TWIN FALLS — Magic Valley Mormons have something to celebrate today in addition to Easter.
Leaders of the LDS church ceremoniously began construction of a new temple in Twin Falls Saturday when they plunged golden shovels into a stretch of land along Eastland Drive.
About a thousand Mormons — mostly stake presidents and their families — gathered to hear Elder Neil L. Andersen, a member of the Presidency of Seventy, preside over the invitation-only groundbreaking ceremony.
Excited LDS leaders said the new temple will serve nearly 50,000 area Mormons, as well as the non-LDS population of Twin Falls.
“For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a temple is the most sacred place on Earth,” Andersen said at the home of Twin Falls stake president Randy Hansen after the ceremony.
Temples are cherished buildings where Mormons in good standing participate in religious ceremonies, such as weddings and vicarious baptisms for the dead. They are not open to the general public.
Andersen said the average Mormon might visit the temple several times a month.
The Twin Falls temple will be Idaho’s fourth. There are temples in Boise and Idaho Falls. Another is under construction in Rexburg. The church operates 122 temples worldwide.
In the past — and until the Twin Falls project is finished — the nearest temples are in Boise and Logan, Utah.
Plans for the Twin Falls temple were announced a little more than a year ago, shortly after the leader of the LDS church, Gordon B. Hinckley, visited Twin Falls.
Hinckley, who Mormons believe is a prophet, decides when and where temples get built.
In November, the Twin Falls Planning and Zoning Commission approved a special-use permit and variance for the temple, which will allow the structure to exceed the city’s 35-foot height limit for buildings in town.
Hansen said the community has shown outstanding support for the project.
The temple will stand 159.5 feet high, topped by a spire and gilded statue of the angel Moroni. It will be the tallest building in Twin Falls.
After prayer and song that concluded Saturday’s ceremony, the LDS leaders drove 14 gold-painted shovels into the ground where the celestial room of the temple will soon stand. Then, their wives took a turn in the dirt. Guests were also invited to shovel a spade load. Children rushed for the tools. Parents swarmed with cameras.
After the ceremony, many of the leaders gathered for a meal at Hansen’s Twin Falls home two blocks from the temple site, were they celebrated plans for the new building.
There, Andersen explained that the temple would benefit not just Mormons but the non-LDS population of Twin Falls.
“First, the temple will be very beautiful,” he said. “I’m not afraid to say it will be the best constructed building here.”
Also, local builders will make up the labor force on the estimated 2-year construction project.
The temple is expected to open in September of 2007.