A week ago my parents took a trip down to California to see my younger brother dance with the BYU Ballroom Dance Team at the Embassy Ball in Irvine, California. As part of their trip they had the chance to do some fun things, like go to Disneyland. Whenever they are on a vacation during the sabbath, however, they try to do things appropriate for that day, such as visit any nearby temples. The San Diego California Temple was only about 80 miles away, and so they made their way down I-5 last Sunday afternoon to see it.
They enjoyed their visit at this unique temple, but by and large the most interesting thing that they experienced there that day was a story that the service missionaries told them who serve there. Apparently there are many tourists that stop by the temple (not surprising since the temple looms directly over the nearby freeway), and walk right into the temple to visit it. Unfortunately, they don’t know that you have to be a member of the Church and have a temple recommend to enter into a temple. Consequently, the authorities there have put service missionaries by the entrance to the temple to talk with tourists, teach them about the purposes of the temple, show them pictures, give them literature, etc.
My parents stopped by to talk with these service missionaries, and they recounted to them something very interesting about the design of the temple. This is how my father explained it:
The story the missionary told us is a simple one. As we stood there looking at the temple, Brother Williams-or Williamson, the missionary, told us that he heard an interesting story about the symbol that appears all over the temple. He said the architect, who is a current temple sealer, gave a fireside not too long ago. He said that the symbol that appears all over the temple in the stone, the glass, even the fence surrounding the temple, was just an architectural design. He said he thought it would be nice to have a recurring design that ties the temple together. He worked on the simple design, for about six months, toying with different designs. He finally decided on the design, two interlocking squares turned 45 degrees from each other– sometimes containing a circle in the center, sometimes not. He put it in almost every stone wall, every glass window, and even the ornamental iron fence around the temple grounds (I’ll send you the pictures). I think the missionary said that someone (I don’t know if it was a general authority or someone else from SLC) asked the architect at the temple open house where he got the design and what it means. The architect said that it was just an architectural design and didn’t mean anything. The person said something like, “Oh I think there is more to it than that.” The person came back to SLC and some time later the word came back that the design was known as the seal of Melchizedek. I asked the missionary who it was in SLC that told them it was the seal of Melchizedek. He said it was Hugh Nibley. He said the architect said that if it is the seal of Melchizedek it would have saved him a lot of time if the Lord had just revealed it to him instead of the tinkering that he did to come up with it. I didn’t get the impression that the architect felt like he had received it by revelation, at least not the version the missionary told us last Sunday. Nothing was mentioned about any dream. Of course, the missionary that told us the story was just retelling it from hearing it at a fireside. He may have missed some of the fine points of the story.
My parents were fascinated by this, and spent some time around the temple taking pictures wherever they saw this symbol used. My father has sent me the pictures he took, and I will include some of them below, showing this interesting detail, which is quite ubiquitous in the temple design. Immediately after leaving the temple, they called me on their cell to tell me the story, knowing I would be interested. And, of course, I was.
But if you know me, hearing this brief story was not enough. I wanted to know details. I wanted to know the source of the story. I wanted to know if the story was true. I wanted to know if Hugh Nibley had really said such a thing. I wanted to know if this symbol, the “seal of Melchizedek,” was known in the academic world. I wanted to hear or read the story direct from the architect. I wanted to know if the use of this symbol in the temple design might have been more than just happenstance. I’ll let you know what I found out in the ensuing parts of this series. Stay tuned.
See the pictures below.