Throughout recorded history, humans have found that certain sites, buildings, and shrines possess the potency to enable 1 heightened states of consciousness. They have designated these as sanctuaries, consecrated places of power and transformation.
When an original locus of power has been found, humans often build a shrine, temple, or cathedral at this site. Or they sanctify a particular area by constructing a building or consecrating an area with special meaning. Very often they place in these sacred areas statues or other
commanding artifacts, to endow the site with power.
Thus we have the ruins of ancient shrines at such places as Delphi and Athens.
The Sanctuary at Delphi
Tradition and myth claimed that the site at Delphi, originally called Pytho, was first sacred to Poseidon and Ge (Mother Earth) and that an oracle presided near a cave inhabited by Python, the serpent son of Ge. The ancient Greeks considered the sanctuary of Delphi the center of the world. The shrine complex was located in a dramatic setting on the southern slopes of Mt. Parnassos. The fame of the Delphic oracle extended beyond the borders of the Greek world in the eighth and seventh centuries, B.C.E., giving the sanctuary an international standing, whereas the rival sanctuary of Olympia had a more national Greek character.
A sacred passageway led through the site to the altar and temple of Apollo. On the Delphic site was also a theater, a stadium, the sacred Corycian Cave, and the Castalian Spring (said to have been created when the winged-horse Pegasus struck the ground with his hoof) and fountainhouse where visitors purified themselves. The Pythian Games, one of the four great athletic and drama festivals of ancient Greece, was held every 4 years.
Women priestesses, considered more sensitive than men to the oracular powers of the site, would first bathe in the waters of the nearby sacred Castalian spring, drink from the sacred Kassotis spring, inhale the fumes of burning laurel leaves and finally, sitting in meditation near the omphalos stone, would enter into a visionary trance state. A number of ancient accounts about Delphi indicate that the oracular priestesses sat upon a chair located over a fissure in the earth from which emanated trance-inducing vapors. Plutarch, a Greek philosopher who served as a priest at Delphi, and Strabo, an ancient geographer each reported that geologic fumes (Greek pneuma), inspired divine frenzies, while Plutarch noted that the gases had a sweet smell. 2
The Parthenon at Athens
The Acropolis of Athens is a steep-sided hill on which were built several temples and other noteworthy structures. Archaeological evidence indicates it had been associated since Neolithic times with female power, as numerous female artifacts found there suggest.
Although sometimes used also as a defensible place of battle since the Bronze Age, the Acropolis appears nonetheless to have been a sacred site at all times. Earlier temples built on the Acropolis had been destroyed by the Persians. During the Classical period of 5th century B.C.E., the Greek general and statesman Pericles (c. 500-429 B.C.E.), initiated a vast rebuilding campaign for the Acropolis.
The Propylaea (gateway) and the Parthenon were completed during his lifetime, while work on the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheum was begun after his death.
The principal temple on the Acropolis, the Parthenon, was designed by the architects Iktinus and Kallikrates. Completed in 438 B.C.E. as a temple dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, the Parthenon celebrates her in her aspect as a virgin goddess. Parthenos, the Greek term for virgin, is one of Athena's epithets.
All sculpture, both inside and outside the Parthenon, was the work of Phidias.
The Parthenon itself is a work of art and is regarded by some as the most perfect structure ever built. The horizontal lines of the temple that appear straight in actuality curve upward creating a shallow dome.
The reason for this is because a long straight line will appear to sag in the center. The four outside columns are thicker around than the rest, and lean slightly inward. There is also less space between the outside columns and the columns next to them. The reason for these singularities is that an outside column is surrounded in light, and will appear thinner than the rest of the columns if it is the same width. The Parthenon is a sanctified site because of the manner in which its architecture affects the viewer.
The Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral
We have to remember that Jerusalem had been captured by the "Christian" Crusaders on July 15, 1099 C.E., after a five week siege. As was their usual practice, the Christian victors proceeded to massacre the city's Muslims and Jews. After 460 years of Muslim rule, the Crusaders had restored Jerusalem to Christian hands, and declared the city the capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
As we speak of these "warrior-victors," we must constantly keep in mind the quotation marks around the word Christian, because these were anything but true Christians. But a new kind of genuine Christian was now to appear in Jerusalem.
In 1118 C.E., nine French knights traveled to Palestine and presented themselves to the Christian king of Jerusalem Baldwin II, explaining that they planned to form themselves into an order to protect pilgrims from robbers and murderers and to police the public highways. The king received them courteously and accepted their proposal. He gave them a lodging house in a wing of his palace, on the site of the old Temple of Solomon, in the Masjid-el-Aqsa.
Because of the house they occupied on the site of Solomon's Temple they were given the name of Knights of the Temple or Templars.
Their order was based on the three vows of chastity, obedience, and non-possession of personal property. The charter for the Templar order was in part created by Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux. This order of the Knights Templar was a curious one. They were not crusaders, not pilgrim-knights come to draw the sword in the name of God. They took no part in any warlike activity whatsoever. They did not reside permanently in the Holy Land; otherwise King Baldwin II would not have afforded them temporary lodging.
The Knights Templar appear to have been singularly connected to Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, the most remarkable religious personality of the West at that time. Bernard's father was a knight as were his brothers. Clairvaux was one of the Cistercian monasteries, known for their architectural skill and their immersion in mystical teaching.
