Moroni is no fallen angel, but, for the first time in 128 years, he has lost his lofty station atop the Salt Lake Temple.
A giant crane brought down the golden statue Monday so workers can repair it after March 18’s magnitude 5.7 earthquake knocked the trumpet from its hand.
“This has long been planned as part of the temple renovation, but the timeline to do so was accelerated following the earthquake in March,” Daniel Woodruff, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Monday in a news release. “The statue and capstone will be preserved and refurbished before being reinstalled at a later date."
At about 9:40 a.m., as passersby stopped to watch, the crane slowly lifted the 12-foot-5-inch statue from its 210-foot-high perch. In a church-released video, two workers can be seen high-fiving on the scaffolding as the sculpture cleared the spire and began its descent.
Onlookers gathered at a nearby reflecting pool to witness the lowering. A plexiglass window allowed them to get an up-close look as the statue touched down and yellow-vested crews, dwarfed by the glowing sculpture, removed the harness and gear used to move Moroni.
The 6-foot separation recommended for social distancing amid the coronavirus appeared to have gone widely unheeded by this crowd of 40 or so individuals. A Salt Lake Tribune photographer estimated about a quarter of the group had masks.
Woodruff said the church did not announce the day and time of the statue’s removal beforehand to avoid large gatherings of people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under normal circumstances, advance notice of such an event might have drawn hundreds if not thousands of onlookers to the heart of downtown Salt Lake City.
The statue, based on a key figure from the Book of Mormon, the faith’s signature scripture, was placed at the peak of the central east spire on April 6, 1892, a full year before the iconic temple was dedicated.
Moroni had held that towering post ever since, a church spokesman confirmed.
The statue was sculpted by Cyrus E. Dallin, who was not a Latter-day Saint, hammered out of copper and covered with 22-karat gold leaf. Weighing thousands of pounds, it was mounted on a granite capstone.
The Salt Lake Temple is undergoing a seismic retrofit and other upgrades, part of a four-year renovation of the six-spired building and its surroundings. Millions of tourists visit Temple Square every year.
“The Salt Lake Temple ... is being shored up and strengthened to be able to stand for generations to come,” Andy Kirby, director of historic temple renovations, said in the release. “Each aspect of this project plays an important role in helping this sacred structure to remain a symbol of permanence, optimism, and faith for people around the world.”
In addition, crews will fix spire stones damaged in the March quake. They, too, will be reinstalled later.
“The earthquake loosened some of those pieces [on top of the temple],” Paul Lawrence, the seismic project manager for Jacobsen Construction, explained in the release. “And in order to make the surrounding area safe, we’ve simply had to move those activities forward and take them off now instead of later."
The base isolation system will help the landmark temple withstand a magnitude 7.2 jolt, Lawrence said, by allowing the building to shift in an earthquake “up to 4 or 5 feet in any one direction."
Most of the LDS Church’s 160-plus temples across the globe have Angel Moroni statues. But more and more of its recently announced temples are being built without them. The planned Washington County Temple in St. George, for instance, will have a Moroni statue, renderings show, while the Tooele Valley one will not.
Latter-day Saints view temples as “Houses of the Lord,” edifices where the devout participate in the faith’s most sacred rites, including eternal marriage.
Most of these temples are closed right now due to the coronavirus pandemic, but dozens have slowly reopened for limited use.
— Tribune photographer Francisco Kjolseth contributed to this story.