Every student of Jewish antiquities knows and every Freemason who has taken the Third Degree ought to knows, what was the peculiar construction, character, and uses of the Sanctum Sanctorum or Holly of Holies in King Solomon's Temple. Situated in the western end of the Temple, separated from the rest of the building by a heavy curtain, and enclosed on three sides by dead walls without any aperture or window, it contained the sacred Ark of the Covenant, and was secluded and set apart from all intrusion save of the High Priest, who only entered it on certain solemn occasions. As it was the most sacred of the three parts of the Temple, so has it been made symbolic of a Master's Lodge, in which are performed the most sacred rites of initiation in Ancient Craft Freemasonry.
But as modern horologists have found in all the Hebrew rites and ceremonies the traces of more ancient mysteries, from which they seem to have been derived, or on which they have been modified, whence we trace also to the same mysteries most of the Masonic forms which, of course, are more immediately founded on the Jewish Scriptures, so we shall find in the ancient Gentile temples the type of this same Sanctum Sanctorum or Holy of Holies, under the name of Adyton or Adytum. And what is more singular, we shall find a greater resemblance between this Adytum of the Pagan temples and the Lodge of Master Masons, than we will discover between the latter and the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Solomonic Temple. It will be curious and interesting to trace this resemblance, and to follow up the suggestions that it offers in reference to the antiquity of Masonic rites.
The Adytum was the most retired and secret part of the ancient Gentile temple, into which, as into the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple, the people were not permitted to enter, but which was accessible only to the priesthood. And hence the derivation of the word from the Greek Adoein, meaning not to enter, or that which it is not permitted to enter. Seclusion and mystery were always characteristic of the Adytum, and therefore, like the Holy of Holies, it never admitted of windows.
In the Adytum was to be found a taphos or tomb, and some relic or image or statue of the god to whom the temple was dedicated. The tomb reminds us of the characteristic feature of the Third Degree of Freemasonry; the image or statue of the god finds its analogue or similarity in the Ark of the Covenant and the overshadowing Cherubim.
It being supposed that temples owed their first origin to the reverence paid by the ancients to their deceased friends, and as it was an accepted theory that the gods were once men who had been deified on account of their heroic virtues, temples were, perhaps, in the beginning only stately monuments erected in honor of the dead. Hence the interior of the temple was originally nothing more than a cell or cavity, that is to say, a grave regarded as a place of deposit for the reception of a person interred, and, therefore, in it was to be found the soros or coffin, and the taphos or tomb, or, among the Scandinavians, the barrow or mound grave. In time the statue or image of a god took the place of the coffin; but the reverence for the spot, as one of peculiar sanctity, remained, and this interior part of the temple became among the Greeks the sekos or chapel, among the Romans the Adyeum or forbidden place, and among the Jevvs the kodesh kodashim, or Holy of Holies.
"The sanctity thus acquired," says Dudley in his Naology (page 393), "by the cell of interment might readily and with propriety be assigned to any fabric capable of containing the body of the departed friend, or relic, or even the symbol of the presence or existence, of a divine personage." Thus it happened that there was in every ancient temple an Adytum or Most Holy Place.
There was in the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple, it is true, no tomb nor coffin containing the relics of the dead. But there was an Ark of the Covenant which was the recipient of the Rod of Aaron, and the Pot of Manna, which might well be considered the relics of the past life of the Jewish nation in the wilderness. There was an analogy easily understood according to the principles of the science of symbolism. There was no statue or image of a god, but there were the sacred cherubim, and, above all, the Shekinah or Divine Presence, and the bathkol or Voice of God.
But when Freemasonry established its system partly on the ancient rites and partly on the Jewish ceremonies, it founded its Third Degree as the Adytum or holy of holies of all its mysteries, the exclusive place into which none but the most worthy the priesthood of Freemasonry the Masters in Israel were permitted to enter; and then going back to the mortuary idea of the ancient temple, it recognized the reverend for the dead which constitutes the peculiar characteristic of that Degree. And, therefore, in every Lodge of Master Masons there should be found, either actually or allegorically, a grave, or tomb, and coffin, because the Third Degree is the inmost sanctuary, the kodesh kodashim, the Holy of Holies of the Masonic temple.