Images with music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir may be enjoyed by clicking "Start Slideshow." Descriptive captions are best read by clicking on individual images, rather than during the slideshow.
Nauvoo (Hebrew for "to be beautiful") is indeed a beautifully preserved and restored historic community, sometimes dubbed "The Williamsburg of the Midwest." Rich in heritage and religious significance, this town on the Illinois banks of the Mississippi, is where early members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints found, for a time, refuge and prosperity, following persecution in other states.
The House of the Lord -- The Nauvoo Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (above) is the literal and spiritual center of Nauvoo. The rebuilt temple is one of 132 temples the Church owns and operates throughout the world (at the time of this writing, with an additional 20 temples planned or under construction). In holy temples, sacred ordinances such as eternal marriage, allow families to remain together forever.
A senior missionary reposes for a moment under a picture of the Savior, waiting for visitors to arrive for a horse and carriage ride to Inspiration Point. Along their picturesque routes, tour guides like this one not only talk about pioneer life in the 1840's, they also share inspiring, true stories of a people devoted to building the Kingdom of God on earth, no matter the personal sacrifice.
Sturdy draught horses pull a carriage of visitors along the pastoral fields lining Main Street in Old Nauvoo. Carefully placed drainage canals allowed the early Saints to transform the swampy bogs of Commerce, into the hospitable and productive farmland and garden plots of Nauvoo. The canals are still in use today.
Scale model of Nauvoo, Illinois, circa 1846. Early Saints, led by the young prophet Joseph Smith, turned the marshy settlement originally called Commerce, into a thriving city that rivaled the size of Chicago at that time. It was Joseph Smith who received in 1820 near Palmyra New York, what's come to be called The First Vision. Then fourteen years of age, Joseph had retired to a grove of trees to prayerfully ask which church God wanted him to join. He was answered by a visitation from God the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ. As He's done throughout the ages, God chose a prophet, this time to restore to the earth the Church of Jesus Christ as it had been originally established by the Savior Himself.
Originally completed in 1846, the Nauvoo temple was destroyed shortly after the Saints were forced to abandon Nauvoo and emigrate to the west. Following original plans preserved by descendants of architect William Weeks, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reconstructed the temple in 2002, to the delight of church members worldwide.
With signs of spring all around, and a spring in their step, a senior missionary couple walks to the historic Cultural Hall, where they'll join fellow missionaries for the evening's performance of "Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo."
Among its dozens of uses in Old Nauvoo, the Cultural Hall served as home to dramatic and musical stage productions. Brigham Young, the devoted convert who would succeed Joseph Smith and become the second prophet of this dispensation, appeared in the first play here.
Senior couple missionaries perform a touching number that helps tell the tale of early Latter-day Saint pioneers and their struggle to find a place where they could practice their faith, free of persecution.
Performing senior missionaries greet audience members as they exit the Cultural Hall after an evening's production of "Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo." In their upbeat show, the missionaries sing, laugh, and demonstrate the resolve that helped thousands of Latter-day Saint pioneers not only escape violent persecution, but also fluorish and spread the Gospel throughtout the world. (three photographs stitched into one)
This photographer and his children delight in a pioneer-era racing game in Old Nauvoo. "Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities." (from The Family: A Proclamation to the World, by the The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Image by Melissa Grover)
The photographer and his family (here donning fun period garb at Pioneer Pastimes) found their vacation in Nauvoo helped build family unity and faith in the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Abounding in youthful energy, one of the the stars of "Just Plain Anna Amanda" delights children and adults as well. After trying to improve her self-worth by incoporating props from other "important" characters into her wardrobe, young Anna Amanda finally declares to her father,
"Well, I'm the only person on earth like me. I guess that's pretty important...isn't it, Papa?"
Her father sagely replies, "One day, when your feet have grown a little larger, and your shoulders a little broader, and your knowledge has expanded to encompass the wisdom of the world, you won't have learned anything more important."
The cast of "Just Plain Anna Amanda" greets audience members following their first performance of the summer season.
Young performing stage missionaries sing out with conviction and testimony during their afternoon presentation of "High Hopes and River Boats." The cast shared a touching and memorable moment later in the production, as they performed a musical number, reacting to the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. The actors' emotions were heartfelt and moving.
