Gilgal the Garden of Mystery
Well it’s the last week of National Blog Posting Month, (Nablopomo) and there’s a good chance that Madge might actually pull this off. Read on to discover one of the most compelling places Madge has ever seen.
Gilgal the Garden of Mystery
Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah is one of most mysterious
places Madge has come across. Gilgal Garden – a garden of stone. It’s easy to miss; in fact Madge did miss it on the first pass since it’s a very narrow sliver of land with a simple black metal fence.
The garden is the creation of Thomas Battersby Child Jr., a Mormon Bishop and retired stone mason, who enlisted fellow Mormon and noted sculptor Maurice Brooks to help build this backyard monument to his faith and the craft of stone masonry. Child was already in his late 50s when he started the garden in 1947 and worked on it almost up to the day of his death in 1963.
Gilgal is full of haunting images from the Old Testament and Mormon mysticism. Child named it from a passage in the book of Joshua. Gilgal – the place where the Israelites camped after crossing the River Jordan during the Exodus. After the successful crossing, Joshua ordered the Israelites to take twelve stones from the river, one for each tribe, and place them there. Gilgal became known as a stone circle.
From this inspiration stand 12 sculptural groupings, plus over 70 stones engraved with bible passages and poems. The very compactness of the garden makes the size of the rock sculptures even more striking.
One of the first pieces Madge encountered was this enormous Sphinx with the head of Joseph Smith, found of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Though the tableaus are grounded in both the bible and the Book of Mormon, the exact reasons for the symbolism are lost to history. What, for example do the hands in this cave represent?
Embedded into one of the large boulders is a dedication plaque listing acquaintances, friends and of all people, Queen Victoria already 50 years dead when Child began to build.
Child led hundreds of tour groups through his masterpiece over the years but after his death the garden went into a long slow decline as his widow found it increasingly difficult to maintain. The garden fell into ruin with few people in Salt Lake even knowing it existed. But a small band of local artists did know and in 2000 when a developer announced plans to buy the site to build condominiums, they sprung into action.
After raising the funds to outbid the developer, the group, Friends of Gilgal Garden, worked to restore the sculptures and oversees the ongoing management of Gilgal, now officially a city park. The Salt Lake County Master Gardener Association adopted the garden as one of their community projects and planted the shrubs and flowers that they continue to maintain.
What makes a man create such a fantastical world? What religious fervor engulfs him, creating such a life long obsession? The answer lies somewhere in the stones of Gilgal Garden.
See you tomorrow.
Gigal Garden, 749 E. 500 South, is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, April through September, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., October through March. It is closed Christmas, New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving.