Gaskill, Alonzo L., and Seth G. Soha. “The Woman at the Veil.” In An Eye of Faith: Essays in Honor of Richard O. Cowan, edited by Kenneth L. Alford and Richard E. Bennett, 91-111. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2015. [Mormon/Salt Lake/Furnishings/Symbolism]
This essay in honor of Richard O. Cowan, investigates the origin and meaning of a six-foot statue of a woman flanked by two cherubs in the Celestial Room above the veil of the Salt Lake Temple. Much “folklore and misinformation” surrounds this interesting decoration. Various interpretations include the statue depicts the Virgin Mary, the Roman goddess Venus or the Greek goddess Aphrodite, Heavenly Mother, and even an “effeminate Jesus.” The true origins stem back to Joseph Don Carlos Young, the architect of the Salt Lake Temple, after the death of Truman O. Angell in 1887. His great contribution to the temple was a redesign of the interior plan, which included the original interior furnishings. While in Boston at the advice of his father Brigham, Don Carlos, as he was called, saw a statue made by a young sculptor. Fascinated by it, he purchased it and busts of two cherubs. Dubbed the “Angel of Peace,” probably by its sculptor, Young had it enlarged to a full-size, six-foot statue. The original had wings, because it supposedly represented a female “heavenly being.” Young took the wings from his original and apparently directed that the copy be made without wings as well. It is not certain, but the authors believe Cyrus Dallin, the sculptor of the Angel Moroni on the Salt Lake Temple was likely the sculptor of this piece too. In the absence of a detailed explanation of the symbolism by Young, the authors make the case for it being a symbol of the “woman” whom John describes in Revelation. It is certain, however, that it does not represent Mary, Venus, or Aphrodite.