Pilgrimage to Palmyra

Last weekend my daughters and I went on a pilgrimage. I know Jews feel compelled to make the “Aliyah” to Israel, and for Muslims the “haj” is to Mecca. As a Mormon woman, I feel like I should similarly be drawn to Palmyra, one of our LDS Holy Lands.  Yet I’ve never felt the pull. Then I found out that the son of some dear friends was getting married there and having a reception in Rochester. I love these people.  From Boston where we live, that’s less than a 7 hour drive. Next thing I knew we were cruising down the 90, blasting the mix-tape of hymns we call “Spirit-Chill Tunes,” and hieing to Kolob at 80 mph.

We arrived in Palmyra on Sunday afternoon. My 6 year-old was restless so I skipped the tour and instead headed straight into the Sacred Grove.  I hoped that strains of “Oh How Lovely Was the Morning” would be echoing in my kids’ heads as we made our way down the path. We sat on a bench and I tried to steer the conversation to something spiritual but my First Vision talk just got the six year-old locked on to which spot was the spot and where were the gold plates and could she hold them if she did so gently (thank you Martin Harris Jr.). The middle child (who suffers from JBS–Jan Brady Syndrome) became upset because all I do is pay attention to the little one. Sigh. Then a mosquito bit her. So much for serenity.

We took the southern exit and meandered towards the barn. And in this short journey some nice little moments took place. My oldest hopped over a fence and wandered the fields, clearly enchanted by the place. The youngest found a water pump that she said she could just tell Joseph had used and wasn’t that as good as seeing the plates (never mind that it couldn’t be more than 40 years old)? The middle spotted the most amazing dragonflies by a creek. They were bright turquoise and iridescent and as we watched them, the birds in the apple trees serenaded us. “Music ringing through the grove” indeed.

As for me, I enjoyed it all. The Smith farm, Cumorah, the Grandin Press. But it wasn’t until we were sitting in a little shop eating sandwiches that I was able to look at my lovely girls and truly feel nearer to God. I took a giant sip of my Diet Coke and said out loud to whomever might be listening, “All is well. All is well.”

Where are your sacred places? If you’ve been to Palmyra, Nauvoo, Jerusalem, did they live up to your expectations? And most importantly, what songs would you put on your spiritual mix tape?


  1. Macy Gray, “I Can’t Wait to Meetchu.” As far as pilgrimage places go, I haven’t been to an LDS one that wasn’t too heavily missionaried.

  2. The mosquitos were really thick when we were there, and were not deterred by our spray. We mostly ran through the woods to get away. Not the most spiritual experience of all time:) Learned a lot at the other sites, but the Sacred Grove itself was kind of a bust for us.

  3. I went to Palmyra the year I turned 30. I didn’t want to. I wanted to go to Seneca Falls, which was between my sister’s home and Palmyra, but a little way off the highway. I had hoped that we’d have time for both, but it became clear that we didn’t, so I went along with my sisters’ plan to go to Palmyra. It was beautiful, the Sacred Grove in particular. But I simply do not feel myself drawn to Mormon historical sites. Partially because, as Libby put it, they are “too heavily missionaried.” Partially because it feels solipsistic to me, the Mormon fascination with itself and its own history. I mean, it is a fascinating history and one that I know well and readily talk about with visitors to SLC who don’t know it. And I would want to see Mormon history sites if I happened to be going on a trip in that particular area and it was convenient to do so. But I don’t see any reason to make a point of seeing these sites. I’d rather see and learn about things that I don’t know quite so well.

    As for my own sacred places–they tend to be about beauty, either natural or human-made. The high Sierras, where I backpacked with my dad while growing up. Gardens of all varieties, but especially the Huntington in California. MoMA with its amazing art. There are many others. What they have in common is that they bring together beauty and wonder and magic that leaves me in awe of the world and makes me think about it in new ways.

