posted on 11/04/18
The London Mithraeum was uncovered in 1954 during excavations by WF Grimes, Director of the British Museum, at a time when the city was still regenerating from the damage caused by the Second World War. The temple was found to be dedicated to the mystery god Mithras, a deity whose origins lay in the east of the empire. Though next to nothing is known about the religion, Mithraism is believed to have been particularly popular amongst soldiers who worshipped the god in underground ceremonies involving animal sacrifices.
The set of Roman artefacts that the site has gifted archaeologists is remarkable. They include a white marble relief depicting Mithras slaying the bull, pictured, (this forms the key myth of the Mithraic cult) and; amongst the many objects displayed within a large cabinet in the first room of this exhibition, a hobnailed sandal, a tiny gladiator’s helmet carved in amber and a wooden tablet with the oldest record of a financial transaction from Britain.
After going down a level into the dark waiting room of the display, where interactive screens attempt to shed some light on the ideas behind Mithraism and its surprising prevalence in all corners of the Roman Empire, we descend to the temple itself. The room is pitch black and silent at first, before the multi-sensory show escalates into an eerie cacophony of shuffling sandalled feet and voices chanting in Latin, accompanied by flickering torch lights. It is of no consequence that; finally illuminated after the 'ceremony', the ruins of the temple are sparse, such is the power of this extraordinary and enigmatic space.
The temple was relocated to Temple Court in Victoria Street for public display in 1962, but for years received scathing criticism for its inaccurate reconstruction and mundane presentation. The new exhibition takes pride in presenting the temple mostly how it was upon its re-discovery, very close to its original site. With this moody, almost moving recreation, the Mithraeum of Londinium has regained its air of mystery for the first time in over 1600 years.
By Miles Rowland, Digital Marketing Assistant
On 19 October this year, the Cultural Travel Company begins a four-day archaeology tour, visiting the unparalleled Roman site of Pompeii, as well as taking in Herculaneum, and the landscape of the Vesuvius eruption. The trip is led by Dr Nigel Spivey, Senior Lecturer in Classical Art & Archaeology at the University of Cambridge.