Notes From the Sacred Space Symposium at BYU: Laurie Maffly-Kipp, “The Clock and the Compass: Steering Toward Zion”

By June 3, 2009

Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In mid September 1983, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dedicated a temple in Santiago Chile.  It was the first built in a Spanish speaking country, just a few months prior to the Mexico City Temple. Pres. Hinckley stood in for Pres. Kimball, Elders McConkie and Packer with wives and other leaders attended.  This occasion was the most visible sign of the Church’s recent growth in South America. Work had been going on for years to prepare for it. The first stake organized in Chile occurred 11 yrs earlier. The members, he said, were not ready for a temple then.

The people were instructed on how to be a sacred people, performed the hosanna shout.  Hinckley and the others had done this many times.  I had the opportunity to sit by Elder Ballard at lunch yesterday. He estimated he has attended 60 temple dedications.  Aside form the sacramental role of these leaders in dedicating the building, these leaders had prepared this sacred space.

Transition from undifferentiated space to meaningful place.  If sacred space is a place where one can witness an eruption of the sacred, it must become so after a series of human activities. Space not inherently sacred, has to be made so, as mentioned earlier.  I’m intrigued by the practices of preparation, the mundane tasks that go into making a space, a place where believers feel heaven and earth meet.

We think of the acts that constitute temple worship. We think about individual preparation to enter, preparatory washings and anointings, but it’s easy to loose sight of the process of creating a temple before the space has become sacred.

How does it become sacred?  The creation of a temple requires a community that understands itself as prepared. Must be marked before space can be sacred, the beginnings of this movement are more apparent in places like Santiago where the Church is relatively young.  This was the first time many had seen a temple. I read the transcript of the proceedings of the dedication and wondered why there was so much talk about what a temple is for. But this was new to many of those present.

Pres. Hinckley talked about the creation of a sacred people that can imbue the temple with holiness.  The temple in Santiago was made sacred through orienting practices that required tools. Two tools: the clock and the compass.

Clock measures time and locates us in history. Compass gives spatial orientation. No accident that the Nauvoo temple façade has a clock and stars, fixed points of reference.  In the case of the Santiago temple dedication, there were ritualized invocations that oriented the people before they ever entered the place.

Mormonism has always been an orienteering force.  JS Jr. had an interest in finding and building Zion.  Beyond the need of navigation as a survival skill, they mapped themselves in sacred space and found how to spread that word to the world.  Mormons chose control points that gave them relationship to other places.

Many early Mormons refereed to the orienting power of their conversions.  One convert talked about the Book of Mormon as a sign that pointed to a map. This was a map that superseded local and national even familial obligations for the cause of a new truth. Reliance on compass in Santiago, remarks talked about how the Chilean people were.  GBH blessed this great continent of S America as part of Zion. Marked the people as of Zion. At numerous times the leaders spoke of the people as Lamanites, the people of Lehi, they had a special place in sacred geometry. These markings define who Chilean Mormons were and who they were not.  Reference to identity as Lamanites helped relate the people to the place. All interdependent and necessary for the building of Zion.

Stakes of Zion are orienting points to steer the saints to Zion. What kind of orienting point was Chile? It was crucial according to speakers, it superseded other orienting points. The temple was dedicated in perhaps the most emotional week in the Chilean calendar. Around the time of national independence celebrations.  Closely followed the 10 year anniversary of the coup of Pinochet.  The coup upended the lives of most ordinary Chileans, and marking the rule of Pinochet was momentous.  These events were only obliquely referred to by Hinckley saying that tumultuous times had led them to wonder if a temple could be made.  Set up for the saints the idea of a church that was determined and persistent and a rhetorical sacred space that proceeded the building of the physical space.

The dedicatory services provided an alternate identity.

The clock.  A new way of measuring time.  Few communities articulate time as sacred as Mormons. A few in Santiago spoke of the unseen audience, PPP and the ancestors of those present.  On a practical level, Chileans were now temple ready by doing genealogy. To be prepared the people had to do this historical work. In order to prepare for a place where temporal limitations are removed, it depended on the gathering of temporal data.  The tour we took yesterday included the Library and the Temple, both made sacred, you can’t have a temple without the records, and the records won’t have relevance without the reference place of the temple.

There’s an important connection not just a contrast between eternal time in the temple and the gathering of records.  In Santiago, the Saints were instructed that they could not have the temple without the records, amassing histories and collecting time in a material sense.  Scholars observe that the gathering doctrine was abandoned, but the gathering is still alive and well in the accumulation of records and names that bring people into the community.  The notion that the library and the temple connect sacred spaced and time echoes Foucault’s description of the modern library.  The idea of accumulating everything and establishing a general archive, the idea of constituting a place of all times itself outside of time, this idea belongs to our western cultural identity.  Foucault claimed this invention as being new to the 19th century, Mormons claim something perhaps more profound, point to the distant past, commanded from the beginning for gathering records.

The Santiago saints were reminded of the centrality of this accumulation to their ability to enter the temple. The clock and the compass therefore work together.  In September 1983, as they celebrated their new temple-orientation sessions-reminded them of who they were and who they could become.

It would be premature to think that the saints understood this in the way that the speakers intended.  One final observation as a scholar of missions, Protestantism is a portable tradition.  George Whitfield had a portable pulpit he used as he traveled around.  Fit well that the protestant idea of the preaching of the word was portable. Richard Cohen talked about the mobile tabernacle.  Mormonism is too portable, evidenced by missionary outreach but also in how to prepare a place. Protestants rejected the idea of a fixed sacred space whereas god was unlimited.  The Mormon example dictates that the fixing of a place allows a different type of freedom. New experiences and things can happen. It’s the fixity in the case of the temple that leads to a freedom from time and place.  I was thinking about this as Steve was taking comments. For most Utah Mormons the ritual and recognition takes place over a lifetime. In Santiago, on the other hand, there was a need to introduce the community to itself for the first time to prepare them for the meeting of the divine in the temple.

All this prompts further questions of indigenization and how temples will be received in the future throughout the world.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Interesting. And can I say that someone has incredible typing skillz.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 3, 2009 @ 9:04 pm

  2. Thanks, J. Actually its just easier to make it all up than to type that fast, j/k.

    Comment by Jared T — June 3, 2009 @ 10:38 pm

  3. […] to the People: Nineteenth-century Mormonism and the Pacific Basin Frontier. She also recently presented at the Sacred Space Symposium at BYU on the preparation of the Chilean people for the opening of the Santiago, Chile […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Laurie Maffly-Kipp One of the Newest Members of the Journal of Mormon History Board of Editors — July 14, 2009 @ 1:24 pm


Recent Comments

Daniel Stone on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “Thanks much for posting this, Joey!”

Mel Johnson on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “This JWHA will be outstanding, maybe the best ever. I encourage all Restoration historians and cultural studies people to attend along with their friends. The setting at…”

Gary Bergera on George F. Richards' journals: “I remember reading through the microfilms of the Richards's journals in the mid- to late-1970s. Nothing was redacted. They were amazing.”

Jeff T on George F. Richards' journals: “Thanks, Stapley!”

Hannah Jung on George F. Richards' journals: “That is exciting! I had no idea this was in the works! Any idea when the plan is to release the next twenty years of…”

Ben S on CFP at BYU Studies:: “Some clarifying comments here.”