Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Part 2): All American Prophet

Sultan and I left our hostel on Thursday morning to look for a place to eat and ended up coming across the City Creek Center, a large complex with retail, office, and residential space. Opened in 2012, the City Creek Center is a relatively new addition to the city and was interestingly enough a project of the LDS Church’s commercial real estate division. It’s one of the most beautiful shopping centers that I have ever seen, with a high glass ceiling and a stream (hence the name City Creek) running through it. The stream itself flows from City Creek Canyon into the Great Salt Lake.

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We found a place in the food court there called Bocata and I got half a roast pork sandwich with a cup of tomato soup.

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After nourishing ourselves with sustenance, it was time to head across the street to Temple Square to learn more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We entered the square’s gated walls and headed into the South Visitor’s Center first.

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No more than two minutes after stepping inside the building, we were approached by two Mormon sisters who gave us a brief introduction to the church and some of its teachings. The sisters were friendly, but I also could not help but feel a little overwhelmed. They gave me a Book of Mormon, asked me to read a passage out loud, and then asked follow-up questions to what I just read. Eventually, we were able to continue into the visitor’s center to learn more at our own pace.

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The South Visitor’s Center primarily focused on the origins of the Salt Lake Temple and features a replica that you can look inside. Non-Mormon folks are not allowed inside the actual temple, so the model was cool to check out. There’s a room at the bottom of the temple that I thought looked particularly intriguing and featured what looked like a tub with several cows around it. Another visitor told us that it is a room used to baptize the dead. The dead still have the ability to accept or reject their baptism in the afterlife, but there’s just something about having that done without your original consent that is a little unsettling. I remember learning about this too in a cultural geography class that I took a few years ago.

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I guess now is a good time to talk about the Salt Lake Temple itself. The temple took forty years to build and was completed in 1893. The stone used is quartz monzonite from Little Cottonwood Canyon and the temple is topped with a golden statue of the angel Moroni, who appeared to the prophet Joseph Smith. There is a dedicatory inscription on the temple that reads “Holiness to the Lord. The house of the Lord built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Commenced April 6, 1853. Completed April 6, 1893.”

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Across from the South Visitor’s Center is the Assembly Hall. The building exterior is beautiful, but it was closed for maintenance on the day that we went. One of the sisters told us that it is usually closed only one day a year and this just happened to be it.

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Since we couldn’t go to the Assembly Hall, we instead went to the Tabernacle, home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Tabernacle was built between 1864 and 1867 and, inside, there is a large organ with a psychedelic aura of colors emanating from behind. One of the most unexpected things that happened that day was hearing the organist start playing the theme from Indiana Jones. It was awesome.

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Next to the Tabernacle is another visitor’s center, the North Visitor’s Center, which primarily focuses on Jesus Christ. The highlight of the building is an enormous 11-foot marble sculpture called Christus which is a replica of a similar sculpture from Copenhagen that was completed in 1838. There was also a pretty rad mural of the cosmos surrounding the statue. One of the sisters (we spoke to many) pointed out that the LDS Church does not use any cross symbols because they put more focus on Jesus’ resurrection than his death.

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The basement of the visitor’s center has more information about the prophets and the origins of the Book of Mormon itself. Though this third testament is called the Book of Mormon, Mormon was just one of several prophets who contributed. Mormon engraved the history of his people, ancient Jews who fled to modern-day America, on golden plates which were eventually found by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, with the help of the angel Moroni.

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We went to the Conference Center next, a massive building able to seat 21,000 people for the church’s general conferences that happen twice a year. A guide showed us around the building, taking us into the auditorium which I believe she said was the largest in the world. Each seat has an unobstructed view thanks to the building’s construction. We also went to the top of the center to catch a glimpse of the rooftop garden. Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually go out there because of the snow, but our guide did tell us about how one half was supposed to represent the eastern landscape of Utah while the other represented the west.

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After our tour, we continued our excursion around Temple Square by stopping by the Relief Society Building. There was not too much to see there, but a woman we met recommended that we go next door to the Church Office Building to take a tour of the observation deck on the 26th floor. We did exactly that and the views from up there were spectacular. You could see all over the city and the Salt Lake Valley. The blanket of snow just added to the overall beauty and it is definitely a must-see for those visiting the square.

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Our next stop wound up being the Family History Library. You know those websites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch? Well, they have their origins with the LDS Church. The Family History Library allows you to look up your family history and create a web to track your genealogy back as far as you can. They have a massive database of census data and other records to help you out, but I admit it was a little difficult for Sultan and I to really find much since information from the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan were a little lacking. It was still really interesting and they set you up with someone to help you along with the process. I do want to do a deeper check into the records some day and there are branches of the library throughout the country so that you can do local research too.

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Next door to the Family History Library is the Church History Museum which delves into the story of the Latter-day Saints. There, you can find the original printing press which printed the first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon, as well as Joseph Smith’s death mask and other relics chronicling the journey from New York to Utah.

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I learned a lot that day and meeting and talking with Mormons helped me open my eyes to see beyond the general stereotypes that have been attributed to the religion. I don’t think that I will be joining the church anytime soon, but I did get a better understanding of their history.

Aishola invited Sultan and I back to the University of Utah that night to come watch the Utah Utes play against the Oregon Ducks in a men’s basketball game. I think this was actually the first college basketball game that I ever attended, but it was just messy on both sides. Even with the sea of red in the stadium, Utah ended up losing to Oregon 67-73. Side Note: I don’t really understand how “Utes” is still an acceptable team name for the university. The Utes are a Native American group that the state’s name derives from, but isn’t it strange to use an entire culture as your symbol? The Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians are already problematic enough.

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After the game, Sultan and I took the Trax back to the hostel. We needed to wake up early the next morning in order to catch a bus to the main hub of Sundance. We were finally going up to Park City.

Check out other posts in the Sal Tlay Ka Siti series:
Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Part 1): Hello!
Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Part 2): All American Prophet
Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Part 3): I Believe
Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Part 4): Tomorrow is a Latter Day

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