In the Catalina foothills, on a prominent seven-acre site, the recently completed Tucson Arizona Temple now stands, a beautiful edifice symbolic of the sacrifice and faith of Latter-day Saints across southwest Arizona.
“The 30,000 members here in Tucson have looked forward to this day for many years—even many decades,” said Elder Larry Y. Wilson, Executive Director of the Temple Department, speaking to members of the local media who toured the temple May 30.
Indeed, the history of the Church in that area began more than 170 years ago, when, in 1846, the Mormon Battalion marched through what would later become Tucson. In 1899 the first Mormon settlers, Nephi and Jacob Bingham, moved into the Tucson area. Others soon followed and, by 1910, there were enough Church members to form the first branch.
Today, nine stakes make up the area that will be served by the Tucson Temple.
While the new temple is the sixth in Arizona—with others operating in Mesa, Snowflake, the Gila Valley, Phoenix and Gilbert, and the 157th temple worldwide, it has a look and feel unique to its location.
Elder Wilson explained that, like other temples, the Tucson Temple was constructed to the highest standards of design and workmanship, but with elements that make it particularly suited to the Tucson area.
“The Church looks at other buildings in the community and then draws design ideas from it,” Elder Wilson explained, noting that certain elements “reflect the natural environment of Tucson as well.”
For example, rather than a steeple or spire common to many temples, a signature design element of the Tucson Temple is the dome-shaped cupola, which echoes the dome of the San Xavier de Bac, the oldest religious building in the area, and that of the Pima County courthouse. The temple cupola is made of interlocking blue-gray zinc shingles from Germany, and is topped with a lantern, and atop that, a 340-pound fiberglass statue of Moroni covered in gold leaf.
At 38,216 square feet, the Tucson Temple is double the size of the Snowflake and Gila Valley temples. The exterior is cream and tan cast-stone panels, with bronze-colored outer doors that weigh more than 1200 pounds. Surrounding the temple is what Elder Wilson described as a “desert oasis,” with 600 native plants, including palo verde trees, mesquite trees, and saguaro cactus, “which is open to the public and where anyone can come to ponder and meditate.” Many of the plants were saved and replanted from the raw property and approximately a third of the site remains in its natural state.
On the interior, muted blues, greens and oranges are reminiscent of desert plants and Arizona sunsets. The reoccurring floral theme, seen particularly in the art glass, is a stylized desert flower, taken from the ocotillo, prickly pear and barrel cacti; rugs in the entry, patron waiting room and brides’ room incorporate motifs derived from the ocotillo.
The celestial room and sealing rooms feature square, pendant-style chandeliers, also with a desert flower in the design. Throughout are painted crown moldings with gold leafing on the ceilings, and medium-dark sapele wood doors and millwork, with a reoccurring radial pattern, symbolizing eternity and the linking of families.
Hung in various rooms throughout the temple are 36 pieces of art. Many of the paintings depict the Savior at different times in his life. One of two originals by local artists is of an ironwood tree, a tree known to provide nourishment and protection for other plants growing in the harsh desert.
“I love the cupola, love the color of the tile, love the design,” said Jenny Haymore, of the Rancho Vistoso Ward, Tucson North Stake. “I was pleasantly surprised with how much color there is inside, and how it feels so soft, inviting, and comforting. A good reminder that the world is a harsh place, a hard place sometimes; but God is always inviting us in, to partake of His goodness, His comfort.”
Sister Haymore, her husband, Michael, and their children were among approximately 100,000 who toured the temple during a three-week public open house in June.
Also attending the open house were several local dignitaries, a group of residents from the surrounding neighborhood, family and friends of construction crews, as well as six members of a group of religious leaders who work to foster friendship and understanding among people of faith, hosted by Judd Curtis, Bishop of the Tucson Central Ward, the group included Father Peter Alan Helman of St. Phillips in the Hills, Reverend Edwin Donaldson of Donald Prince Chapel, Imam Watheq Al Obaidi of the Islamic Center of Tucson, Rabbi Samuel Cohen of Temple Manu-El, and Pastor David Moore of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Gary Rasmussen, chair of the groundbreaking ceremony and subsequently the open house and cultural celebration, said, “The open house required 50,000 hours of volunteer service,” including standing in a parking lot in 100-plus degree weather for some, “but,” he said, “people have been eager to participate and to help with this effort.”
“It’s been so exciting,” Sister Haymore said. “It’s been a lot of work for all the members here. It’s really occupied our time and consciousness. We’ve been anxious to spread the word and give others in the community a chance to see it.”
“It was almost sad to see that end, but now we get to have a temple and actually attend and serve there,” she said.
The Tucson Temple, located at 7281 N. Skyline Drive, will be dedicated Sunday, August 13, in three sessions that will be broadcast to members of the Church in Arizona.
The day before, on Saturday, August 12, at the Kino Sports Center, 2,000 to 2,500 youth from across the temple district will participate in a cultural celebration.
“It includes dancing and singing and music of the area,” and was created to not only tell the story of Tucson, but also to help the youth feel the spirit of the temple.
“What I really like about it is that it is a personalized event for each of the youth,” said Brother Rasmussen. “They have been asked to make ‘I will’ statements of what they will do to prepare to attend the temple. Some of those being posted on the Facebook page are really inspiring.”
He said, like many others in the area, the youth are catching the vision that “this temple is ours. The mountain of the Lord’s house is right here on this mountain.”
As such, said Elder Wilson, “We want it to be seen and appreciated. We want it to be a beacon to all.”
At the groundbreaking ceremony on October 17, 2015, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, promised that the temple “can help us with every situation. It will bless all of your lives.”
The temple offers Tucson Saints “a refuge from the world, a place to leave the world behind, to focus on important things, and learn to live the way God wants us to live,” said Elder Wilson. “We attend the temple to help us become better people, examine our lives and how are we doing in trying to follow those ideals, promises, and covenants we have made to follow Him.”
To learn more and see additional pictures of the temple, visit http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/open-house-begins-tucson-arizona-temple