directed towards the direction of the Second Coming of the Lord—not all do.
So, as we celebrate the dedication of the 139th temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the 189th anniversary of the first visit of the Angel Moroni to Joseph Smith, ponder on the statues of that angel that adorn the temples. They symbolize the Restoration of the Gospel and remind us of the Second Coming of the Lord. Not all temples have them, but the vast majority has incorporated this important symbol of the faith. It has been a gradual process to standardize the appearance of the angels, but the current model being produced adorn the majority of temples now operating on the earth. The majority of these statues face east, towards the dawn and the direction of the Lord’s triumphal return to remind us of important events in the future. These statues have an interesting history and great significance to the Mormon people of our day.