PROVO, Utah – Mormon church historians are hailing the unearthing of a 19th-century baptistry at the site of the old Provo Tabernacle as a significant discovery.
The baptistry, with its 5-by-9-foot font, was built around 1875, said Benjamin Pykles, a curator of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints history department.
A team from Brigham Young University’s Office of Public Archaeology led by Rich Talbot found a portion of the walls of the baptistry and font as well as a water pipe and the foundation of a stove that heated the building and water.
The team also found the font’s floor, which includes three layers of wood laid in crisscross fashion and held together with nails and screws. The floor was solid enough to hold water.
“The floor is in very fragile condition, with most of the wood deteriorated. One third is intact and our conservators at the Church History Library are working on saving it,” Pykles said. “There is nothing else like it in the church.”
Talbot said the baptistry provided privacy and a more comfortable, year-round setting for baptisms to take place.
“This was hallowed ground to them,” he said.
“It was the first place the saints could be baptized in a real font rather than in a cold river or lake,” Talbot said. “It’s very exciting and a rare opportunity to see a baptismal font in its original condition. It’s thrilling for us.”
Historians say it was the earliest known LDS baptistry in Utah County and the first outside Salt Lake City with the exception of one in St. George. The Provo baptistry was used until at least 1907, according to church records.
The excavation of the baptistry started in late October and was recently completed.
The old Provo Tabernacle was gutted by a December 2010 fire, and the church is in the process of converting the site into a Mormon temple.