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. There are several temple ordinances mentioned in the scriptures which aren't performed often or even talked about regularly.  I suspect that some of them might 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 might mean "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 lds.org.  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
IF ANY OF YOU LACK WISDOM LET HIM ASK OF GOD
THAT GIVETH TO MEN LIBERALLY AND UPBRAIDETH NOT
AND IT SHALL BE GIVEN HIM
                                     James 1-5v
THIS IS MY BELOVED SON       HEAR HIM
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. 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.  You may comment but remember that this is on the internet and these are sacred rooms, so let's be restrained in our comments on this one.

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.

40 comments:

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...
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Scott said...
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William Thompson said...
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Jon said...
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Scott said...
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Sister F said...
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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...
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Brett said...
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SMR said...
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Brian said...
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Brian said...
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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: http://www.moroni10.com/LDS/Temple_Tour/SLC_Temple_Celestial_Room.jpg

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...
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Brian said...
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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 LDS.org.

Anonymous said...
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Scott said...

It was an institute manual if I remember correctly

Elaine Edwards said...

Interesting post. Thanks for writing

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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...
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Medievaldigger said...
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Scott said...

By the way, I have deleted a lot of comments, mainly because I decided to try to keep what happens in the Holy of Holies more sacred. Please don't take offence, I just decided to be extra cautious on this subject and even deleted some of my comments and edited my original post (although I think what I said was okay).

Anonymous said...

I do not know why we bother to write any comment if you remove them without any explanation

Anonymous said...

Sorry I have just noticed your comment about why you removed them.

The point is nobody knows by sure what is going on in there. Fuhtermore. if you check the millennial start, the messages of the first presidency, the house of the Lord and some journals you will have a fair understanding about the ordinance. And I remind you that sacred is not the same than secret or silent. The only covenant we have made, if we are temple goers, is not to reveal the name and tokens of the holy priesthood. So if we are not breaking any covenant saying that in the temple you are washed and annointed why are not we allowed to mention that there is a washing of feet (D&C 88) and another annointing.

Scott said...

I decided that I wanted discussion about particulars of ordinances and other aspects to be more limited. I debated this for a long time. There were some comments that went beyond what I felt should be discussed online and so I decided to err on the side of caution on this post. In deleting comments I am not saying they were bad, just that I wanted to be cautious. I did mention washing of feet.
Another reason I am limiting discussion of higher ordinances is because most haven't experienced them and will therefore be speculating and talking about things they don't know (myself included). From what I have read, those who receive higher ordinances are told not to discuss them, so what we know and can read and speculate from is limited.

Anonymous said...

If you have Access to góspellink which belongs to Deseret Book just write second anointing in the finder and you will have some interesting quotations.
I am very blessed to have a copy from the book of anointing from Nauvoo temple before this book was kept into the presidency vault. I have also have the oportunity to see the place where all the stuff for the ordinance is kept. And also 2 temple counsellor openly talked to me about the ordinance and how it is perform. The ordinance has changed dramatically. Even Tom Phillips is lying about his second anointing. What he exposured it was a description of the ordinance in the previous centuries but today it is diferent nothing to do what Tom Phillips describes. It is a pity to gain followers he has to lie