In 1995, Gordon B. Hinckley became President and Prophet of the Mormon Church. Perhaps no person in Mormonism since Joseph Smith has had such an impact on Mormon temples and Mormon temple ceremonies. In the Mormon temple ceremony, instructional material was presented orally. After World War II, Elder Hinckley helped oversee a project to transition the presentational material onto film. Foreign language speakers could then listen on personal earphones to a synchronized translation, so this was especially useful as Church membership grew in foreign countries.
Gordon B. Hinckley has dedicated more temples than all other Mormon leaders combined. Of the 122 Mormon temples operational as of 2006, President Hinckley dedicated more than 70, or almost 60% of all Mormon Temples.
For the first couple years of President Hinckley’s tenure as prophet and president, the pace of construction continued has it had historically, with temples being being built in Honk Kong, Utah, Missouri, and England. In 1997, President Hinckley announced a revelation he had received in which the Lord commanded the Mormon Church to build many more, smaller temples, sometimes referred to as mini-temples (though this name is discouraged as it belittles the important function and sanctity of temples). While smaller than most previous temples such as the Salt Lake or the Washington D.C. temples, these are nevertheless built to high standards and are typically around 11,000 sq ft. At the same time that he announced these new smaller, Mormon temples, President Hinckley also announced that by the end of the year 2000, there would be over 100 temples worldwide, which meant that nearly fifty would have be constructed in just over 3 years.
In the past, many Church members have had to travel great distances to attend the temple, sometimes at great sacrifice of time and money. For LDS members in poorer countries, this sometimes meant that temple attendance was only possible for major events, such as marriage or the sealing of children to parents. A poorer family might never have the opportunity to return to a temple to do work for the dead, or simply to worship or meditate. By building smaller temples, at a lesser cost, and with quicker construction, the Church can bring temples to the members.
These small temples are often built from similar basic floor plans, but are adapted to the local area and culture in the fine details. For example, the Columbus, Ohio, temple has windows designed to echo the unique windows of the Kirtland Temple. The Winter Quarters Nebraska Temple has stained glass windows that honor the Mormon pioneers who wintered there in 1846. The Snowflake Arizona Temple uses different colors of rock to reflect the beauty of its desert surrounding. The first smaller temple was dedicated in Monticello, Utah, a rural area of Utah remote from the other temples. On October 1, 2000, President Hinckley dedicated the 100th Mormon temple in Boston, Massachusetts. By the end of the year there were 102 operating Mormon temples worldwide, two more than predicted.
Of the Mormon temples built since then, 45 have been the smaller variety and 26 have been unique, larger temples. It would be impossible and overwhelming to discuss each temple, its inspiration, location, and dedication in a manner befitting these sacred structures and the faith of those who worship in them. These temples of the Mormon Church represent the faith and sacrifice of Mormons everywhere and are a physical testament to the spiritual reality of life beyond death. These smaller temples, as well as larger ones, have been built in dozens of countries on every continent. A few have had symbolic meaning to Mormons worldwide as they represent historic events. These include the Winter Quarters Temple built where Mormons wintered in 1846 and where many Mormons died during the Mormon exodus to Utah, and the Palmyra New York Temple built near where Joseph Smith had his first vision and where he translated and published the Book of Mormon.
Other Mormon temples are important historically because they mark the growth of the Mormon Church and its maturity in many regions of the world. In 1996, President Hinckley dedicated the Hong Kong Temple, which is not one of the smaller temples, but is unique in that due to land constraints in the densely populated city, this temple was built vertically and actually incorporates on its lower floors a chapel, while the temple occupies the upper floors. The baptistery, which is always built below ground to symbolize the grave, is below the chapel. This style was duplicated in the Manhattan New York Temple dedicated in 2004. In 1999, after Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control, the Hong Kong temple became the first temple on Chinese territory and the second to stand on communist soil.
Mexico, which has over 1,000,000 Mormons, has perhaps received the most new temples, with nearly one dozen being built in the 1990s and early 2000s. Smaller temples were also built throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Today, virtually every country in Central and South America has at least one temple, while some, like Brazil, have multiples. In Europe there are Mormon temples in England, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, and Sweden with more planed in Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine.
In 1978, then President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation opening up the blessings of the Priesthood and the Mormon Temple covenants to people of every race. Since then, Mormon missionaries have proselytized in earnest in South America and Africa where hundreds of thousands have joined the Mormon Church. In 2003, after much difficulty, a Mormon temple was built in Accra, Ghana, followed two years later by the temple in Aba, Nigeria. Others, no doubt, will be built as need arises. The Mormon Church is currently building a temple in Kiev, Ukraine, that will be the first temple built in the former Soviet Union, excluding the Freiberg Germany Temple which had been built during Soviet occupation.
In 2002, President Hinckley dedicated the rebuilt Nauvoo Temple, which for many Mormons was an important symbolic moment commemorating the sacrifice of the original Mormons, who built the temple under threat from mobs, and which they had had to abandon so soon after completing. For many it symbolized that the Mormon Church had truly emerged from its past of ostracism and persecution. The same was said, especially by non-Mormons, when the Mormon Church dedicated the Manhattan Temple which stands on Columbus Avenue across from the Julliard School and close to Central Park. New York, like California and Texas, has seen an explosive growth in membership.