Presentation of the Endowment: Live or Video
Updated: Mar 27
Salt Lake Temple World Room
Have you ever thought about how the Church presented endowment ceremonies in the pioneer era before movies and electricity? Have you ever attended a live endowment? Growing up in the Church I had a vague awareness that some temples had Creation, Garden and World rooms but I didn't really understand them or know when and why that all changed. This post is about the transition from live to video endowments.
Logan Utah Temple
Early temples (the first eight plus Los Angeles California) originally presented the endowment live. Temple workers acted out the various roles, reciting the script as precisely as possible, and patrons progressed through four Instruction rooms (four stage progression), called the Creation, Garden, World and Terrestrial rooms, which provided settings for the actors, before passing through the veil and into the Celestial Room ("Temple Pro Tempore": The Salt Lake City Endowment House pg. 55).
St. George Utah Temple
With the exception of the St. George Utah Temple the layout of the instruction rooms was symbolic. Among other elements, successive rooms were physically higher than previous rooms to symbolize progression towards heaven (BYU: The Evolution of Sacred Space: The Changing Environment of the Endowment and Permanent, Solid, Dignified).
Mesa Arizona Temple
The first temple to present the endowment and other ordinances in a language other than English was the Mesa Arizona Temple. To accommodate yearly caravans of patrons coming from Mexico all of the ordinance workers in the temple learned enough Spanish to begin presenting ordinances live in Spanish in 1945 (History of the Mesa Arizona Temple pg. 1, See also my post on Temple languages).
Bern Switzerland Temple
The first temple the Church designed to present the endowment on video was the Bern Switzerland Temple, which at the time of its dedication served all of Europe. The Church created the video presentation of the endowment to enable them to present the endowment in many languages in a single temple, and to reduce the number of workers needed for each session. Bern was also the first temple where English was not the primary language (BYU: The Pivotal Swiss Temple).
I suspect that Bern was also the temple to pioneer the separation of the initiatory ceremony from the rest of the endowment ceremony. Originally patrons were washed and anointed as part of the endowment, today these are separate ordinances. The temples built before Bern gradually altered their procedures and the flow of patrons through the building to accommodate the change (The Lā'ie Hawai'i Temple: A Century of Aloha: Cultural Center and Temple Complex Expanded—1960s).
Los Angeles California Temple
After Bern Switzerland the Los Angeles California Temple (which was started before Bern) was the only temple the Church built to present the endowment live. While the Los Angeles California Temple did originally use live actors to present the endowment they did not recite their lines, instead they used a recording of the script (BYU: The Evolution of Sacred Space: The Changing Environment of the Endowment and A Beacon on a Hill: The Los Angeles Temple). This same recording was also used for a time in other live endowment temples, along with recordings in languages other than English (The Lā'ie Hawai'i Temple: A Century of Aloha: A Major Remodel and Rededication—1970s, and footnote 5)
Manti Utah Temple
In the 1970s the Church renovated all but two of the temples that presented the endowment live to present the endowment on video. For many years, only Manti Utah and Salt Lake continued to present the endowment live, now both of these temples are being renovated to present the endowment on video (A First Presidency Update on Historic Temple Renovations).
Salt Lake Temple
After their current renovations both the Salt Lake and Manti temples will present video endowment ceremonies only. In Manti the endowment will continue to progress through the creation, garden, world and terrestrial rooms with their murals (President Nelson Announces a New Temple Will Be Built in Ephraim, Utah discussed in the video), In the Salt Lake Temple they are adding two instruction rooms, removing the murals and transitioning to single-room presentations (A First Presidency Update on Historic Temple Renovations). Based on my understanding of the physical layout of the Salt Lake Temple I believe that the terrestrial room will be converted into a veil room since this is the only room adjoining the celestial room. Meaning that Salt Lake will operate like St. George and Logan which present most of the endowment in a single room before progressing to the veil room for the veil portion of the ceremony (see my post on Progression).