Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Workmanship on the Manti Temple was largely done by Scandinavian boat builders.

PROVO, Utah — When Nani Bendixen was a small girl, she loved visiting her grandfather in Levan in the Sanpete Valley.

He would often take her on bumpy rides around his farm and point out a white building in the distance on a hill.

"See that building way out there," he'd say. "That's the Manti Temple. Your great-grandparents were married there. Your grandmother and I were married there. Your parents were married there."

The building resides in a beautiful area on a green and grassy hill. But it wasn't always so, Bendixen's grandfather would explain.

The site, which Brigham Young said was dedicated by the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni, was once solid gray rock. Known as the Manti stone quarry, it was actually abundant in a cream-colored stone known as Manti oolite, which was used for the building's exterior.

To make way for the temple, the early Saints would tunnel back about 20 to 30 feet, then dig two 10-foot wings at the end. They would then fill the cavity with several hundred pounds of gunpowder and explode the rock, dislodging 2,500 tons of rock, dirt and trees each time.

"It worked great except for the rubble it created," said Bendixen, who presented a paper on the temple's history at the 11th annual Religious Education Student Symposium at Brigham Young University in February.

The rocks from that rubble can be seen today in the foundations of many of the homes in the Manti area.

The master mason for the temple, Edward Parry, told a story about the pair of mules he used to pull loaded wagons to the site and back. When he couldn't find them one day, he became distraught — only to discover them already at the site eager to get to work.

Parry insisted on quality stone, once rebuking a worker for attempting to put a piece of cracked stone on the inside of the building where it wouldn't show.

"That is not quite right," he said. "You will know it, I will know it and the Lord will know it. Now remove the stone and replace it with one without flaws."

The timber for the temple came from four sawmills in the area, the best cut down from the nearby woods known as Hell's Kitchen. The timber grew so straight that the Saints could cut poles 60 to 75 feet long.

"So they used lumber from Hell's Kitichen to build God's temple," said Bendixen.

Workmanship on the temple was largely done by Scandinavian carpenters who were more used to building boats than buildings. To create the ceiling, they relied on skills they were comfortable with. For instance, the temple's interior ceiling is a boat bottom built upside-down by a Norwegian Saint.

The walls are so completely true that you can put your face against the side and see if there's a fly down the way.

The two open-center circular stairways inside the west tower are two of only five such stairways in the world built without central support. The two 151-step tower staircases are widely acknowledged to be an engineering marvel.

Many of the workers at the time joked that all they used in the construction was a "spirit level."

In the 11 years of temple construction (1877-1888), not one person died of injuries incurred while working on the building. In fact, Parry dreamed one night of a worker falling to his death, so he arose and went to check on the scaffolding. He found a loose rope, which he tightened — thus preventing certain injury.

One unique feature is the carpet in the temple's celestial room, which has 27 different colors woven into the design.

Another is the symbolism in the door catches, hinges and knobs created by John Patrick Reid — later interpreted by his grandson, Hugh W. Nibley, to represent, among other things, eternal life.

There are many aspects of the Manti Temple that are unlike any of the other temples in existence. It used to be said that "the Manti Temple is the only temple you can go through without a recommend" because there was a large tunnel constructed under the east tower. One could actually come from either the south or the north and drive past both temple walls, thus going "through" the temple.

The temple's water source is also noteworthy. Originally, all the water came from a small spring near the temple. Through the years, as the need for water has increased, the spring's production has also miraculously increased, Bendixen said.

Another temple story involved a 15-year-old boy, Lewis Anderson, who, while in bed waiting for broken bones to heal, dreamed in detail of a white building. Years later, that boy became the temple president of the Manti Temple, serving 27 years in that role. He recognized the building when he saw it for the first time after he was grown, married and returned from two missions.