Joseph Smith’s First Vision occurred in the Sacred Grove in New York in the spring of 1820. Prophets and apostles of subsequent generations have had intimate experiences when visiting the sacred site. The stories of Spencer W. Kimball, Gordon B. Hinckley, George Albert Smith, Stephen L. Richards, and Orson F. Whitney are shared here courtesy of Dennis B. Horne.
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Spencer W. Kimball in the Sacred Grove
by Elder Glen L. Rudd
On Sunday evening [in 1962] following the Cumorah Stake conference, Elder [Spencer W.] Kimball asked if I would be willing to stay over and go with him to the Sacred Grove and the Hill Cumorah the next morning. Of course, I agreed.
It was a magnificent Monday morning. President Rossiter drove us out of the Joseph Smith home, and the three of us were joined by the caretaker, Brother Stephen R. Boswell. We then walked across the street and down the path toward the Sacred Grove. Elder Kimball used his pocket knife to cut a limb from a tree which he used as a walking stick as we moved along.
When we got to the Sacred Grove, we reverently entered and began talking in whispers. The caretaker told us there were only three trees left that were growing on the day of the first vision. The rest of the trees had sprouted since that most significant morning.
Elder Kimball sat under one of the three trees and invited us to sit on some of the roots which were protruding above ground. As the four of us sat there, Elder Kimball handed me a small triple combination and said, “Bishop, read to us what Joseph wrote about that morning in this sacred place.” I turned to the Pearl of Great Price and read the account of the First Vision. I read it slowly and carefully. It was a special experience. When I finished, Brother Kimball stopped me. At this point he suggested that we stand and sing, Joseph Smith’s First Prayer.
I shall never forget singing that wonderful hymn on that special occasion. Elder Kimball then asked if we would join him in prayer. He asked permission to be the one to offer the prayer. To me, this was one of the truly great moments of my life. On that morning we heard an Apostle express his feelings to the Lord. It was marvelous to kneel by his side and hear him thank God for what happened on that spot in the spring of 1820. Rarely in my life have I heard anyone pray so earnestly and so sincerely. My heart was pounding. The years have come and gone, and I have never forgotten the great feeling of reverence I had that morning in the Sacred Grove with one who was to become the Prophet of the Lord.
—Rudd, Glen L. “Personal History of Glen L. Rudd,” n.d.
Gordon B. Hinckley in the Sacred Grove
by Sheri L. Dew
A week later [June 2, 1973] Elder Hinckley reorganized the Cumorah Stake in Rochester, New York. Early Saturday morning he and President Bryant Rossiter of the Cumorah Stake, Regional Representative Mark Weed, and President William Siddoway of the Cumorah Mission visited the Sacred Grove, and, as before, he was deeply affected by the experience.
“It was a magnificent morning after three weeks of rain,” he wrote. “In the grove we were alone. The birds were singing, and the sun was filtering through the trees. It was a tremendously inspirational experience to stand on sacred ground where this dispensation was opened with the visitation of God the Eternal Father and the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ, to the boy Joseph Smith. We bowed our heads, and I offered prayer in behalf of the group. I think I shall not forget the experience of this morning in this sacred place.”
—Dew, Sheri L. Go Forward with Faith. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1999. Print.
George Albert Smith in the Sacred Grove
by George Albert Smith
We boarded the train on Christmas night and were taken westward. On the morning of the 26th, we arrived at the little station of Palmyra. There we found carriages awaiting us, and we began a tour of that section of the country, visiting places of much interest to the Latter-day Saints.
We went to the former home of the father of the Prophet Joseph Smith, where Joseph came with the plates after he had received them from the hand of Moroni, and where, it is said, he received the manifestations of the angel, who appeared to him three times in one night.
We went in to the grove where Joseph had knelt down and asked the Lord to inform him which church he should join. We were impressed to sing, in that hallowed place, the beautiful Mormon Sunday school hymn, Joseph Smith’s First Prayer. . .
We were taken inside the house and shown the room where a part of the Book of Mormon had been translated. We drank water out of the well that was supposed to have been dug by the father of the prophet Joseph Smith. The house was built by his brother Alvin. . .
We visited the Hill Cumorah and were accorded the courtesy of going thereon. . . . When we went up there and looked around, we felt that we were standing on holy ground. The brethren located, as near as they thought was possible, the place from which the plates of the Book of Mormon were taken by the Prophet. We were delighted to be there.
Looking over the surrounding country we remembered that two great races of people had wound up their existence in the vicinity, had fought their last fight, and that hundreds of thousands had been slain within sight of that hill. Evidence of the great battles that have been fought there in days gone by are manifest in the numerous spear and arrow-heads that have been found by farmers while plowing in that neighborhood. We were fortunate enough to obtain a few of the arrowheads.
Upon the hill, near a little grove of timber, the party stood and sang that glorious hymn:
An angel from on high
The long, long silence broke;
Descending from the sky
These gracious words he spoke:
Lo! in Cumorah’s lonely hill,
A sacred record lies concealed.
And then, under the inspiration of the Lord, President Smith offered one of the most profound and beautiful prayers I have ever listened to. Everyone present was melted to tears. We felt the presence of the Spirit of our Father; and all who were there can testify that it was one of the most supremely happy moments of their lives.
—Conference Report, April 1906.
Stephen L. Richards in the Sacred Grove
by Stephen L. Richards
In the Sacred Grove there comes to one of faith, a solemnity and feeling that are indescribable. It is believed that many of the large stately trees that gave shade and seclusion to the humble boy a hundred and twenty years ago still live.
Standing beside these ancient silent witnesses who know the truth it is not difficult to secure confirmation and added support for testimony and conviction. That something which we call the soul of man responds to such an environment. His inner feelings are stirred, the spark of divinity within him is kindled anew, and each one of the seventy persons gathered together in a five-and-a-half-hour missionary meeting in this exquisitely beautiful Grove knew, as perhaps he had never known before, that the experience of Joseph within these woods was actual, that he did behold the Father and the Son, that he heard Them speak and that his incomparable mission in life was divinely given to him.
Each historic scene brought similar feelings and confirmation.
—Conference Report, October 1942.
Orson F. Whitney in the Sacred Grove
by Orson F. Whitney
During the past summer it was my happy privilege to visit some of the early scenes of our Church history. Among these was the site of the old log and frame farmhouse in the township of Manchester, New York, where the Prophet Joseph was living with his parents, as a boy between fourteen and fifteen years of age, when God appeared to him in person, and opened the dispensation of the fulness of times.
I stood within the very grove where it is believed the Father and the Son appeared to and conversed with him as one man converses with another. I am sure I cannot tell you how profoundly impressed I was while standing upon the spot where these marvelous events took place.
I sensed the difference between reading of things or hearing of them, and being where I could feel them as I never felt them before. Not that any particular place gives a testimony of the truth, but it seemed to me that my testimony was renewed, or deepened and expanded, by what I saw, and I felt the truth more vividly.
I know, for God has revealed it to me, that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of the Most High. I know that he saw God face to face and spake with Him, and that he saw Him in the form of man. I am not dependent upon man, but upon God, for this knowledge.
—Conference Report, October 1914.