A supremely important artifact to early Christians was the cross; slivers of it were cherished as the most valuable of relics. Over time, the cross has been repudiated by latter-day Saints, who instead mark their most sacred buildings with a statue of Moroni. Arguably the most important artifact of Mormonism, the object on which its existence rests, is missing. We do not have the Golden Plates, and only a dozen men claimed having seen them (a servant woman who claimed Moroni showed her the plates was never taken seriously). Valuable because of their material, their age, and their content, the Golden Plates have been replaced by a mass-produced book valuable because of its content. additional artifacts key to the Book of Mormon’s translation, the Urim and Thummim, are also missing. other artifacts and aspects of Mormon material culture were lost or abandoned as the Saints migrated from place to place. In recent years, however, some of these historical edifices have been rebuilt. A temple was constructed on the site of the first Nauvoo Temple; its exterior matches the original, though the interior does not. Historic kirtland is a meticulous reconstruction of a community that includes a sawmill, a store, a schoolhouse, and an inn. And while some latter-day Saints retain and cherish family heirlooms and personal items so imbued with spiritual significance—peep stones, or handkerchiefs or canes blessed with the power to heal—that they become religious artifacts, such items are increasingly sequestered in museums. What do these missing, rebuilt, repudiated, or sequestered artifacts mean to a people profoundly interested in ocumenting and preserving their material culture? How is meaning created by these objects? How do we understand the various meanings when the objects we’ve created are damaged by moth or rust, stolen by thieves, or lost? How does meaning shift when those objects are replaced by something else—leatherbound and gilt-edged Books of Mormon replacing the Golden Plates, for instance, or a modern LDS temple built on the site of a much older and very different building? How do these treasures of heaven on earth help us understand both heaven and earth?
Colleen McDannell, Dale E. Luffman, D. Michael Quinn, Michael G. Reed, Allen Roberts