On March 18, 2020, at 7:09 in the morning, residents of Salt Lake City and the surrounding counties of northern Utah awoke to a 5.7 magnitude earthquake that struck 10 miles outside the city. Fortunately, there appears to have been no loss of life, although there was some property damage throughout the area. The iconic Salt Lake City Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faced only minor damage. The 12-foot angel standing on the building’s highest tower was shaken to such an extent that the trumpet once positioned to its lips was dislodged and plummeted to the base of the spire. Coincidentally, the building had closed on December 29, 2019, for renovation and a seismic upgrade.
A spokesperson for the LDS Church noted, “This event emphasizes why this project is so necessary to preserve this historic building and create a safer environment for all our patrons and visitors.” Individual members of the Church, however, looked for greater prophetic significance than offered in the statement on the building’s wellbeing.
Knowing the history of the temple and its iconic angel will better explain why the damaged statue might engender a sense of providence. The Salt Lake Temple is one of more than 150 temples, but it’s where Church leaders—apostles and prophets—meet weekly and hold prayer.
Brigham Young had seen the building in a vision shortly after the pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. He believed this temple would fulfill a verse in Isaiah that “in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.” Construction began in 1853. In 1892, the Angel Moroni was placed on its tower and a year after that the building was dedicated.
While an angel had appeared on the weathervane of the Nauvoo Temple in the 1840s, this was the first time the iconic figure of the trumpeting angel Moroni was used. Similar angels would later appear on nearly all the church’s temples across the globe. The figure recalls the appearance of the angel Moroni to an adolescent Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter-day Saint tradition, in 1820s New York. The angel directed Smith to the location of the Gold Plates that would become the Book of Mormon.
Before his death in the fifth century, Moroni, a proto-American Indian, had deposited these records near Smith’s home. (In the Latter-day Saint tradition, angels are deceased humans—not so distinct from the Roman Catholic understanding of Saints.) Latter-day Saints associate this appearance of Moroni with a verse from John the Revelator’s vision of “another angel fly[ing] in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” Moroni serves both as a symbol of Latter-day Saint heritage but also of the Saints’ responsibility to preach the gospel in the last days.
When news that Moroni’s trumpet had been dashed from his hand, there was a predictably varied response among Latter-day Saints and others who looked for significance in the moment. Some religious critics of the Church of Jesus Christ suggested that Latter-day Saints should consider themselves divinely rebuked. Others drew on an obscure item of folklore (as much about what Latter-day Saints believe as an example of what they really believe) that held the statue would be animated and blow its horns at the Second Coming. This prophecy had now been proven false, they claimed.
It’s possible the most common response to the news were humorous suggestions that the red state of Utah had been divinely charged to give up its support for President Trump and the Republican Party. Brandon Dew tweeted, “Even Moroni is tired of Trump.”
Some called it “the ultimate mic drop,” while others posted images of Moroni with his arm still upraised alongside either Judd Nelson’s character from The Breakfast Club thrusting his fist into the air or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s winged character from Tooth Fairy.
And last but not least, Dwayne Johnson as the Salt Lake City Temple's Angel Moroni statue. (END) pic.twitter.com/Ws1JM1fp0Z
— Court Mann (@TheCourtMann) March 23, 2020
A more serious response came from Latter-day Saint prophecy enthusiasts who looked for prophetic and even apocalyptic meanings in the fallen trumpet. A popular meme included an image of Moroni without his trumpet and a passage taken from the Hebrew prophet Amos interspersed with commentary:
“That in the day that I shall visit the transgressions of Israel upon him I will also visit the altars of Beth-el: [Bet-is House] [el- is GOD] and the horns [trumpets] of the altar shall be cut off, and fall to the ground. *When the trumpet fell off from Moroni on salt lake temple today.”
While this sounded reasonable to many, the following day, several Latter-day Saint scholars of Hebrew had criticized the faulty reading of the passage and pointed out that horns referred to the actual shape of a Hebrew altar, not to a musical instrument.
Another popular interpretation among Latter-day Saints seeking a prophetic explanation has been that the missing trump is a sign that the church will stop its missionary outreach. One of Joseph Smith’s revelations declared, “Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor. … And after your testimony cometh wrath and indignation upon the people.” (D&C 88:81;88)
As a result, Latter-day Saints have looked for a time when their missionaries would be “called home” after which there would be an increase in natural disasters and disease leading up to the Second Coming. Two days later, COVID-19 brought about what some have already begun to see as the fulfillment of this prophecy with the Church’s announcement that “In the coming weeks, based upon world conditions, substantial numbers of missionaries will likely need to be returned to their home nations to continue their service.”
Rod Meldrum, author of Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America, is particularly sure of this connection. On March 20, he is quoted as saying: “And so it begins. First Moroni’s trumpet is removed from the SLC temple, heralding the end of the preaching of the gospel to the world and the beginning of woes. Two days later this….”
Northern Utah has been preparing for a major earthquake for some time. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has done extensive work on the buildings surrounding the Salt Lake Temple, an area known as Temple Square. This includes the historic Tabernacle and Assembly Hall. An official statement noted that the earthquake caused no structural damage to the temple or other surrounding buildings.