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A major event leading to the eventual formation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, took place in what is commonly referred to within the Church as The Sacred Grove. This Grove is a forested area near the border of western New York near the home of Joseph Smith, Jr. around 1820. It is the location where Smith said he had his First Vision, an important theophany in the movement's theology.
The exact location of the Sacred Grove is not known, but it would have been west of Smith's adolescent home on the border of the towns of Palmyra and Manchester. This area was being cleared at the time for farming by the Smith family, who were also using the trees to harvest maple syrup. The area has been purchased by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who cares for the area and allows tourists to visit. Many Latter Day Saints view the place as a sacred site.
The Sacred Grove's main historical significance is as the location of Joseph Smith's First Vision. In the early 19th century, the western New York area had "caught fire" so many times with intense revivalism that it later became known as the burned-over district. As an early adolescent, the revivalism both interested and confused Smith, and he became concerned "for the wellfare of my immortal Soul," which led him to study the scriptures (Smith 1832, pp. 1–2). Believing that "there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament" (Smith 1832, p. 2), and not knowing where to turn for forgiveness of his sins, he went to the woods near his home to pray (Smith 1832, p. 3). While praying, Smith said he saw a "pillar of light", and then "his mind was caught away" into a vision (Pratt 1840, p. 5), where two personages, identified as God the Father and Jesus Christ, told him his sins were forgiven and that all churches were false and corrupt (Pratt 1840, p. 5; Smith 1842c, p. 748).
This story has become a foundational element in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because adherents believe this vision started Smith on a path toward becoming a prophet, translating the Book of Mormon from golden plates, and re-establishing the Church of Christ.
The Sacred Grove is also suggested as a possible site where Joseph Smith, Jr. showed the golden plates to Eight Witnesses in June 1829. Smith's mother said that the event took place at a location near the Smith log home "where the [Smith] family were in the habit of offering up their secret devotions to God" (Smith 1853, p. 140). According to Joseph, the plates had been taken there by the angel Moroni, who had been guarding them since their translation (Smith 1853, p. 140).
The Sacred Grove is often visited as part of the Smith Family Farm, an historical site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints located at 843 Stafford Road. The church operates a welcome center on the farm, which includes a replica of the log home built in 1818 by Joseph Smith, Sr. and his wife Lucy Mack Smith, as well as the original frame home built by the Smiths in 1825.
Other historic sites close to the Smith Farm are the Hill Cumorah Visitors Center, where Smith was given the records that he translated the Book of Mormon from, as well as the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site, located at the E.B. Grandin Printing Shop in Palmyra.
- Berge, Dale L. (August 1985), "Archaeological Work at the Smith Log House", Ensign 15 (8): 24, http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll/Magazines/Ensign/1985.htm/ensign%20august%201985%20.htm/archaeological%20work%20at%20the%20smith%20log%20house.htm?fn=document-frameset.htm$f=templates$3.0 .
- Pratt, Orson (1840), A Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records, Edinburgh: Ballantyne and Hughes, http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cgi-bin/docviewer.exe?CISOROOT=/NCMP1820-1846&CISOPTR=2821 .
- Smith, Joseph, Jr. (1832), "History of the Life of Joseph Smith", in Jessee, Dean C, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, ISBN 1-57345-787-6, http://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=History_of_the_Life_of_Joseph_Smith&oldid=314384 .
- Smith, Lucy Mack (1853) ([dead link] – Scholar search), Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations, Liverpool: S.W. Richards, http://relarchive.byu.edu/19th/descriptions/biographical.html .
- Smith, William (1883), William Smith on Mormonism: A True Account of the Origin of the Book of Mormon, Lamoni, Iowa: RLDS Church, http://www.olivercowdery.com/smithhome/1883Wilm.htm .
- A Map of the Sacred Grove and Surrounding Environment
- LDS Webpage for the Joseph Smith Farm Welcome Center
- Joseph Smith History
- The Sacred Grove at Parks and Places: scienceviews.com