Sunday, May 1, 2011

Holy of Holies in Temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Holy of Holies is the most sacred part of a temple and is only really in one temple today - the Salt Lake Temple.  Little known is the fact that several temples have had Holy of Holies.

To start out I should point out that the term "Holy of Holies" comes from the Bible and referred to the most sacred part of the Tabernacle, Solomon's Temple, Zerrubbabel's Temple, and the Temple of Herod.  The term "Most Holy Place" is usually another name for the Holy of Holies.  The room contained the ark of the covenant and could only be entered by the High Priest once a year.  It was separated from "the holy place" by the veil of the temple.  In this way, our current temple celestial rooms are somewhat comparable to the Jewish Holy of Holies.  Still, the rooms are quite a bit different.  This should be expected as the Jewish temples were Aaronic Priesthood preparatory temples while ours are Melchizedek Priesthood higher law Christian temples.

The Holy of Holies in our temples have some similarities to their ancient counterparts.  They have limited access - the prophet and occasionally others can enter the room.  They are also used for heavenly visitations.  Anciently, the Holy of Holies was where Gabriel appeared and announced to Zacharias that his wife would give birth to John the Baptist.  In today's Holy of Holies, the prophet may receive similar heavenly visitations and directions on how to run Christ's church.

You might wonder what else "Holy of Holies" is used for.  Apparently it is used for the higher ordinances of the priesthood.  Apostle James E. Talmage said that it is "reserved for the higher ordinances in the priesthood relating to the exaltation of both living and dead".  See his book The House of the Lord for this information.  I did a search on relating to the ordinance and found only one reference on the whole site.  It was in a teacher's manual in a lesson about having your calling and election made sure and it said "do not attempt in any way to discuss or answer questions about ..."  So I'm not going to tell you about the ordinance, or mention what it is called, but apparently it is occasionally done, is related to having your calling and election made sure, and is probably performed in the Holy of Holies.  I confirmed its existence through some sources and it is mentioned in accounts from early members of the church just prior to Joseph Smith Jr. being martyred.  Other mentions of the ordinance pop up through the turn of the century.  Nevertheless, I don't know the details of the ordinance and only know that it is rare and sacred and I won't attempt to explain it.  There are also several other temple ordinances mentioned in the scriptures which aren't performed often or even talked about regularly.  I suspect that some of them are performed in the holy of holies.  Here is one such verse:
Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your annointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name.
D&C 124:39
Notice that this verse says "most holy places" which is another way to translate "Holy of Holies".  I suspect that the "memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi" may simply refer to the sacrament served during solemn assemblies.  In another place we read:

And he shall be received by the ordinance of the washing of feet, for unto this end was the ordinance of the washing of feet instituted.
And again, the ordinance of washing feet is to be administered by the president, or presiding elder of the church.
It is to be commenced with prayer; and after partaking of bread and wine, he is to gird himself according to the pattern given in the thirteenth chapter of John's testimony concerning me. Amen.                                 
D&C 88:139-141
This verse refers to the ordinance of washing of feet - particularly in relation to the School of the Prophets.  This ordinance was instituted by Jesus Christ just prior to his crucifixion and is a priesthood ordinance.  Christ gave this ordinance to his apostles and I highly suspect that the same ordinance is given to any apostle, although it is also apparently given to others as well.  It would not surprise me if the Holy of Holies was used for this ordinance, although it may be performed elsewhere in the temple.

Lets leave this chain of thought and instead get to the architecture of the Holy of Holies and when they have been used.

You can consider the Kirtland Temple to have included a Holy of Holies.  The assembly halls could be divided using curtains (essentially veils) and on April 3, 1836 the Melchizedek Priesthood pulpits were curtained off with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery inside when Jesus Christ, Moses, Elias, and Elijah appeared to them, accepted the temple, and conferred priesthood keys and the sealing power.  For this reason, I think you could consider the pulpits in the Kirtland Temple as an early Holy of Holies.

The original Nauvoo Temple included a sealing room identified as the Holy of Holies.  This was room 1 or the clerk's office.  It was a sealing room, clerk's office, and Holy of Holies.  Apparently it was used so much for the higher ordinances that other rooms had to be used for sealings so the room could be used for the higher ordinances.  See this article for more details.  Here is a drawing of a sealing room in the original Nauvoo Temple from  Details of how the room looked are probably guessed, but it gives you some idea of what the Holy of Holies may have looked like.

I don't know if the St. George Temple had a Holy of Holies, but I suspect it at least had a sealing room occasionally used for that purpose.

The Logan Temple used to contain a sealing room sometimes used as the Holy of Holies.  This was the Gold Room.  The room had gold directly applied to the plaster walls using a hot iron.  As you can see, intricate patterns were made on the walls.  The curtain is covering a doorway leading into the southeast tower spiral staircase.  Also, notice the stained glass window.  The windows were removed when the temple was gutted and remodeled in the 1980s.  You can see the windows in the Church History museum (and I think the Manti Temple cafeteria has some of them as well - they looked familiar last time I ate there). 
Logan Temple Gold Room - Sometimes a Holy of Holies
Logan Temple Gold Room - Sometimes a Holy of Holies

The Manti Temple also included a Holy of Holies.  This one is directly off the celestial room and is still in the temple.  It has its door left open so you can see the room and is now officially a sealing room, although one you can't use.  Apparently President Hinckley wanted the room kept special because of its history (according to temple workers at the Manti Temple who said the room is rumored to have been a Holy of Holies.  As you can see, the room is extremely ornate.  I particularly like the arched area above the altar and the intricate detailing used there.  Even small details such as the door handle and the hinges on the door are covered in symbolic details.  This really is a fitting Holy of Holies.
Manti Temple Sealing Room - Sometimes a Holy of Holies
The Salt Lake Temple is currently the only temple with a permanent Holy of Holies.  This room is accessed from the celestial room and is in between two sealing rooms that are also directly off the celestial room.  The room is round with a dome.  In fact, the room directly above the Holy of Holies is called the dome room because the dome ceiling of the Holy of Holies takes up the middle of the room.  As you can see, the room has numerous art glass windows in the dome (lights in the dome room light them up).  There is also an authentic Tiffany Glass window depicting the First Vision (which can be seen on the other side of the window from the sealing office).  The glass window says
                                     James 1-5v
The room contains other nice architectural details.  Carved faces are found on the arches.  Vines are found on the columns.  Sconces, a chandelier(s?), and art glass windows bring a lot of light into the room.  You can also see that the room has intricate carvings.  Despite all of this, the room is remarkably restrained for a room with so many intricate details.  I recall reading somewhere that the door to the room in the celestial room opens into a small room with a few stairs and another door that then leads into the Holy of Holies proper. In Talmage's book The House of the Lord he states that the Holy of Holies is
reached by an additional flight of six steps inside the sliding doors.  The short staircase is bordered by hand-carved balustrades, which terminate in a pair of newel-posts bearing bronze figures symbolizing innocent childhood; these support flower clusters, each jeweled blossom enclosing an electric bulb.  On the landing at the head of the steps is another archway, beneath which are sliding doors; these doors mark the threshold of the inner room or Holy of Holies. . . 
Talmage then describes the Holy of Holies:
The floor is of native hard wood blocks, each an inch in cross section.  The room is of circular outline, eighteen feet in diameter, with paneled walls, the panels separated by carved pillars supporting arches; it is decorated in blue and gold.  The entrance doorway and the panels are framed in red velvet with an outer border finished in gold.  Four wall niches, bordered in crimson and gold, have a deep blue background, and within these are tall vases holding flowers.  The room is practically without natural light, but it is brilliantly illuminated by a large electrolier and eight side clusters of lamps.  The ceiling is a dome in which are set circular and semicircular windows of jeweled glass, and on the outside of these, therefore above the ceiling, are electric globes whose light penetrates into the room in countless hues of subdued intensity. . .
Salt Lake Temple Holy of Holies
In many ways we only need the one Holy of Holies because a major function of the room is for the prophet to go and pray and receive revelation and heavenly visitations relating to how the church should be run.  Yet, it also has its function for higher ordinances and the prophet (or apostles) may wish to use a Holy of Holies when they are away from Salt Lake.  For these reasons, sealing rooms in temples are occasionally used as Holy of Holies.  I was told in the Preston England Temple that one of the sealing rooms in that temple is designated to be used for the prophet or apostles when needed.  When they need the room it is temporarily set apart for that purpose, so essentially it is occasional a Holy of Holies.  This may also explain why many temples have one small sealing room that is really nice, but impractical for large weddings.  It is probably used only for sealings for the dead and also rarely as a Holy of Holies.

I hope you found this interesting.  Please comment and let us know what you think or if you know more, although remember that this is on the internet.  I'd love to read more about these rooms and I'd love to share more, but finding reliable information is difficult due to the sacred nature of the rooms.  I think they are beautiful additions to temples and serve wonderful purposes.

Here is a picture of the Dome Room, the room above the Holy of Holies in the Salt Lake Temple.  It is just used to access the ceiling lights above the Holy of Holies and has been used as a dressing room.
Dome Room Above Holy of Holies in the Salt Lake Temple
Talmage describes the Dome Room as follows:
. . . the large Dome Room, thirty nine by forty four feet.  On the south side are three oval windows, and opposite these on the north are semi-discs of pebbled glass looking down into the Celestial Room and set in the arches thereof.  In the center appears a large dome, fifty one feet in circumference at its base and seven feet high.  This is set with seventeen jeweled windows and may be readily recognized as the ceiling of the Holy of Holies . . . In each of these windows electric bulbs are placed, and it is from these the room below derives its beauty of ceiling illumination and coloring.  The walls are hung with portraits of Church authorities.  No specific ordinance work belongs to this apartment. . .
For more information, please read James E. Talmage's The House of the Lord first printed in 1912.


Clark Herlin said...

Really interesting article. I love how much detail you put in to prove something is the way it is, whether by your own testimony, word of mouth from others, or citations of published works. Really good job.

The Tolmans said...

This was a great article. I do want share some things I have heard. It is my belief that all temples do have a place the prophet can go to be alone and ponder if needed. My friend worked in the twin falls temple. He informed me that in one of the sealing rooms there is a door that goes in to a small room that has a chair and sink. I have seen this door in this sealing room and it is always locked. He said the blue prints sad it was called a wash room. He believed it to be the holy of holies for this temple. If every temple has a room like this or not I do not know but I bet there is a place whether it be a sealing room or not or adjacent to a sealing room there is a room the prophet can go to.

Second I have seen the holy of holies in the manti temple and know people who have been sealed in that room I do believe it to be the old holy of holies and believe it still could be used as such if needed. I also know that the Temple workers and cleaners still refer to it as the holy of holies.

And last I had never heard of this extra ordination or endowment for others done in the holy of holies, for what same say is there calling and election made sure until I moved to Utah but am finding that there may be more to it then just hear say. I do not pretentious to even began to have a real good opinion on what this is or what it dose or intel, but I do want to point out a conference address made by president Kimball in conference. This talk can be found In The priesthood session of conference of April 2 1977 also found in the May Ensign of 1977, where president Kimball ask's " do we have all the ordinances for salvation" he goes on to talk about what some may call the second endowment. Now if this is the same as having ones calling and election made sure and having it done in a holy of holies, I do not know but I think it is worth mentioning.

Scott said...

Finding sources for the ordinance are a bit tricky, unless you start reading early church accounts. I like if I can find them on because they hopefully aren't anti.
The byu article I linked confirms that ordinances higher than endowment or sealing were performed in the Holy of Holies.
The Spencer W. Kimball article didn't say anything about second endowment, but did confirm that there are other ordinances, although I think he was talking about post-death ordinances and not what is done in the Holy of Holies.
Some talks from Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff talk about receiving their endowments in the plural, which may be bad grammar, poor records of the statements, or a hint at what they received.

William Thompson said...

