The flavor of old Philadelphia is apparent as soon as you walk into the city’s recently-completed Mormon temple.
On the right, in the entryway, a painting hangs of a scene from Independence Hall. Artist Jonathan Linton depicts George Washington standing next to Ben Franklin at a meeting of the Constitutional Convention, where they and other delegates created the United States Constitution in 1787.
The temple opens to the public from Aug. 10 to Sept. 9 (prospective visitors are asked to make a reservation online). Once Sept. 10 comes, you’ll literally need a Mormon card to get in — a “Temple Recommend” given by bishops to members of Latter-day Saints. The temple will serve approximately 41,000 Philadelphia-area Mormons and thousands more who live in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland.
Billy Penn went for an early tour. Here’s a rundown of what you can see inside the temple and how it connects with Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, with photos from the Church of LDS (photography is not allowed in the temple).
The Independence Hall look
The Mormon faith has 152 temples worldwide. Each one is designed to fit in the local environment. In Philly, the resemblances are easy to see: the Mormons went for a historical Philadelphia look. The building itself is modeled on Independence Hall. Inside, the design also takes from Independence Hall, as well as the Franklin Institute and Christ Church. Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron praised the temple, calling it maybe “the most radical work of architecture built in Philadelphia in a half century.”
Central Pennsylvania paintings and the Franklin Institute
The main feature on the first floor is the baptistry, the room where dead ancestors of Mormons get baptized (a living descendant stands in to physically receive the baptism). Paintings of the Pennsylvania countryside hang on the right and left of the baptismal pool — one of them looks just like Ricketts Glenn State Park. The center of the room features a painting of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, two original LDS leaders, getting baptized in the Susquehanna River.
“This is where it all began,” said Larry Wilson, executive director of the Temple Department for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Here in Pennsylvania.”
The wave pattern on the railing and posts surrounding the pool is replicated from the Franklin Institute.
Romanticism and Pennsylvania’s state bird
The third floor of the temple features the chapel, two instruction rooms and the celestial. The chapel is largely for reflection. The instruction rooms are where Mormons listen to speakers and make commitments to God. This room is surrounded by a large mural that depicts the Susquehanna River, the Delaware River and the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, N.Y., where Smith was said to have received a vision. The state bird of Pennsylvania, the ruffed grouse, also appears in the mural.
Throughout the temple, the paintings are done mostly in Romantic style, the most common type for artists in the late 1700s. This style was chosen because of the nod to history, as well as because Romantic artists often chose to highlight their beliefs in the divine through natural settings.
Independence Hall-style chandeliers
The second instruction room contains a chandelier modeled off those found in Independence Hall. The tubing is made from bent brass, as it would have been in the 18th century.
Double quills and the Constitution
Mormons who visit the temple are supposed to feel closer and closer to God with each room they pass through. This feeling culminates in the bright, gilded Celestial Room, used by Mormons for meditation.
The table in the middle has a pattern of double quills. One of the quills represents the signing of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in Philadelphia. The other represents the translation of the Book of Mormon in Pennsylvania.
George Washington’s rising sun
The fourth floor is used for weddings. It also includes one last nod to the founding fathers: The “sealing” room features a stained glass window with half of a sun. The story goes that Washington used an armchair with a sun on the back of it during the Constitutional Convention in Philly. Franklin commented, “I have often looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now I… know that it is a rising…sun.”