By Kevin Shillington
Charles Warren was a keen Freemason, having already at the age of 23 been the Master of a Lodge in Gibraltar. Before my visit to Jerusalem I had learned that Warren had been involved in a Masonic ritual in a cavern, somewhere deep underneath the Old City. There were two possible candidates for the site: one called ‘The Masonic Hall’, the other ‘King Solomon’s Quarry.’ A recent book on Warren’s Freemasonry appears to claim that these two sites were one and the same – hence my need to clarify the issue.[i] The site known as the ‘Masonic Hall’ is a chamber that Warren tunnelled his way into in February 1869. It was half-filled with rubble and soil, but rising out of the centre of the earth floor was a smooth pillar with a broken top. The scene reminded Warren of a traditional Masonic myth and so he named the chamber the ‘Masonic Hall’ (Figs 1 & 2). The famous war artist William Simpson, also a senior Freemason, was visiting Jerusalem a month later and he sketched the scene. As can be seen from Simpson’s sketch, the column was originally the support for twin arches that lined the roof.
Figure 1. The ‘Masonic Hall’ as drawn by William Simpson, from a copy in the Masonic journal Ars Quatour Coronati, 1888. Warren ordered the clearing of the rubble, which, when he first entered the chamber, reached up to the mark on the column. By the time Simpson made his sketch, the hall had been partially cleared of rubble.
Figure 2. The ‘Masonic Hall’ today, part of the ‘Western Walls’ archaeological complex. Warren broke in through the hole in the roof – the dark patch against the back wall, right of centre. The earth at that time was two-thirds of the way up the column. [Photo KS]
The other site was Zedekiah’s Cave, also known as King Solomon’s Quarry. The cave, long-known from ancient and medieval times, had been blocked up, but the entrance was rediscovered by Dr James Barclay in 1854, or rather by Dr Barclay’s dog, that disappeared down through a hole into the cave while being taken for a walk. The entrance is just outside the city wall near Damascus Gate and the cave extends through numerous chambers for several hundred metres. It is clearly the product of human quarrying and when Warren saw the evidence that stone masons had cut huge blocks out of the walls of the cavern, he convinced himself that this must be the work of King Solomon’s stone masons. In Freemasonry tradition, the latter were the original Freemasons, from whom the modern ones take their inspiration. What better place to hold an unofficial Masonic meeting?
Dr Robert Morris, an American Freemason, visited Jerusalem in May 1868 and Warren proposed that they hold a meeting in the far depths of King Solomon’s Quarry, as near as possible to the site of the Temple Mount above (see Figs 3,4 & 5).
Figure 3. The Freemason Leon Zeldis of Herzlya kindly allowed me to see his copy of this very rare book by the American Freemason, Robert Morris and to make photocopies of the relevant pages that recorded the Masonic meeting in Zedekiah’s Cave.
Figure 4. An illustration of the cavern in Zedekiah’s Cave, as reproduced in Morris’s book. The etching was based upon Morris’s account of the Masonic meeting held there in May 1868, which describes a pillar in the centre of the cavern and a flat rock which they were able to use as an altar for their ritual.
Figure 5. The author in one of the caverns of the Cave, with the mason’s marks clearly visible in the roof and the far wall. In fact the quarrying was far more likely to be of the Herodian and Medieval periods and seems to have been blocked up in the 16th Century. Photo KS.
There is no contemporary claim that Warren or anybody else held a Masonic meeting in the ‘Masonic Hall’. In modern times, Freemasons rarely, but occasionally, follow Warren’s example and hold meetings in Zedekiah’s Cave.
[i] C.N. Macdonald, WARREN! The Bond of Brotherhood (Colin Neil Macdonald, Singapore, 2007), p56.