I have copies of the blueprints for the Calgary Alberta Temple (under construction) and the Perth Australia Temple (President Hinckley's small temple design). As commented on by "The Tolmans" about the Twin Falls Idaho Temple, both these temples (and I'd presume all temples) have small rooms (not much bigger than a broom closet) located off their large Sealing Rooms (in the smaller temples it is in the sealing room on the women's side of the temple). I didn't really notice it when I reviewed the Perth Temple drawings, but when I was reviewing the Calgary Temple drawings it caught my attention. The first thing that indicated to me that this room was special was when I looked at the cabinetry hardware schedule - the rest of the temple uses basically two different styles of door/drawer pulls - a decorative brass (used throughout most of the formal spaces in the temple) and a more plain stainless steel one in the kitchen, laundry and engineers office; however the the door/drawer pulls in this small room are real crystal pulls (not just glass), they're not cheap either. The room also has a large (kitchen-like) ceramic sink. The other big thing that lead me to believe that this room was special was when I reviewed the door hardware schedule for that room. Most of the locksets throughout the rest temple at least have the option to be left unlocked (either with a thumb latch or with a key) - the lockset for this door can never be left unlocked - it must always need a key to open. 24 copies of keys for each lockset type is to be handed over to the Churches representative, except for this door - the specification specifically indicate that only 2 key are to be made for this door (different keying than all other doors) and that both keys are to be handed over directly to the Temple President.

Jon said...

I talked to some professors at BYU who studied some of these records of "second anointings" --- as they are sometimes called. The records detailed ordinances occurring well into the late 20th century, and I'm pretty sure they still occur, but for reasons unknown to the rest of us, are not publicized.

Scott said...

Okay, Jon stated what the ordinance was that I was alluding to. It is the "second annointing" and the only reference on is in a teacher's manual saying not to answer questions about it. As I understand it, the ordinance is not necessary in this life, but is required at some point and essentially seals your salvation. One prophet limited its use saying that it was an ordinance mainly for old men and women. It is supposed to be done after you have been tested in life and are found to be true no matter what. For this reason, pioneers were given preference. At least this is what I understand about it. I would love to find a good official source.

Sister F said...

The most complete information I've ever seen about the Second Annointing can be found here:
Also, I've always been curious as to who cleans the Holy of Holies in the Salt Lake Temple. I've always thought that only the prophet and apostles could go in it... do they clean it as well? Perhaps the temple president or matron?
I don't recall seeing one of these 'wash rooms' in the Draper Temple (they gave us 'free reign' to roam around prior to the open house starting when I worked there) but I do remember finding a large storage room in the basement, it was a decently sized room just full of spare furniture.

Brett said...

There are rumours that the smaller temples from the 80's...Sydney, Atlanta and such have a holy of holies in the space above the centrally placed entrance and waiting area...the roof of the waiting room and entrance is well below the roofline above...creating a large space perfect for a room behind the front stained glass window.

Scott said...

I really doubt that is the case. I think it is pure speculation. There needs to be access to the room, and they usually just use a sealing room.

Elijah & Rebekah Brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brett said...

Perhaps this door could lead to a small "washroom"?

Aaron Sebright said...

I actually have a copy of the floor plan of the newly announced Forth Lauderdale Temple, and it too has a small room with a sink attached to one of it's sealing rooms. It is labeled as a closet, but it matches the descriptions of ones found in other Temples.

SMR said...

Well everyone already talked about it So i can drop my two cents. Every temple has a sealing room that can become a Holy of Holies. Yes it is the room with the wash room although the wash room is a new concept as it make things convenient when the room is in use. It is true that the Salt Lake Temple is the only temple with an Active HOH. As for who can go it in. It used to be that any one could. There are ordnance workers in the Salt Lake temple that remember when the doors to the Holy of Hoiles were left open. But as we all know how LDS people can get the room is now locked and only people with a key can get it. I have been told that the actual temple dedication takes place after the public one and from the Holy Holies in the new temple. BUT I would not take that to heart as i have never heard a GA say that.

Anonymous said...

The Oquirrh Mountain Temple has a room off sealing room #3 that has a sink in it. I saw it during construction. It is always locked, although when driving by I always check to see if it is lit up. Only once have I seen that room lit from the outside.

Brian said...

Thank you for a fascinating and well-documented article! I learned a lot from the article, and more from the comments.

After reading about the idea that a sealing room can be used as a Holy of Holies in most, if not all, temples, I had to do some looking.

