To many people, they are nothing more than lovely decorations that blend into meticulous architecture.
To others, they are visual reminders of the gospel that communicate and reveal various layers of truths, ideas and doctrines.
They are the symbols found on the walls of Latter-day Saint temples, and the subject of "Sacred Walls: Exploring Temple Symbols," a recently released documentary based on a book by Gerald E. Hansen Jr. with photography by Val Brinkerhoff.
The documentary, directed and produced by 28-year-old Brandon Smith in 2009 for Covenant Communications, was featured at the LDS Film Festival in January. It is available for $16.95 wherever LDS books are sold.
The film features commentary from LDS authors, historians, and scholars like Paul L. Anderson, Matthew B. Brown, Paul T. Smith, Hansen and Brinkerhoff. For more than 40 minutes, these men discuss and share insights into temple architecture and the meaning of the individual symbols on the exterior.
"It's the type of thing that doesn't require English to understand," said Smith, who taught in the Church Educational System for 37 years. "You could come from any foreign background and if you had some background in scripture, or in the doctrines of the church, then you could look upon that building and learn great things from it."
Like the parables taught by the Savior in the New Testament, temple symbols keep the unprepared from things they shouldn't have, but it opens up layers of wonderful meaning for those who are ready for a lot more, Brinkerhoff said.
"If it's visual, you are going to think about it more," Brown said.
Each temple features unique themes and architectural design, but many share similar symbols.
Just as the Big Dipper points to the North Star, did you know the big dipper on the Salt Lake temple wall represents how the gospel can provide direction in life and eventually guide you home to eternal life?
Did you know the inverted pentagram, an upside down, five-pointed star, is an early Christian symbol that represents Jesus Christ as the bright morning star?
Or how about the temple towers and spires? The towers are designed to direct our gaze and spiritual focus toward heaven. The spires, according to the film, represent the priesthood and leaders of the church who are a link between heaven and earth.
Another common symbol found on temples is a statue of the Angel Moroni holding a trumpet. The golden statue of the Book of Mormon prophet reflects the Restoration of the gospel. Like a missionary, he trumpets a symbolic message of repentance and preparation for the Second Coming of the Lord to all the inhabitants of the earth.
Brinkerhoff cited Moses 6:63 as a key for all those who try to understand temple symbols. The verse teaches that all things are created and made to bear record of the Savior.
Smith has always had a great love for the Salt Lake Temple and has been fascinated by its symbols. He and Brown co-authored a book called "Symbols in Stone: Symbolism on the Early Temples of the Restoration" in 1997. He has spoken hundreds of times about the symbols on the temples.
"There is no one set of explanations (for the symbols); they can trigger eternal truths," Smith said. "It's a great resource for people. The temple is a house of inspiration and those symbols can help trigger inspiration. The temple is the key to understanding the scriptures."
Brinkerhoff invites all to discover the meaning of every temple symbol. If you need help, check the scriptures and the words of the prophets, the BYU associate professor said.
"You can learn as much as you have desire to search."
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