The head of the Templars was Hugues de Payns, Bernard's cousin and a near neighbor to the Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux. André de Montbard, third in command, was the uncle of Bernard, brother to his mother. Aleth corresponded with Bernard, addressing him as his direct superior. In 1125 C.E., the suzerain of Clairvaux, donor of abbey lands, Hugues de Champagne, joined the other nine Templars in the Holy Land.
In Jerusalem, the Templars were given access to the underground area of the old Temple of Solomon. The Templars enlarged the el-Aqsa Mosque (pictured right), building a refectory with three long halls there. They used the vaults supporting the Temple Mount structures as stables, as described by John of Wurtzburg (1160-1170 C.E.):
"When you descend to the main street, there is a great gate through which one may enter the great courtyard of the Temple. On the right side, toward the south, is the palace which they say that Solomon built. Within it are stables, so huge that they can hold more than two thousand horses or 1,500 camels, and near this palace the Templar knights have many great houses and there are also the foundations of a great new church which is not yet finished. This order has enormous property and endless revenues in this region and in other places."
While in Palestine, the Templars came in contact with Perennialist sources, especially Sufi mysticism, Neo-Platonism, and Sufi-influenced Islamic architecture, such as the mosque of Masjid-el-Aqsa.
Why were the Templars interested in the underground areas of the Temple Mount?
The Jewish Old Testament indicates that the Ark of the Covenant remained in Jerusalem for centuries after King Solomon. The Ark is mentioned repeatedly throughout the Old Testament up to the time of the invasion by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, when it was hidden by Hilkiah, the High Priest, before the Temple was destroyed around 586 B.C.E.
As the Babylonians were invading Jerusalem, Hilkiah instructed Jeremiah and the Temple Guard to hide the great treasures of Jerusalem—the Ark, the Anointing Stone, and other mysterious objects. We usually think of Jeremiah as a prophet, yet here he is involved in hiding sacred objects from an invading horde. Jeremiah's own son was the Captain of the Temple Guard. The Ark and the other sacred objects were secreted in tunnels beneath the Temple and a record kept of their location.
This record was retained within the Order of the Temple Guard. Seventeen hundred years later, after the First Crusade, the Temple Guard was reconstituted from French and Flemish knights and given the new title of Knights Templar. This new order established its base in the El Aqsa Mosque on the old Temple site, and began excavating underground to bring up the ancient treasures. They knew exactly what they were looking for, and where to look.
Interestingly, the relics of the Knights Templar were discovered by later generations. In 1867 C.E., a team of Royal Engineers re-excavated the area and uncovered tunnels extending vertically, from the Al Aqsa mosque, for some 25 metres before fanning out under the Dome of the Rock which is generally thought to be the site of King Solomon's temple. In 1894 C.E., from beneath the Temple of Jerusalem foundations, British military engineers brought up eleventh and twelfth century Templar swords, crosses and various items from below the El Aqsa Mosque. So there is no doubt that the Templars were excavating in that area. The patron of the Knights Templar, Bernard de Clairvaux, recorded their homecoming in 1127 C.E. They were protected en route, he said, by a military guard to safeguard them from papal interference. They surely must have been bringing back very valuable knowledge and objects to warrant such caution.
Having returned to France, the Templars became the most powerful organization known to the world at that time. They were active both politically and financially, establishing the Western banking system on the Islamic model. They became bankers to almost every royal court in Europe and, in time, developed the concept of insurance companies throughout Europe, including Scotland. In political terms, they became the primary ambassadors to the Middle East.
"During the thirteenth century the Order may have had as many as 7,000 knights, sergeants and serving brothers, and priests, while its associate members, pensioners, officials, and subjects numbered many times that figure. By about 1300 C.E., it had built a network of at least 870 castles, preceptories, and subsidiary houses, examples of which could be found in almost every country in western Christendom." Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood
After ten years of study of the Temple of Solomon and other architectural wonders in Palestine, the Knights Templars had returned to Europe with a special form of knowledge. Within a few years after their return, there arose in Europe an entirely new phenomenon, never before known in the West: Gothic architecture and the use of this new architecture to achieve a higher state of consciousness. The Templars, guided by Bernard, appear to have been the initiating force behind the dozens of Gothic cathedrals built in Europe at this time. It is also conceivable that the Templars rediscovered the ancient mysteries of alchemy.
What was this higher knowledge that Bernard and the Templars possessed, with which they were able to build the vast network of special European cathedrals and to initiate aspirants into the secrets of these sanctuaries? Bernard of Clairvaux had many connections with both the Cathedral and School at Chartres. The initiatory School of Chartres studied deeply the Platonic, Neoplatonic, and Pythagorean philosophy and blended it with Christianity. Bernard's many sermons on the Song of Songs
indicate that Bernard had likely studied the Sufi conception of love which allows new forms of unity between a believer and God, seeing the literature of love as iconographic, in that it lets us see through our words to the living God whom they represent.
There are many aspects to the higher knowledge that Bernard and the Templars possessed. In examining their construction of sanctuaries as sites of power and portals to higher consciousness, we'll concentrate on two dimensions:
- The use of stone, glass, and space to create a field of power
- The use of stone, glass, and space to create a field of light