Each time the church dedicates or rededicates a temple, they release pictures of the temple interior. In several of these pictures I observed a closed door in one corner of sealing room. One of these doors is visible in a picture of the larger sealing room of the Vancouver temple, which I toured during the open house. Curiously, this sealing room is on the men's locker room side of the temple.
The room is depicted in the floor plan attached to the rezoning application; on the floor plan it is labeled a closet. It is the only "closet" on the entire floor plan.

And something curious I observed: in every sealing room with one of these doors visible, a small table is positioned in front of the officiator's chair. Pictures of sealing rooms where a door clearly does not exist do not show such a table, and in pictures were you can't see if there is such a door you may or may not find a table.

Brian said...

With some embarrassment I need to retract part of my previous statement. After spending a little more time reviewing the pictures of the Vancouver Temple sealing room, I realized the door I was looking at was the door into the hallway - not into the "closet" marked on the floor plan.

Chris said...

I have been told that the door to the Holy of Holies in the Salt Lake Temple is in the Celestial Room. Supposedly, it is the door that is darkened in this picture:

Chris said...

Also, when I was in the Celestial Room of the Salt Lake Temple, not only did I notice that these doors were closed, but there was a table (with a vase on the table), set directly in front of the doors, almost as if to discourage anyone from attempting to open the doors.

Anonymous said...

Every Temple that has ever been built, or will ever be built, has been or will be dedicated, prepared, and equipped to fulfill every sacred need that will ever be required on this Earth. This is a very informed statement, but due to the very sacred nature of the topic, I will say no more. Except that the knowledge that you all seek will not come by any means other means than through your own searchings and studies in the Holy Temples. Only by and through your own relationship with the Spirit can you hope to gain this knowledge and understanding. If you truly desire to know the things you do not now know, then I exhort you to learn more about what you do know. Through what you already know you can unlock the necessary understanding to learn what you wish to know. Only by gaining knowledge about the ordinances and covenants that you have already received can you hope to learn more. Remember the Lord gives unto us line upon line and precept upon precept.
As a side note, I stumbled onto this article while looking for another unrelated article, and was not preforming a search on this subject matter, but did feel inclined to share some advice.

Scott said...

Chris, the doors off the celestial room are to the Holy of Holies. The centennial book has original floor plans that make this very clear.

Unknown said...

Great article. One comment regarding your quotes from Talmage on the Dome Room. As recently as 2000 the Dome Room was used as the dressing room for GAs when changing for Thursday Meetings in the Upper Room of the Temple.
The room has at least 2 tiers with lockers and benches on the upper tier of the perimeter and around the lower tier at the walls of the dome.
The dome begins just above the tops of the lockers. The lighting for the small windows are just open bulbs hung from the ceiling of the dome room (locker room).

Unknown said...

Second Anointing:
It should not be a surprise to Endowed members that their is a 2nd Anointing. The opening narration of the Endowment specifically says, "if you are true and faithful, the day will come when you will be called up..." but "for now you are anointed only to become such."
-During early days of the Church, those who had received this ordinance, like any ordinance, had their names published in the local (Church's) paper. For some reason, those who receive this ordinance now are under obligation to not reveal they have received it.
As for "when and/or where":
Stake Presidents used to have a "Second Anointing Recommend Book". I don't know if they still do.
Pay attention to when a member of the Twelve or First Presidency visit your Stake or near your Temple.
Temples are closed to the general membership of the Church and Temple Staff (paid staff) on Sundays. If you see cars in the Temple Parking Lot on a Sunday, usually only 3 - 6 vehicles, you can take a wild guess at what's going on. You can assume a member of the Temple Presidency is present along with the Apostle. That's 1, maybe 2 cars. Then assume that 2-4 faithful couples have been invited. If the couples travel a great distance, they are asked to come into town on the Saturday night before and stay at a hotel nearby.
Details are not necessary, as they can be found in D&C, Journals, Diaries, Historical Records, etc.
The Doctrine & Covenants is referring to those who receive this ordinance in 132:26 in connection with the Holy Spirit of Promise, wherein they can commit any manner of sin and blasphemy and still enter into their exaltation, but will be destroyed in the flesh and handed over to the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption. (my understanding, if they choose to sin after this event, it appears they will have to suffer for their sins committed post ordinance, but will still be exalted.)

