The Mormon Temple Ritual-Architectural Experience: Connections to Jewish and Catholic Ritual Contexts and Sacred History
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ABSTRACT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as “Mormons”) has been characterized as one of the fastest growing Christian faiths in the world. This growth is especially apparent in the built environment with its sacred structures called temples which have more than doubled in number over the past twenty years. Perhaps by the inaccessibility to its ritual spaces, the Mormon temple typology has often been neglected, (mis)understood, and (mis)interpreted by architectural historians. The more frequent construction of Mormon temples, public open houses, and temple publications has recently opened up new research opportunities for scholars.
This paper addresses the rarely charted architectural experience of the Mormon temple ritual drama, known as the “endowment.” The “morphology of ritual-architectural priorities,” outlined by Lindsay Jones in his book The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture, is used to frame the cross-cultural and theological comparisons between Jewish, Catholic, and Mormon architectural experiences. While the architectural configurations of each religion are formally and historically different, similarities become clear when ritual experience, religious ideals, spatial sequence, and cosmic history are compared.
Rare and important connections between the three religions are identified by looking at how their ritual contexts commemorate episodes of cosmic history. Particularly the order from the Mormon temple’s spatial sequence assists in framing the intriguing cross-sections. This includes five themes: 1) the cosmogonic primordial era; 2) the paradisal world of Eden; 3) the fallen, disordered world; 4) the Messianic paradisiacal era; 5) the perfected Heavenly realm. Each theme connects the three religions and demonstrates how theatric modes of presentation can be used against commemorative backdrops in order to help patrons re-live episodes of cosmic history. The paper exemplifies the importance of hermeneutical comparison for sacred architecture by shedding light on the architectural experience of the Mormon temple’s ritual drama through Jewish and Catholic interpretations.
CITATION: Brandon Ro, “The Mormon Temple Ritual-Architectural Experience: Connections to Jewish and Catholic Ritual Contexts and Sacred History.” In Abstracts of the 30th Meeting of the Southeast Society of Architectural Historians, 18. Athens, GA: SESAH, 2012.