Clouds appear to billow heavenward from the Nauvoo Temple.
A sister missionary shares her heart-felt testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as she directs a tour of the reconstructed Seventies Hall. It was in this building, dedicated by Brigham Young, that missionaries were prepared to travel throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and the Pacific Islands, teaching the message that the same church that had been organized by Jesus Christ in ancient times, had been restored to the earth. The title "seventy" comes from Luke 10:1, which teaches that "...the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come."
Statues of Joseph Smith, Jr. (right) and his brother Hyrum, in front of the Nauvoo Temple. The church that was restored through Joseph Smith is named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but many know the church through the knickname "Mormon." That monicker comes from The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, a record of ancient scripture written between about 500 B.C. and 400 A.D. Joseph Smith translated that ancient record into a book of scripture. It's through reading The Book of Mormon, and sincerely praying to know of its veracity, that nearly fourteen million people worldwide enjoy a testimony of the prophetic call of Joseph Smith, and membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Approximately 65,000 full-time missionaries worldwide labor to offer an opportunity for all of God's children to enjoy that same blessing.
A missionary details the labor involved in fabricating wagons of the pioneer era. Many homes in Nauvoo, he explains, became makeshift wagon-building shops, as thousands of Saints made hasty preparations to flee growing persecution.
Many historical sites around the United States offer glimpses into the lives of early settlers. It feels different here. Something unique about the information shared by missionary tour guides in Nauvoo, is the inclusion of testimony and gospel principles. Each missionary shares a brief message that uplifts and inspires, regardless of the listener's particular religious beliefs.
A wedding party poses for photographs on the majestic front steps of the rebuilt Nauvoo Temple. Marriages performed in holy temples are sealed for eternity, not "till death do you part." Children born to couples who are married in temples are said to be born "in the covenant," and are sealed to their parents. Families baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after a couple is married can also enjoy the blessings of eternal families by being sealed in the temple.
Elder M. Russell Ballard, a current member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, reported that "It was said that when seen from the opposite side of the river, the Nauvoo Temple presented one of the 'most beautiful, chaste, and noble specimens of architecture to be found in the world' (from The Times and Seasons). But the architectural magnificence of the Nauvoo Temple is not the most important thing to remember...The significance of this temple rests in the impact it had in the lives of those Saints who lived and labored in Nauvoo to finish a temple unto the Lord that he had commanded them to build."
Missionaries in the Illinois Nauvoo mission share a wide variety of talents, often rotating among the various historical and performance sites. Along with other activities, the sister on the left on this day helped give tours at the post office, and in the evening played piano in "Sunset by the Mississippi."
Statues of Joseph Smith, Jr. (right) and his brother Hyrum in front of the Nauvoo Temple. Prior to settling in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith, and the growing body of converts who felt a spiritual confirmation of his divine calling, moved from New York, to Ohio, then Missouri, before finding refuge in Illinois. Ultimately, angry mobs would kill Joseph and Hyrum, and force the Saints to again abandon their homes, their businesses, and their temple. The story of the Latter-day Saint emigration from Nauvoo to the safety of the Salt Lake Valley of the Rocky Mountains became one of the most well-known and inspiring chapters of the history of the American West. In the end, more than 70,000 Latter-day Saints traveled the Mormon Pioneer Trail between Nauvoo and the Great Basin.
The sun sets behind the Mississippi River and statues of Joseph Smith, Jr. (left), prophet of the Restoration, and his beloved brother Hyrum.
Elder David Blackinton, retired director of bands at Brigham Young University, conducts the Nauvoo Brass Band in a spirited outdoor concert.
President Robert Ludwig and his wife, Sister Martha Ludwig, oversee the Illinois Nauvoo Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here President and Sister Ludwig congratulate missionaries serving in the Nauvoo Brass Band, following an outdoor performance along Main Street.
Senior missionaries occupy stations throughout the vast Nauvoo Family Living Center, where they teach visitors how to create items like candles, pottery, barrels and bread. Here, a brother helps a family make their own strand of rope similar to the way the early Saints did it in the 19th century.
A performing sister missionary helps a young audience member participate in the children's parade preceding "Sunset by the Mississippi."
"Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me." (Matthew 18:4-5)
Times were hard on the American frontier in the 1840's, but members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were quick to find ways to lift their spirits and make a joyful noise unto the Lord. It's in this spirit that modern-day missionaries present entertaining and inspiring productions like "Sunset by the Mississippi."
Twenty young performing stage missionaries and up to eighteen instrumentalists are selected by audition each year to serve in Nauvoo for the summer season. The high school graduates, up to age 24, receive a four-month Church Service Mission call to the Illinois Nauvoo Mission. The performers are required to pay their own expenses, and to live full-time mission rules, including no dating. The talented young people maintain a rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule that can include four major musical productions a day.
The executive directors of Nauvoo's musical productions indicate they look for much more than just talent in their performing missionaries. As pointed out in their application materials, they place strong emphasis in their selection process on character traits such as spiritual maturity, obedience to mission rules, and enthusiasm. To the outside observer, those traits are apparent in everything the missionaries do.
"If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving." (Doctrine and Covenants 136:28)
Only a few days' observation reveals the missionaries in Nauvoo enjoy a special bond to one another. Particularly apparent are the nurturing feelings senior missionaries demonstrate toward the younger missionaries with whom they serve, side by side.
Young performing stage missionaries combine their impressive talents with senior couples, as they present the rousing "Sunset by the Mississippi." Missionaries not only share their time and talents by serving in Nauvoo, they also pay their own living expenses. Admission to all Nauvoo performances, sites and activities offered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is free of charge.
"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine." (Proverbs 17:22)
"...men (and women) are, that they might have joy." (2 Nephi 2:25) Second Nephi is one of the fifteen books contained in the Book of Momon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
A small flock of geese flies past the clock tower of the Nauvoo Temple. A statue of the Angel Moroni gleams atop the tower. It was Moroni who visited the prophet Joseph Smith and led him to the ancient record that was translated into the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
Life-size statues of Joseph Smith, Jr. (left), and this older brother Hyrum, in front of the restored Carthage Jail, 22 miles southeast of Nauvoo. It was here that Brothers Joseph and Hyrum were martyred by an armed mob on June 27, 1844. "In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!" (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3) The Doctrine and Covenants is a book of scripture containing revelations received during the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Several sections of the book were received in Nauvoo. The Holy Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and The Doctrine and Covenants are regarded as canonized scripture in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Each affirms that Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten Son of God.
The photographer's family approaches the Trail of Hope along Parley Street in Old Nauvoo. Lining the picturesque path are historical markers, relating short stories of Latter-day Saints as they fled their beloved Nauvoo.
George Q. Cannon, who would later become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wrote, "Those of us who can remember when we were compelled to abandon Nauvoo, when the winter was so inclement, know how dark and gloomy the circumstances of the Saints were, with the mob surrounding our outer settlements and threatening to destroy us and how trying it was to the faith of the people of God. The word was to cross the Mississippi and to launch out into an unknown wilderness -- to go where, no one knew. Who knew anything of the terrors of the journey thither, or of the dangers that might have to be met and contended with? Who knew anthing about the country to be traversed? Moving out with faith that was undisturbed by its unknown terrors. It was by faith that this was accomplished."
A senior missionary takes a family of visitors for a ride in a covered wagon pulled by a yoke of oxen. Many of the early pioneers who traveled the more than 1,000-mile Mormon Trail from Nauvoo to the Great Basin did so in wagons like this. As resources became scarce, some Saints resorted to walking the arduous trek, carrying their meager posessions in hand carts. Tales of the courage, sacrifice and devotion of the Mormon Pioneers offer inspiration to this day.
The Nauvoo Temple, from the angle the Saints would have seen it while they made their exodus down Parley Street, preparing to cross the Mississippi. They would never return to the "city beautiful," and would never again see the cherished temple they sacrificed so much to build. One of those departing pioneers, Newel Knight, wrote, "...here we all halted and took a farewell view of our delightful city...We also beheld the magnificent Temple rearing its lofty tower toward the heavens...My heart did swell within me."
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Official information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints available at www.lds.org.
Official information about historic Nauvoo available at www.historicnauvoo.net.
All images copyright 2010 Robert W. Grover