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Scott said...

I am removing the last comment because it contained a link to plans for a temple that shouldn't be public. Until the church makes these public, I won't.

Anonymous said...

What was the teachers manual you referenced? I can't seem to find any reference on

Anonymous said...

I am still having a hard time fitting all of the rooms that are susposed to be in the Salt Lake Temple in the space available. I have a friend who was given a tour by the temple recorder and he talks about an apartment that was built at Brigham Youngs request, but the blueprints I have seen do not have room for any other rooms in the temple. Does anyone have floor plans of the Salt Lake Temple or any current temples? I would be interested to see them.

As far as your reservations from talking about these "closets", I know they do exist and perform a sacred function that some in the mainstream LDS membership might feel overwhelmed to think about. In talking with a General Authority, a person that I know what told "these rooms are a need to know basis, and you do not need to know"--when asking about their function.

I think it is important to remember that even with all of this wonderful, inspiring, and completely fascinating information, we must remain grounded. If this information does not help you become a better husband, father, neibor, and friend, it isn't worth our time. I have enjoyed all of your comments, and I look forward to the day when I might be called forth to obtain more blessings and ordinances.

Scott said...

It was an institute manual if I remember correctly

Elaine Edwards said...

Interesting post. Thanks for writing

Anonymous said...

I would add that there is a small closet sized room with a sink off of one of the sealing rooms in the San Antonio temple. The door to it is like a secret door hidden in the moulding on the wall. I have seen it and been in it during the construction of that temple.

Anonymous said...

My dad is an enginer for the timp temple. i asked him about this and he said it did have one he would not tell me were it was. he only said that one day he had to meuser for carpet and when he went to go into a locked door that he didnt have a key to his boss said that he knew the size of the room and to move on my dad then checked his blue prints and it labled it as a closet. ialso know that when that temple was annoced that the homes below it floded it is belived that ground had to much water in it and could not support the wight of the temple.

Anonymous said...

My dad is an enginer for the timp temple. i asked him about this and he said it did have one he would not tell me were it was. he only said that one day he had to meuser for carpet and when he went to go into a locked door that he didnt have a key to it his boss said that he knew the size of the room and to move on my dad then checked his blue prints and it labled it as a closet. ialso know that when that temple was annoced that the homes below it floded it is belived that ground had to much water in it and could not support the wight of the temple.

Kathy Beals said...

Great blog. I learned so much. You mentioned the ordinance of the washing of the feet that is performed on newly ordained apostles. I just want to let you know that on the other side of the Holy of Holies in the Salt Lake Temple there is a specific room in which that ordinance is performed. 20 years ago a temple worker showed it to us when we asked which room James E. Talmage wrote the Jesus The Christ.

Anonymous said...

The sealing room nimber 2 in the Madrid temple has got also a small door in the right corner with a sink. One day when I was acting as a witness for vicarius sealing in a pause of the ceremoby I approached to the door, grabed the handle door and for my surprise the door was unlocked (the temple president had forgotten to locked it)I saw not only the sink but all the stuff for the second anointing ordinance. Futhermore, the ordinance has changed dramatically and it is received in two parts in the temple. One washing and later the anointing. The curious point is that when a couple receive the washing the do know nothing about the anointing. So all the information which is published on internet is wrong and misleading. The published accounts are right for the ordinance until late 20th century.

Medievaldigger said...

I used to do custodial at St. George Temple, and indeed there is a very special room that was one used as a Holy of Holes, but it's unused for that purpose now. Just a bit of trivia. Love the articles!

TheAngrymonkey28 said...

I have done some design work for remodeling within the Salt Lake Temple. The door that is darkened is the Holy of Hollies and is not to be entered. On the other side of the room there is an apartment that one of the prophets did stay in for some time while they were being sought by the US Army for practicing polygamy. These are all very interesting comments. I have always been told not to speculate or wonder about the mysteries and details of the gospel because we can get caught up in the details and lose sight of the basics which by following we will actually bring us to our eternal salvation. But, as long as we don't get caught up...I think it is fun to speculate. I will have to re-check some floor plans that I have for another temple and see if I can find this "closet".