A Pagan in Temple Square

Temple Square is the site of Salt Lake Temple, where Brigham Young through divine inspiration designated the construction of a temple four days after arriving at Salt Lake from Nauvoo, Illinois. Salt Lake Temple is a beautiful piece of architecture built by Mormon pioneers over 40 years from 1853 and 1893.

Salt Lake Temple

Salt Lake Temple

Arriving at Temple Square on a Sunday morning was kind of special as church let out and crowds of worshipers exited the Tabernacle dressed in their Sunday finest clothes.

Temple Square

Assembly Hall, Tabernacle (far left dome structure) and Salt Lake Temple of Temple Square,

As the congregation let out, a circle of 12 young women holding signs introduced themselves one by one to the crowd. They were tour guides for a 75-minute tour of the 35 acre grounds of Temple Square in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. Their signs showed the language they spoke. I counted eleven different languages for the morning tours. The Temple Square brochure states tours are offered in 30 languages.

LDS tour guides

Temple Square tour guides offered tours in 11 languages.

The crowd participated in morning greetings as each woman introduced herself. I planned to take a guided tour and went to snap a couple of photos as the women rotated twice through 24 greetings before assembling into tour groups. Then, I returned a few minutes later and they had already left.

I guided myself around Temple Square.

There are two visitor centers in Temple Square with North Visitors’ Center and South Visitors’ Center.

Two features of the North Visitors’ Center attracted my attention. The first was a large diorama showing Jerusalem 33AD with images detailing the life of Christ and lights to show the different locations from his life events.

Jerusalem 33AD

Diorama of Jerusalem 33 AD, located in Temple Square North Visitors’ Center.

The second feature of the Temple Square North Visitors’ Center I enjoyed viewing is a mural seen along a spiral walkway.

Temple Square mural

Temple Square North Visitors’ Center

The Temple Square Conference Center fountain caught my eye, which was the distraction that caused me to miss the guided tours.

Temple Square Conference Center

Temple Square Conference Center waterfall

Temple Square conference center holds 21,000 people.

As a Californian and a public elementary school teacher for several years in 5th grade, the westward movement is an area of history I studied. While the movement of Mormons from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake is well-known to many Americans, the role of Mormons in California’s settlement is less publicized in American history. Many of the trails across the Sierra Nevada mountain range to reach the gold fields of California in 1849 had been established by Mormon pioneers. Mormons played a significant military role in California during the Mexican-American War 1846-48.


Pioneering relief panel on Nauvoo Bell tower.

Nauvoo Bell

The first site in Temple Square I examined was Nauvoo Bell. This is the bell that hung in the Mormon temple of their colony in Nauvoo, Illinois in the 1840s. Mormon pioneers carried the bell across the west after departing Nauvoo, Illinois due to religious persecution. I was startled when the bell rung. The bell is rung hourly.

Nauvoo Bell

Nauvoo Bell Tower

Temple Square South Visitors’ Center offers more historical exhibits describing the building of the Salt Lake Temple. Quarried granite from Little Cottonwood Canyon was the construction material. The heavy stones were initially hauled 20 miles by oxen and yoke to the site of Salt Lake Temple. Mormons who worked on the transcontinental railroad, completed in 1869, used their skills to construct a narrow gauge railroad opened in 1873 between the Little Cottonwood Canyon quarry and Salt Lake.

Temple construction

Temple Square South Visitors’ Center exhibit

The historical aspect of 19th century pioneering, settlement of Salt Lake Valley and construction of the Salt Lake Temple fascinated me.

The Christians meet the Pagan

Religion is something I rarely discuss with anyone. Before yesterday, I don’t recall the last time someone asked me if I am a Christian. I am not.

I prefer to find common ground in social interactions through other areas of thought.

Pagan – a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions.

I might be a pagan. I don’t mean Wicca or any kind of organized pagan religion. I find spiritual power in my surroundings. Animals, rocks, water, air, fire are all spiritual forces for me. I might be defined as an animist.

My childhood was Christian-based in both Catholicism and Protestantism. I knew I was not a Christian by the time I was ten years old. I defined myself as an atheist when I was 12. An argument with my 7th grade teacher who berated me in front of the class when I said I was an atheist resulted in corporal punishment in a Virginia public school. She argued I was too young to know if I was an atheist. Perhaps she was correct in her argument. Forty years of experiential learning and some psychedelic education moved me towards a belief in animism.

Defining my belief system does not concern me.

I’ll still hold hands at the table with Christian family members and friends who pray. Dar Williams expresses my Christmas holiday sentiments in her song The Christians and the Pagans.

Being asked about my religious beliefs yesterday by a young female Mormon missionary from Australia while in the Visitors’ Center of Temple Square is the reason I am writing about my spiritual beliefs on Loyalty Traveler. Our conversation about travel was the common ground that initially engaged me. Mormons tend to be world travelers.

Once the talk turned to religion, I politely excused myself and left Temple Square. I had an appointment at SLC airport for a Global Entry interview anyway.

It might seem ironic that the first place this pagan-animist-atheist chose to visit in Salt Lake City was Temple Square. Beauty and passion inspire me. Temple Square is a place of beauty filled with passionate missionaries.

Temple reflection

Salt Lake Temple reflection in pool water.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. Excellent piece Ric. While I am a fan of the writings of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris on the religious subject, the young ladies in Temple Square are missionaries after all, so it would be expected they would discuss their faith. I have always had good dealings with those of the LDS faith and during my visit to Temple Square, I did not find it to be overbearing and enjoyed my time.

  2. I was just there last weekend and had a long conversation with two young ladies in the South Visitors’ Center, one of whom was from Australia (perhaps the same one you met), and another, shorter one with two young ladies from Finland and Mexico in the Tabernacle. Only after I left did I realize the only persons I saw in the Square were females — that couldn’t have been a coincidence. Hmmm… ? Anyway, despite me saying upfront I was not religious, our conversations were quite friendly and enjoyable and there was no hard sell. It was an interesting way to spend an hour between the ski slopes and my return flight.

  3. We haven’t done it, but there’s a free shuttle from the airport to Temple Square if you want to see something other than another lounge during a long layover in SLC.

  4. @Kenny – good to know if you want a free trip into town for a couple hours. I traveled from the airport to Temple Square on UTA TRAX light rail and back in 2.5 hours with my all day pass for $6.25. The price is $5.00 for round trip.

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