An impromptu gathering of hundreds took place Tuesday afternoon in south Gilbert.
Word spread through the East Valley’s Mormon community that the under-construction Gilbert Temple was set to reach a major milestone. And with a break from the winds, the visitors got to see what they came for: the placement of Moroni atop the temple spire.
The crowd cheered as the golden statute was put into place by a mammoth crane.
“This is a great symbol of our faith and it’s important for me to be able to share that with my children,” said Gilbert resident Sherri Gurr, who was parked in the dirt by the temple with her mom, sister and three children, along with their cousins.
The fifth Arizona temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being built at the southeast corner of Pecos and Greenfield roads.
There are 137 church temples in the world, with another two dozen or so under construction. Most, but not all, have Moroni at the top.
“It’s a rare thing to be able to experience this,” church spokeswoman Cindy Packard said of the 13-feet, 8-inch statue’s placement. “That’s why the public is so excited, even though this wasn’t an announced event.”
Gilbert resident Valerie Smith took her school-age children out of class Tuesday to see the event. Her husband is part of the Oakland Construction crew building the 195-feet tall building.
“We’re hopeful when they get older they’ll attend the temple. This makes it their temple,” she said.
“It’s an opportunity we’re never going to have again,” her son, Bryton Smith, 16, said as the statue was moved up toward the spire.
Church history says Moroni was an ancient prophet in the Book of Mormon who revealed the location of golden plates to Joseph Smith in 1823. Smith became the church founder. The plates were the Book of Mormon.
The 400-pound statue shows Moroni with a horn held by his right hand pressed to his lips. It is made of fiberglass and covered in gold leaf.
While serving as a symbol for the church’s desire to spread the faith, the statue also has another purpose: it holds the lightning rod to protect the building. Two sets of copper wire run down from the statue to the ground as part of the lightning protection.
Groundbreaking for the Gilbert Temple took place Nov. 13, 2010. Since then, more than 25,000 people have come to the small trailer that now serves as a visitors’ center. Packard said it is “hopeful” that the building will be completed sometime in 2013. At that time, the public can take a tour before the temple is closed to anyone who is not a church member.
The Mesa temple, which does not have a Moroni statue, gets “hundreds of thousands” of visitors each year, Packard said.
“We’re a growing community. That’s why we need another temple,” she said.
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