    • On a somewhat related note (especially that “heavily missionaried” one): I finally toured the Beehive House/Lion House earlier this spring. It was a beautiful, warm spring Sunday afternoon and my boyfriend and I took a wander down to Temple Square to see the flowers. And when we realized that we were finally there at a time when they were doing tours, we did the tour of Brigham’s houses. It was great fun to go inside and see what they were like. But it was deeply annoying that every opportunity was taken to connect little details to current church teachings. No mention of polygamy whatsoever. Any hint of family was used as an opportunity to testify of family. I was asked what “testimony” means to me. All I could think was how horrible it would be to be a non-Mormon and be confronted with that question. I dodged it because frankly I don’t really feel like bearing my testimony while touring a history site. And multiple times the missionaries pushed me to take a referral card, first to provide my own contact info and, after saying multiple times that I was born and raised Mormon so I didn’t need anyone to contact me, then to provide a friend’s contact info. The site itself was fascinating and well worth seeing. The missionary effort was just annoying and a little embarrassing. Can’t we just let the history be history and allow people to seek out information about the church if they want it? Hell they’re there at Temple Square; it’s likely they’ll end up asking some question or other about the church and its beliefs at some point. Do we really have to make a hard-sell opportunity out of historical tours?

      Yeah. As you can see, I found the “missionary” aspect of the whole thing a major turn off.

      • I took the Beehive tour last summer because I had remembered LOVING it as a child. I specifically remember them talking about polygamy and showing us different relics of some of Brigham Young’s daughters and wives and offered insights into daily life in the Young home, and early Utah life. This most recent time I had a very similar experience to yours — the whole history was completely whitewashed, with the sisters talking about “this is the room Brigham would gather his wife and children to pray” and pointing to a picture of Brigham with a very nuclear family … one wife and a few kids, and then asking “Why do you think family prayer is important?” I had taken a non-member friend who was really interested in the history of the church and the new set up was really disappointing. I left pretty annoyed, especially after I asked one of the sisters a couple of historical questions (largely related to polygamy) my friend had asked me that I couldn’t answer. She wrinkled her nose in disgust, told me she didn’t know, and moved on to talk about the importance of Family Home Evening. Sigh. I guess my friend will have to turn to the internet and non-official sources for our history since the missionaries at an official church historical site don’t seem to be able to offer much help.

      • sounds just like my experience, Brem. It was very frustrating. When will the church recognize that they’ll likely have better success with an open, honest embracing of what Mormonism is and has been than with whitewashing and simplistic overt hard selling of the current brand?

  4. Did you go to the Susan B. Anthony home in Rochester???

    You should, the first thing you see when you take the tour is a silk dress made for Ms. Anthony by the Mormon women of Utah who made the silk themselves from silk worms they had raised.

  5. I thought that was a touching report. I won’t lie, brought a little tear to my eye on the last part with your kids eating lunch, mostly because I also have a deeply spiritual and passionate love for Diet Coke.

    Made my day better, thank you.

    • Nate

      I also have a deeply spiritual and passionate love for Diet Coke.

      I completely understand this spiritual and passionate love, I have the same relationship. At least it doesn’t lie. And doesn’t hurt anyone.(did I just say that) Maybe I should slink into another room right now.

  6. My Sunday mix-type, which might correlate with my spiritual mix-type, is mostly full of folk music of the Bob Dylan/Bon Iver/Iron & Wine variety. It also has the Mo-Tab singing “Come Thou Fount” on repeat.

    I thought a lot about my personal spiritual places a few weeks (months?) ago when I was teaching a lesson on Alma the Elder and the Waters of Mormon. He said that that place was beautiful to him, and to the people who made covenants there. I wondered what my places were. One is where I was baptized when I was 8 (that my husband’s grandpa actually built–and was the only building he built in my non-Utah state). Another is the Sacramento Temple where I served nearly every day for one month of my mission during the Open House. I was so tired for that temple, but so happy. It was the happiest time of my mission. One more is my former ward building in Boston, the Long Fellow Park building that burnt down one Sunday, during the time that it was my meeting-house. It was the place where I first publicly bore my testimony of Heavenly Mother, and then made a best friend because of it.

    I haven’t been to any Church History sites, except for the Beehive House when I was very small, so I don’t remember the things Amelia was speaking about. I just remember one of the bedrooms in the top floor and a little basin.

  7. My sacred spaces are wherever my friends and family are…which means that chapel building in Rochester feels sacred to me right now. Thank you so much for coming.

    • “My sacred spaces are wherever my friends and family are” I was just thinking the same thing…that standing over my daughter’s crib, even when she’s not in it, and breathing in her smell is one of the most calming, centering, feelings. Also, my parent’s living room when my siblings are all visiting, and my own living room. Other than that…mountains or wilderness. I haven’t found churches or even the Temple to feel very spiritual or Godly in quite a while.

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