The Mysterious Gilgal Garden

Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah is the mysterious Gilgal Garden.  But is not a regular garden.  It’s 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 next to a house.  Only a simple black fence with a small sign notes it’s existance.

The mysterious gilgal garden entrance sign

What wonders lie beyond this fence?

What is Gilgal

Gilgal is a location mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible. It is often associated with the Israelites’ early history in the land of Canaan and is considered a significant site in their history. According to the book of Joshua, Gilgal was the first place where the Israelites set up camp after crossing the Jordan River into Canaan. It was there they celebrated the first Passover and after which, they were considered to be under the covenant with God.

In later books of the Hebrew Bible, Gilgal is mentioned as a place of religious worship and sacrifice, as well as a gathering place for the Israelites for various important events. It is also mentioned in the prophetic books of Hosea and Amos, where it is described as a place of idol worship and disobedience to God’s commands.  Overall, Gilgal serves as an important symbol of the Israelites’ history and religious heritage, and its significance is emphasized in the context of the narrative of the conquest of Canaan and their establishment as God’s chosen people.

There is a Neolithic monument located near the modern-day city of Shaharut in southern Israel called the  Gilgal stone circle.  It consists of several large stones arranged in a circular pattern and is estimated to have been constructed around 4,500 years ago.

The purpose of the Gilgal stone circle is not definitively known, but it is believed to have served a religious or ceremonial function. Some researchers have suggested that it may have been used for astronomical observations or as a marker for the summer solstice. Others have suggested that it was used for rituals or as a gathering place for community events.

Regardless of its exact function, the Gilgal stone circle is considered to be an important and well-preserved example of early human architectural and engineering achievements. It is also significant for its potential to shed light on the cultural and religious practices of the people who built it.

Gilgal Garden History

From this inspiration, the garden was created by 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 took the story of the Gilgal Stone – twelve stones for the twelve tribes.  From this stand twelve 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.

"Of all the craft followed by man in this world . . . masonry hathe the most notabilite"

There’s scarcely a rock that doesn’t have a quote or poem engraved on the surface.

carved stone garden

The Carved Sculptures

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.

carved Joseph Smith Sphinx salt lake city

Though the tableaus are grounded in both the bible we are familiar with plus the Book of Mormon, the exact reasons for the symbolism are lost to history.  What for example, do the hands in this cave represent?

Carved hands in Gilgal Cave
Mysterous garden with ghostly carved head
A ghostly apparition

A statue of Thomas Battersby Child Jr. surrounded by the tools of his trade

Thomas Battersby Child Jr statue Salt Lake City
Thomas Battersby Child Jr., Morman stone mason, with his tools
A side view shows the beautiful stacked stonework.

A Mysterious Tribute to Queen Victoria

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.

Queen Victoria tribute Gilgal Garden
Stone archway with books
An incredible stone archway flanked by enormous carved books
Mysterious garden wth Carved stone books
Detail of the books carved from stone

Garden Decline and Revival

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.  

Eventually, 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 with such a lifelong obsession?   The answer lies somewhere in the stones of the mysterious Gilgal Garden.

The mysterious gilgal garden

If You Go

Gilgal Garden, 749 E. 500 South, Salt Lake City, Utah is open for self tours 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 on Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Thanksgiving.

Love & Hats Madge

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