A House for the Most High: The Story of the Original Nauvoo Temple

“This work,” states the author, “is an attempt to provide a glimpse—to paint a picture in broad strokes—of the Nauvoo Temple experience using primarily the words of the Nauvoo Saints.” As far as telling the story in the participants’ own words is concerned, McBride’s attempt is an objective achieved. It is achieved not only with “broad strokes” however; McBride’s descriptions often provide a rather detailed and intimate portrait of the temple builders and the Saints whose sacrifices funded the building. In other ways the “broad strokes” analogy is fitting. McBride does not provide a detailed analysis of temple symbolism or architecture—the narrative is generally more descriptive than analytical—and he gives only the barest outline of temple ceremony itself (quite intentionally, of course, due to the sacredness of the subject). But McBride covers his ground. What the book may lack in depth is made up for in breadth. McBride has basically taken every imaginable contemporary textual source related to the Nauvoo Temple and has linked them together chronologically with an easily flowing narrative. A House for the Most High is a treasure trove of primary source material and is an enjoyable read at the same time.

Though not primarily analytical, the narrative is not purely descriptive either. McBride does provide some analysis of his sources by identifying in his introduction seven “recurring themes that encapsulate the Nauvoo Temple’s importance, both in its effects during the Nauvoo period and in its lasting impact on the Church.” These themes, ranging from the economic to the spiritual to the symbolic, are summarized basically as follows: (1) the impact the temple and Nauvoo House, as building projects, had on the Nauvoo economy; (2) the role the temple played in promoting Nauvoo’s prominence in national media; (3) the temple’s influence in the formation of key elements in Latter-day Saint doctrine and theology; (4) the role temple custodianship played in the succession crisis after Joseph Smith’s death; (5) the function of the temple as a “sieve” to separate the “faithful” from those who came to view Joseph as a fallen prophet; (6) the influence of the temple on Church organization, particularly on the creation of the ward unit and on the formation of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo; and, finally, (7) the temple’s symbolic significance as a monument to the Saints’ tremendous sacrifice for and dedication to their faith.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 47:1
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