September 25, 2016

Architectural details of the Philadelphia Temple

The design of the new Philadelphia temple, built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pays homage to traditional architecture, and American and LDS Church history. Together, these elements combine to create a beautiful building for the house of the Lord, and a fitting contribution to this historic city.

Historical Design
Much of the interior and exterior design of the Philadelphia temple was influenced by other historical American Revolutionary era buildings.

On the exterior, the two towers were inspired at least in part by Christ Church in Philadelphia and Independence Hall. However, instead of following the traditional one tower design of early Colonial churches, the temple uses two towers, to point back to the early LDS temples of Salt Lake, Manti and Logan. The top oval shape windows also hearken back to similar shaped windows of the Salt Lake Temple.

Broken pediment above recommend desk (left) and original millwork in Independence Hall (right)
As you enter the temple, one of the first things you will see is the beautiful millwork above the recommend desk, with a two quill pen motif between a broken pediment. This element was inspired by a similar broken pediment in the assembly room of Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and Constitute were both signed. The colors of the entry, as well as in other parts of the temple, use a muted color scheme including red, white, and blue. The interior doorways and millwork found throughout the temple, including the intricate friezes, fluted columns, paneled walls, and staircase woodwork, were likewise inspired by Independence Hall. The hand railing around the baptistry was influenced by the stair railing of the Franklin Institute, which is only a few buildings down the street from the temple. [1] The lower floors and first ordinance rooms are more similar to Independence Hall, while the upper floors, and in particular the Celestial room is more closely related to design aspects found within historical churches, including Christ Church, with its beautiful arches, cornice work, and egg and dart molding.

Light Fixtures and Vases
The Philadelphia temple includes various examples of elegant historic light fixtures and vases. The baptistry incorporates a beautiful huge brass fixture above the font, with similarly designed brass fixtures throughout the temple. The chandeliers in the second instruction room, were designed to replicate the "crystal fixture hanging in the Assembly Room of Independence Hall." [2] There is also an enormous breath taking crystal chandelier in the Celestial room. Several examples of beautiful lamps and vases with traditional designs can also be seen, including some with scenes of early American harbors.

Light fixture in second instruction room (left) with original fixture from Independence Hall (right)
The flooring throughout the temple was designed to replicate the floors of early American buildings, with wood floors, rugs, and tile, instead of the more modern wall to wall carpets. The first floor uses checkered dark and light shaded stone tiles, reminiscent of colonial buildings, while the upper floors use solid wood flooring overlaid with beautifully crafted rugs. The Celestial room, with its elegant wooden floor and embossed rug, is uncommon among LDS temples, as almost all other Celestial rooms are covered with only carpet, creating a truly unique experience.

Paintings and Murals
Many of the paintings and murals of the temple were chosen to highlight several important historical events that took place in Pennsylvania. One very unique painting for an LDS temple is found in the lobby and depicts the signing of the Constitution of the United States. The mural in the baptisty depicts the baptism of Joseph Smith by Oliver Cowdery, which took place in Pennsylvania in the Susquehanna river in 1829.

Beautiful mural in the first Instruction room of the Philadelphia temple
The beautiful murals in the first instruction room are also full of significant historical details and symbols. The front of the room depicts the rising sun, hinting to the President's chair in Independence Hall with its carved rising sun. These rays of light also allude to both the first vision of Joseph Smith in the sacred grove, and also of the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood by John the Baptist in Harmony Pennsylvania. Next to this beautiful grove of trees is a depiction of the Susquehanna river, again pointing to the baptism of Joseph and Oliver. On the other side of the room, the mural depicts significant American events with the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, the Delaware river, and Valley Forge. A bald eagle majestically soars above this valley where so many patriots gave the ultimate price for liberty. Towards the back of the room is a small waterfall, alluding to Ezekiel 47 which mentions that waters will issue forth from the temple and heal the land. Jesus Christ calls himself the "living waters" of which He says that if we will partake, we will never thirst. On the back of the room, a large tree, reminiscent of the tree of life, another symbol of Christ, our own family tree, and the Liberty tree, arches its branches over the doorway, symbolizing that all who enter into this room, enter because of the Savior, for their families, and at least in part because of religious freedoms. [3]

Patterns and Motifs
Perhaps one of the most significant motifs in the temple is the double quill pen motif. This design comes from the original quill and ink well used for the signing of the Declaration of Independence found in Independence Hall. A two quill pen motif is also found in the woodwork of the table in the Celestial room.

