Subterranean Crypts and Temples
Subterranean resorts, crypts, and places of worship have always
fascinated the human mind. The mysteries of the Egyptians
and other peoples were held in underground crypts, possibly
to render these ceremonies still more mysterious to
ordinary people, perhaps because it was essential to the privacy
they required, or possibly to symbolize the exploration of the
hidden parts of the self. The caves of Elephanta, the Roman
catacombs, and similar subterranean edifices are also wellknown
examples. There are also several lesser but perhaps
more interesting underground meeting places and temples in
various parts of the world.
An Underworld City in Central America
The Jesuit priests of the early eighteenth century left descriptions
of the palace of Mitla in Central America that leave
no doubt that in their time it contained many subterranean
chambers, and one especially appears to have surpassed all others
in the dreadful uses to which it was put.
Father Torquemada gave the following description of the
‘‘When some monks of my order, the Franciscan, passed,
preaching and shriving through the province of Zapoteca,
whose capital city is Tehuantepec, they came to a village which
was called Mictlan, that is, underworld (hell). Besides mentioning
the large number of people in the village they told of buildings
which were prouder and more magnificent than any which
they had hitherto seen in New Spain. Among them was the temple
of the evil spirit and living rooms for his demoniacal servants,
and among other fine things there was a hall with ornamented
panels, which were constructed of stone in a variety of
arabesques and other very remarkable designs. There were
doorways there, each one of which was built of but three stones,
two upright at the sides and one across them, in such a manner
that, although these doorways were very high and broad, the
stone sufficed for their entire construction. They were so thick
and broad that we were assured there were few like them.
There was another hall in these buildings, or rectangular temples,
which was erected entirely on round stone pillars very
high and very thick that two grown men could scarcely encircle
them with their arms, nor could one of them reach the fingertips
of the other. These pillars were all in one piece and, it was
said, the whole shaft of the pillar measured 5 ells [about 18 feet
or 6 meters] from top to bottom, and they were very much like
those of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, very
skillfully made and polished.’’
Father Burgoa was more explicit with regard to these subterranean
‘‘There were four chambers above ground and four below.
The latter were arranged according to their purpose in such a
way that one front chamber served as chapel and sanctuary for
the idols, which were placed on a great stone which served as
an altar. And for the most important feasts[,] which they celebrated
with sacrifices, or at the burial of a king or great lord,
the high priest instructed the lesser priests or the subordinate
temple officials who served him to prepare the chapel and his
vestments and a large quantity of the incense used by them.
‘‘And then he descended with a great retinue, when none of
the common people saw him or dared to look in his face, convinced
that if they did so they would fall dead to the earth as
a punishment for their boldness. And when he entered the
chapel they put on him a long white cotton garment made like
an alb, and over that a garment shaped like a dalmatic, which
was embroidered with pictures of wild beasts and birds; and
they put a cap on his head, and on his feet a kind of shoe woven
of many-colored feathers.
‘‘And when he had put on these garments he walked with
solemn mien and measured step to the altar, bowed low before
the idols, renewed the incense, and then in quite unintelligible
murmurs he began to converse with these images, these depositories
of infernal spirits, and continued in this sort of prayer
with hideous grimaces and writhings, uttering inarticulate
sounds, which filled all present with fear and terror, till he
came out of that diabolical trance and told those standing
around the lies and fabrications which the spirit had imparted
to him or which he had invented himself.
‘‘When human beings were sacrificed the ceremonies were
multiplied, and the assistants of the high priest stretched the
victim out upon a large stone, bareing his breast, which they
tore open with a great stone knife, while the body writhed in
fearful convulsions and they laid the heart bare, ripping it out,
and with it the soul, which the devil took, while they carried the
heart to the high priest that he might offer it to the idols by
holding it to their mouths, among other ceremonies; and the
body was thrown into the burial-place of their ‘blessed,’ as they
called them. And if after the sacrifice he felt inclined to detain
those who begged any favor he sent them word by the subordinate
priests not to leave their houses till their gods were appeased,
and he commanded them to do penance meanwhile,
to fast and to speak with no woman, so that, until this father of
sin had interceded for the absolution of the penitents and had
declared the gods appeased they did not dare to cross their
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Subterranean Crypts and Temples
‘‘The second [underground] chamber was the burial place
of these high priests, and third that of the kings of Theozapotlan,
whom they brought thither richly dressed in their best attire,
feathers, jewels, golden necklaces, and precious stones,
placing a shield in their left hand and a javelin in the right, just
as they used them in war. And at their burial rites great mourning
prevailed; the instruments which were played made mournful
sounds; and with loud wailing and continuous sobbing they
chanted the life and exploits of their lord until they laid him
on the structure which they had prepared for this purpose.
