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B.9.1 The Crypt Legend

B.9 Traditional History

This legend, that is part of the Royal Arch traditional history, is linked to the accidental discovery of a crypt on the site of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the bringing out of certain things found in it, in particular a book containing the Gospel as revealed by God. In the English ritual the biblical account, as well as what the historian Josephus wrote of the rebuilding of the Temple, is interwoven with the legend, and the crypt now becomes an arched vault. The Sojourners have been added in the early eighteenth century to allow the story to be unfolded by the candidate, who is assumed to be a witness of the discovery on which the ceremonial is based. In the Irish ritual the biblical reference is the older story of the repair of the Temple and of the discovery of the Volume of the Sacred Law by Hilkiah, but the ceremonial is also based on the discovery of the crypt as in the English system.

The crypt legend dates probably from the fourth century AD, and its many versions seem to be derived from Philostorgius who was born about 364 AD. The founders of the early Royal Arch Ceremonial probably found their inspiration in Samuel Lee’s Orbis Miraculum published in 1659. According to this legend, Emperor Julian the Apostate (331-363) authorised the Jews to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple to annoy the Christians. From this it results that the crypts of Solomon’s Temple were disturbed, not by Zerubbabel, but by Julian the Apostate, who also wanted to rebuild Herod’s Temple destroyed by Titus in 64 AD. In doing this he wanted to falsify the prophesy that there should not remain one stone upon another (Matthew xxiv,2), but there was an explosion of gas, or a fire, that killed the workers. The ruins were left in still a worse state, and the prophecy was fulfilled.

In another legend by Callistus it is an earthquake that interrupted the work of digging up the ruins of the Temple and killed many of the workmen. Another attempt was made but, this time, a fire started out of the foundations, and burned all the tools. It was followed by another earthquake that convinced all that it was useless to try to excavate the ruins and rebuilt the old Temple.

There are other variants of the legend beside those included in the English, Scottish, and Irish rites. An example is the vision of Enoch, the father of Methuselah and the author of a Biblical Book. In the “Book of Enoch” it is said that God showed Enoch nine vaults in a vision and that, with the help of his son, he built a secret sanctuary at the bottom of the mountain of Canaan on the base of the design indicated by God. The nine vaults were beneath one another and in the ninth, or undermost, he placed a triangle of gold on which was inscribed the True Name of God, the heart, essence, and centre of the Sacred Tradition.

The discovery of the vault, or crypt, by the Sojourners occurred, according to the tradition, on the return of the Jews from their exile in Babylon about 536 BC. This type of vault was different from those found under the Sanctum Sanctorum; it was an arched vault of the medieval type that started to be built during the Gothic days. The Sojourners entered in the crypt after removing some arch stones, or keystones, and that involved some danger to the Sojourners, and to the structure. It is, of course, a legend that must be accepted as told; it forms the background of a traditional story concerning the attempt by the Jews on their return from Babylon to rebuild their Temple to the Honour and Glory of the Most High. The imagery of the Royal Arch story is a simple allegory pointing the way from death to life, from darkness to light, the crypt being an accepted hiding-place. “Cryptic “things are now synonymous with secret things, or as things that are uncovered, or revealed, only to the enlightened few.

The arch is an old architectural structure (it was known in some countries in 2000 BC) used to cover the space between two vertical walls, but it is not the oldest. The Babylonians, the Assyrians, the early Egyptians and, probably, the Jews of Solomon’s days used beams across the opening, but the arch allowed to cover a wider span. It was also an emblem of strength and beauty. Some Masonic writers believe that the word “arch” has nothing to do with architecture but means “chief”, as in “archbishop” and “archduke”, but the architectural reference is more likely. The true arch of Masonry derives its strength from its principle of construction. Its ability to carry a load depends on the keystone, the arch stone, the stone at the top without which the other stones would collapse. The arch stone transmit the weight of the superstructure, through the other stones, on both sides to the side supports; it is an essential part of the true arch. In Royal Arch Masonry, a vault or crypt, is a vault closed by a true arch. It is also the image of the Royal Arch in general, even if that type of Gothic construction was not used in the Jerusalem Temple since it was introduced in the building art in the medieval time only. It is an anachronism since the traditional history of the Royal Arch is based upon Biblical narrative that belongs to a period a few centuries BC, while the ritual story is typical of the medieval days when stone vaulting, or arched roofing, was invented.

While the form of the Craft, or symbolic lodge, is an oblong square (two units long by one unit wide), that of the Royal Arch chapter is that of a true catenarian arch, as in the symbolic vaulted shrine. The word “catenarian” refers to the curb which a chain or rope naturally forms when suspended at its two ends. The arch is of course the previous geometrical shape inverted. The catenarian arch is a philosopher’s and mathematician’s effort to produce an arch as nearly perfect as design and material could make it, one able to support great weight, and one having minimum thrust on its supports. In the Royal Arch chapter the arch is not vertical but horizontal, and initially it was probably drawn by chalk on the floor of the lodges and chapters. On the North side of the chapter we have some Companions and Scribe E. forming one pillar; on the South side more Companions and Scribe N. form the other Masonic pillars. Connecting them in the East is the catenarian arch and at the apex of the curve are the Three principals.

Many tracing boards and jewels of the eighteenth century show the arch with the central stone removed. Very often the arch is a triple, or even multiple one, with arch built inside or above each other.

There are some evidences that a double-cubical stone was used in ancient Jewish-time religious ceremonies and that it was, in some way, integrated in Freemasonry. The double-cube does not seem to have any ancient symbolism roots with, perhaps, the exception of Alchemy. However the Sanctum Sanctorum of the “Mishkan”, or “Tabernacle”, was a cubical apartment and the Golden Altar of Incense in the Mosaic tabernacle was a double-cube.