Double quill pen motif (left) and original ink well used for signing of the Declaration of Independence (right)
Because stained glass windows were rarely used in colonially American architecture, the temple instead includes muted stylized stained glassed windows divided by leaded and wooden lites. The windows throughout the temple uses a vase-like motif, common in some earlier Philadelphia buildings. This same design is also found in the woodwork of the recommend desk. The two large arched windows on both sides of the temple use a Federal style fanlight, and include a rising sun, or sunburst, at the center of the window, pointing to the iconic depiction of the rising sun carved into the chair at Independence Hall. [4] This motif is also significant in that this sunburst is only located in the Celestial room and in the sealing room, both rooms that relate to the Celestial kingdom, which is symbolized by the glory of the sun.

The mountain laurel, the state flower of Pennsylvania, is also found within the temple, in particular in the bronze metal work of the main exterior doors, in the railing around the baptistry, and in the stylized cast plaster work of the Celestial room. [5] A beautiful lily flower motif is also found in this same cast plaster at the top of the Corinthian capitals. The three petal lily in early Christianity often represented the Godhead, and at times was also associated with the three virtues: faith, hope, and charity. [6]

Eight sided star motif (including the seal of Melchizedek)
An eight sided star, created by two interlocking squares, commonly called the "seal of Melchizedek," can also be found in the millwork of the first instruction room. "The number eight is associated with the concepts of resurrection, new beginnings, rebirth, and baptism." [7] This motif also uniquely creates a circle within the center of the eight sided star, the circle representing heaven, and the square the earth, or the four corners of the earth. Thus these motifs symbolically represent how heaven and earth combine within the walls of the temple through priesthood power. Of similar design is the eternal looping circle pattern, found on the door and wall moldings of the sealing rooms, and in the ceiling of the Celestial room.

Temples are designed to symbolically show how one moves from a worldly existence, to that of heaven. Elements of architectural design were used to help show this progression within the temple.

Three styles of columns in the Philadelphia temple (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian)
Three orders of capitals were used in the temple, the Doric, which is the least elaborate, the Ionic, and the Corinthian, the most elaborate. The placement of capitals in certain rooms was used to reflect the significance of the function of that space. For example, the first floor entry, waiting area and baptistry use the Doric column, the simplest of the three orders. As you progress through the temple, starting in the first instruction room, you again see the use of the Doric capital. When you move to the second instruction room, the molding work becomes more elaborate and now uses the Ionic capital, which is more beautiful and ornate. Finally, as you move into the Celestial room, you find the combined use of the Ionic and the Corinthian capital, which is the most elaborate and intricate of the three styles. In addition, the ceiling height, incredible detail wood work, and amount of light increases, again representing your symbolic progress back to the presence of God.

The exterior stonework also point to this symbolic progression within the temple. The first floor is marked by a large strong base-like foundation where the administration rooms, and the baptistry is located. This base symbolically reflects how baptism is the foundational ordinance of the gospel, and how the other ordinances are lifted up on this foundation. As you climb the stairs of the building, you come to the second floor changing rooms, then up to the third floor with its more significant rooms where the higher ordinance of the endowment occurs. Finally, as you come to the fourth floor, you enter the sealing rooms where the culminating ordinance of the sealing of families takes place. The placement of columns on the exterior is also significant, in that instead of having columns surrounding the entire building, the pillars are instead only placed on the central portion of the building. In this way, the exterior stonework reflects the importance of the central ordinance space, where the most essential work of the temple occurs.

The new Philadelphia temple is one of the most stunning and beautiful temples of the church. This new house of the Lord stands as a monument, not only to the Savior who has given us all things, but to the founding fathers and mothers, who gave so much, that we might have the freedoms we enjoy today.

[1] Temple Fact sheet from
[2] Temple Fact sheet
[3] Mural information from Linda Christensen
[4] Temple Fact sheet
[5] New Mormon Temple opens in Philadelphia, Washington Post
[6] Lily Meaning and Symbolism
[7] The Lost Language of Symbolism, Alonzo Gaskill, page 129

Special thanks to Brian Olson who shared his plan elevation of the temple, and for his many insights about the the new temple.


  1. Video, allegedly "Architectural details of the Philadelphia
    is private, so I don't know why it was posted.

    1. Because I am not "press" the church told me I did not have licence to use the footage and pictures from Mormon Newsroom. I created the video, so I posted it, but until I can get things worked out with licencing, the video will be private. Working through the process, and hoping that the video will be public again.


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