Here’s an interesting article on “discalceation”, which it defines as the taking off of the shoes as a sign of respect for holy ground. It comes from a book entitled “A Lexicon of Freemasonry” by Albert Mackey.
While the book is supposedly for or about Freemasons, it seems to cover much more than that. In fact, one of its subtitles is “An Account of All the Rites and Mysteries of the Ancient World.” [I’ve moved the footnotes into square parentheses right at the notation point.]
DISCALCEATION. The ceremony of taking off the shoes, as a token of respect, whenever we are on or about to approach holy ground. It is referred to in Exodus, (iii. 5,) where the angel of the Lord, at the burning bush, exclaims to Moses: “Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” It is again mentioned in Joshua, (v. 15) in the following words: “And the captain of the Lord’s host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy.” And lastly, it is alluded to in the injunction given in Ecclesiastes, (v. 1) “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God.”
The rite, in fact, always was, and still is, used among the Jews and other Oriental nations, when entering their temples and other sacred edifices. It does not seem to have been derived from the command given to Moses; but rather to have existed as a religious custom from time immemorial, and to have been borrowed, as Mede supposes, by the Gentiles, through tradition, from the patriarchs.
The direction of Pythagoras to his disciples, was in these words: Ανυπόδητος θύε καὶ πρὸσκυνει—that is, “Offer sacrifice and worship with thy shoes off.”
Justin Martyr says that those who came to worship in the sanctuaries and temples of the Gentiles, were commanded by their priests to put off their shoes.
Drusius, in his Notes on the Book of Joshua, says that among most of the Eastern nations it was a pious duty to tread the pavement of the temple with unshod feet.* [Quod etiam nunc apud plerusque orientis nationes piaculum sit, calceato pede templorum pavimenta calcasse.]
Maimonides, the great expounder of the Jewish law, asserts that “it was not lawful for a man to come into the mountain of God’s house wilh his shoes on his feet, or with his staff, or in his working garments, or with dust on his feet.”† [Beth Habbechirah, c. 7.]
Rabbi Solomon, commenting on the command in Leviticus xix. 30, “Ye shall reverence my sanctuary,” makes the same remark in relation to this custom. On this subject Dr. Oliver observes: “Now the act of going with naked feet was always considered a token of humility and reverence; and the priests, in temple worship, always officiated with feet uncovered, although it was frequently injurious to their health.” [Historical Landmarks, vol. ii. p. 481.]
Mede quotes Zago Zaba, an Ethiopean Bishop, who was ambassador from David, King of Abyssinia, to John III., of Portugal, as saying: “We are not permitted to enter the church, except barefooted.”§ [Non datur nobis potestas adeundi templum nisi nudibus pedibus.]
The Mahommedans, when about to perform their devotions, always leave their slippers at the door of the mosque. The Druids practised the same custom whenever they celebrated their sacred rites; and the ancient Peruvians are said always to have left their shoes at the porch, when they entered the magnificent temple consecrated to the worship of the Sun.
Adam Clarke thinks that the custom of worshipping the Deity barefooted, was so general among all nations of antiquity, that he assigns it as one of his thirteen proofs that the whole human race have-been derived from one family.
Finally, Bishop Patrick, speaking of the origin of this rite, says in his commentaries: “Moses did not give the first beginning to this rite, but it was derived from the patriarchs before him, and transmitted to future times from that ancient, general tradition; for we find no command in the law of Moses for the priests performing the service of the temple without shoes, but it is certain they did so from immemorial custom; and so do the Mohammedans and other nations at this day.”
The only thing that looks a bit dubious to me is the reference to Justin Martyr; it’s not clear to me (from looking at his First Apology) whether he was referring to Gentiles or to Jewish custom.
Anyways, an interesting read (despite its incompleteness, totally missing religions in India and Indochina, for instance).