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Religion Library: Mormonism

Symbolism

Written by: Stephen Taysom

Mormons display a variety of religious symbols, some of which are similar to other Christian groups, and others that are unique to Mormonism. The Mormon ritual of the "sacrament" involves the consumption of bread and water that stand as symbols for the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. The ritual of baptism, which for Mormons involves total immersion, symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

In these instances, Mormon use symbols commonly employed by other Christians. One conspicuous difference is the absence of the cross.  Some Mormons explain their reluctance to use the cross as an aversion to the emphasis on Christ's death when Mormons prefer to emphasize the Resurrection.  Mormon chapels are usually adorned with a simple spire to mark them as church structures.

Mormon temples typically are topped by a large golden statue of an angel blowing a trumpet. This angel, named Moroni, is believed to be the being who delivered to Joseph Smith the golden plates that were translated and published as The Book of Mormon.  Mormons also believe that Moroni is the angel referred to in the Revelation of St. John, which speaks of an "angel . . . in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel" and is therefore represented on the temples as holding a trumpet with which to declare the true religion.  In a reflection of Mormonism's apocalyptic roots, the angel statues on the temples face east in anticipation of Christ's second coming.  

Some LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) temples bear additional architectural symbols.  The temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, which has special significance as the site of meetings of the Church's governing quorums, has three towers on the west side, representing the Church's Presiding Bishopric, and three slightly taller towers on the east, representing the Church's governing First Presidency.  Carved into the exterior granite walls are representations of various celestial bodies, including stars, moons, and suns, which stand as symbols of the Mormon belief in a three-tiered afterlife in which the three "degrees of glory" kingdoms are said to possess the brightness of stars, the moon, and the sun, respectively.  In the basement of each temple is a font for baptisms that is built upon the backs of twelve stone or bronze oxen, representing the twelve tribes of ancient Israel.  In the sealing, or marriage, rooms of the temples, large mirrors are mounted on opposite walls, creating the symbol of an eternal union between husband and wife.  

Within the temples, Mormons engage in rituals that are rich in symbolic meaning, although they are under sacred obligations not to disclose the detailed meaning of these symbols outside of the temple.  During the ritual of "initiatory," Mormons are symbolically washed and pronounced clean from sin.  The "endowment" involves a symbolic depiction of sacred history and a journey thorough mortal life and into the realm of life after death.  Much of this symbolism involves sacred robes and ritual handclasps that are used as part of this symbolic journey.  Mormons leave the temple with a symbolic reminder, in the form of a white undergarment, of the covenants and teachings they witnessed within.  Mormons are reticent to speak in detail about these "garments," but they serve as a tactile reminder of the temple experience and as a boundary between the believer and the profane world.

Other, less ritualistic, symbols also appear within Mormon life and culture.  For example, the beehive, a symbol of industry and energy in a righteous cause is used as a symbol on some temple doorknobs and as the seal of the Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.


Study Questions:
1.     How does the symbol of the cross differ from Christianity's understanding?
2.     How is Moroni symbolized? What direction does he face, and why is this important?
3.     How are symbols utilized in Mormon architecture?
4.     Describe the ritual of initiatory. What are its inward and outward symbols?

 

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