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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
The Nauvoo Temple at sunset is seen in April 2002. Reconstruction and dedication of the Nauvoo Temple is one of President Hinckley's stunning achievements. In late June 2002, President Hinckley presided over dedication ceremonies that hosted 19,958 church members.

Reconstruction and dedication of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple — on the same site and in a design recalling the 19th-century temple that stood on a prominence in "The City Beautiful" of his forefathers — was one of the crowning achievements of President Gordon B. Hinckley's stewardship as LDS Church president.

President Hinckley dedicated the temple in 13 sessions, 12 of which he conducted, at the end of June 2002 in ceremonies that brought tears and joy to those attending.

In the final session, he spoke of the legacy and meaning of the temple to him.

"When the time comes" that he can meet Joseph Smith, President Hinckley said, he hoped to "say to Brother Joseph, 'I tried to hold in remembrance your life, your ministry and your death....'

"I hope I may meet my grandfather and say, 'I've walked where you walked on the streets of Nauvoo.' I hope I can meet my father and say, 'I went to Nauvoo where you made such great effort to rebuild the temple and have fulfilled your dream and the dreams of thousands who lived here, who worked here."'

President Hinckley's father, Bryant S. Hinckley, was president of the Northern States Mission, which included Nauvoo, during the centennial celebration of the city in 1939. "He wished with all his heart to see the temple rebuilt and worked to that end," President Hinckley said.

His grandfather, Ira N. Hinckley, lived in Nauvoo as a young man when the original temple was being built.

In the multiple sessions, from June 27-30, President Hinckley memorialized the sacrifices of early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their martyred leaders in presiding at what many believed was the largest dedication ceremony for one of the church's temples.

More than 1,200 chairs were set up inside the temple, and still temple workers inside scrambled to find enough seating for the throngs that lined up outside the building before the first service. A nearby stake center was also filled to capacity.

Altogether, 19,958 members attended the sessions in Nauvoo. Hundreds of thousands more toured the temple before dedication, and a worldwide audience of the church's faithful members — at about 2,300 locations in 72 countries — was able to watch ceremonies via satellite.

The first service started at the approximate hour — 6 p.m. CDT, which President Hinckley noted would have been 5 p.m. in 1844 — that the Prophet Joseph Smith, the church's founder, and his brother, Hyrum, were murdered in the nearby Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844.

During the dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley acknowledged the sacrifices of the martyrs and the original builders, pleading for God's protection of the new structure. He asked Latter-day Saints to recommit themselves to the same type of dedication as their ancestors.

"The hearts of the children have literally turned to those fathers who worked on the original building," he said in the prayer. "They have done so with love and a wonderful spirit of consecrated effort."

Some 331,849 visitors — an average of 7,607 a day — visited the temple during the public tours, which ran from May 1 through June 22. Ordinance work began in the temple July 3.

The announcement that the church would rebuild the long-lost temple — destroyed by fire, storm and vandals in Illinois a century and a half earlier — proved to be one of the most galvanizing of President Hinckley's tenure.

He told the world of the reconstruction plans near the end of the Sunday afternoon session of the 169th Annual General Conference on April 4, 1999 — "almost as an afterthought," President Hinckley noted a few months later.

"I've never seen anything that elicited more excitement than this announcement," he said during groundbreaking ceremonies in October 1999. "It scared me almost."

President Hinckley then mentioned his father's suggestion that the temple be rebuilt in Nauvoo, in western Illinois along the Mississippi River. However, "the church didn't have a lot of money in those days," President Hinckley said in one interview. "That was just coming out of the Depression.... They declined it."

But the idea lingered.

The $23 million reconstruction was largely underwritten by donors, "those who love the Lord and love this work," he said.

The project was, in effect, a re-creation of the original, on the same location and structural footprint, with nearly the same height and exterior appearance. The interior, although having many harkenings to the past, houses a modern, functioning LDS temple.

"The rebuilding of the Nauvoo Temple will bring back a clear and vivid reminder of what Nauvoo was. Nauvoo was a prosperous and great city," President Hinckley said.

The original five-story temple was the church's second (the first was in Kirtland, Ohio) and the first where members could perform baptisms, marriages and other sacred temple ordinances. The temple in 2002 became the 113th. Now there are 124 operating temples.

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