‘‘The last [underground] chamber had a second door at the
rear, which led to a dark and gruesome room. This was closed
with a stone slab, which occupied the whole entrance. Through
this door they threw the bodies of the victims and of the great
lords and chieftains who had fallen in battle, and they brought
them from the spot where they fell, even when it was very far
off, to this burial place; and so great was the barbarous infatuation
of these Indians that, in the belief of the happy life which
awaited them, many who were oppressed by diseases or hardships
begged this infamous priest to accept them as living sacrifices
and allow them to enter through that portal and roam
about in the dark interior of the mountains, to seek the great
feasting places of their forefather. And when anyone obtained
this favour the servants of the high priest led him thither with
special ceremonies, and after they had allowed him to enter
through the small door they rolled the stone before it again
and took leave of him, and the unhappy man, wandering in
that abyss of darkness, died of hunger and thirst, beginning already
in life the pain of his damnation; and on account of this
horrible abyss they called this village Liyobaa, The Cavern of
‘‘When later there fell upon these people the light of the
Gospel, its servants took much trouble to instruct them to find
out whether this error, common to all these nations, still prevailed,
and they learned from the stories which had been handed
down that all were convinced that this damp cavern extended
more than 30 leagues underground, and that its roof was
supported by pillars. And there were people, zealous prelates
anxious for knowledge, who, in order to convince these ignorant
people of their terror, went into this cave accompanied by
a large number of people bearing lighted torches and firebrands,
and descended several large steps. And they soon came
upon many buttresses which formed a kind of street. They had
prudently brought a quantity of rope with them to use as a
guiding line, that they might not lose themselves in this confusing
labyrinth. And the putrefaction and the bad odour and the
dampness of the earth were very great and there was also a cold
wind which blew out their torches. And after they had gone a
short distance, fearing to be overpowered by the stench or to
step on poisonous reptiles, of which some had been seen, they
resolved to go out again and to completely wall up this back
door of hell. The four buildings above ground were the only
ones which still remained open, and they had a court and
chambers like those underground; and the ruins of these have
lasted even to the present day.’’
The Temple Hill at Jerusalem
The vast subterranean vaults under the temple hill at Jerusalem
were probably used as a secret meeting place by the Templars
during their occupation of the Holy City, and it was perhaps
there that the strange Eastern rites of Baphomet that they
later affected were first celebrated.
In his book Recent Discoveries on the Temple Hill (1884), Rev.
James King gives the following account
‘‘On the occasion of a visit to the Noble Sanctuary, the author
had an opportunity of examining the ancient masonry inside
the wall at the south-east corner, as well as the vast subterranean
vaults popularly known as Solomon’s stables. A small
doorway, under a little dome at the south-east corner, admits
by a flight of steps to a small chamber known as the Mosque of
the Cradle of our Lord, from the existence of a hollowed stone
which somewhat resembles a cradle, and a tradition that the
Virgin Mary remained in this chamber for some time after her
purification in the Temple. Passing through the chamber, the
spacious vaults, which extend over an acre of ground, are
reached. These subterranean substructures consist of one hundred
square piers arranged in fifteen rows, each pier being five
feet wide and composed of large marginal drafted stones,
placed singly over each other. The rows are connected by semicircular
arches, the intercolumniations of which range from ten
to twenty-three feet. The floor of these vaults is about forty-feet
below the Haram Area, and more than a hundred feet above
the great foundation corner-stone. They are called Solomon’s
Stables by the Franks. But the Moslems call the place, Al Masjed
al Kadim, that is, The Old Mosque. These vaults were used
as stables by the Frank kings and the Knights Templar, and
holes in which rings were fastened can still be traced on some
of the piers.
‘‘Since the floor of Solomon’s Stables is upwards of a hundred
feet above the foundation stone, it seems highly probable
that there exists another system of vaults below, for the vast
space from the rock upwards is not likely to be filled with solid
‘‘Some allusion seems to be made to these vaults in the writings
of Procopius, a Greek historian of the sixth century. He
was born at Caesarea, in Palestine, about 500 A.D., and as a
young man went to Constantinople, where his eminent talents
brought him under the notice of the Emperor Justinian. In 529
A.D. Justinian built a splendid church on the Temple Hill, in
honour of the Virgin Mary, and in the writings of Procopius
there is a full and detailed account of the edifice. The historian
relates that the fourth part of the ground required for the
building was wanting towards the south-east; the builders
therefore laid their foundations on the sloping ground, and
constructed a series of arched vaults, in order to raise the
ground to the level of the other parts of the enclosure. This account
is eminently descriptive of the subterranean vaults at the
south-east portion of the Haram, and, according to [an authority],
the stone-work of these vaults certainly belongs to the age
of Justinian.’’ (See also Subterranean Cities)