Temple of Mithras, London

Temple of Mithras, London

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The Temple of Mithras, Walbrook is a Roman temple
Roman temple
Ancient Roman temples are among the most visible archaeological remains of Roman culture, and are a significant source for Roman architecture. Their construction and maintenance was a major part of ancient Roman religion. The main room housed the cult image of the deity to whom the temple was...

 whose ruins were discovered in Walbrook
Walbrook
Walbrook is the name of a ward, a street and a subterranean river in the City of London.-Underground river:The river played a key role in the Roman settlement of Londinium, the city now known as London. It is thought that the river was named because it ran through or under the London Wall; another...

, a street in the City of London
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

, during rebuilding work in 1954. It is perhaps the most famous of all twentieth-century Roman
Roman Britain
Roman Britain was the part of the island of Great Britain controlled by the Roman Empire from AD 43 until ca. AD 410.The Romans referred to the imperial province as Britannia, which eventually comprised all of the island of Great Britain south of the fluid frontier with Caledonia...

 discoveries in the City of London
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

.

Excavation and artefacts


The site was excavated by W. F. Grimes
W. F. Grimes
Professor William Francis Grimes was a Welsh archaeologist who devoted his career to the archaeology of London and the prehistory of Wales. Born in Pembrokeshire, Wales, he received his education at the University of Wales. He held a number of prominent posts in Wales, including Chairman of the...

, director of the Museum of London
Museum of London
The Museum of London documents the history of London from the Prehistoric to the present day. The museum is located close to the Barbican Centre, as part of the striking Barbican complex of buildings created in the 1960s and 70s as an innovative approach to re-development within a bomb damaged...

 in 1954. The temple, initially hoped to have been an early Christian church, was built in the mid-3rd century and dedicated to Mithras or perhaps jointly to several deities popular among Roman soldiers. Then it was rededicated, probably to Bacchus
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

, in the early fourth century. Found within the temple, where they had been carefully buried at the time of its rededication, were finely detailed third-century white marble likenesses of Minerva
Minerva
Minerva was the Roman goddess whom Romans from the 2nd century BC onwards equated with the Greek goddess Athena. She was the virgin goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, crafts, magic...

, Mercury
Mercury (mythology)
Mercury was a messenger who wore winged sandals, and a god of trade, the son of Maia Maiestas and Jupiter in Roman mythology. His name is related to the Latin word merx , mercari , and merces...

 the guide of the souls of the dead
Psychopomp
Psychopomps are creatures, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls to the afterlife. Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply provide safe passage...

, and the syncretic gods
Syncretism
Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought. The term means "combining", but see below for the origin of the word...

 Mithras and Serapis
Serapis
Serapis or Sarapis is a Graeco-Egyptian name of God. Serapis was devised during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. The god was depicted as Greek in appearance, but with Egyptian trappings, and combined iconography...

, imported from Italy. There were several coarser locally-made clay figurines of Venus
Venus (mythology)
Venus is a Roman goddess principally associated with love, beauty, sex,sexual seduction and fertility, who played a key role in many Roman religious festivals and myths...

, combing her hair. The artefacts recovered were put on display in the Museum of London.
Among the sculptures the archaeologists found was a head of Mithras himself, recognizable from his Phrygian cap
Phrygian cap
The Phrygian cap is a soft conical cap with the top pulled forward, associated in antiquity with the inhabitants of Phrygia, a region of central Anatolia. In the western provinces of the Roman Empire it came to signify freedom and the pursuit of liberty, perhaps through a confusion with the pileus,...

. The base of the head is tapered to fit a torso, which was not preserved.

In 1889, artefacts were found in Walbrook; they probably came from the Mithraeum, though it was not identified at the time (Merrifield 1965, p.179). One of these was a marble relief, 0.53 m, of Mithras in the act of killing the astral bull, the Tauroctony
Tauroctony
The tauroctony scene is the cult relief of the Mithraic Mysteries. It depicts Mithras killing a bull, hence the name 'tauroctony', given to the scene in modern times possibly after the Greek ταυροκτόνος "slaughtering bulls", which derives from ταῦρος "bull" + κτόνος "murder", from κτείνω , "I...

 that was as central to Mithraism as the Crucifixion is to Christianity. On it Mithras is accompanied by the two small figures of the torch-bearing celestial twins of Light and Darkness, Cautes and Cautopates
Cautes and Cautopates
Cautes and Cautopates are torch-bearers depicted attending the god Mithras in the icons of ancient Roman cult of Mithraism. Cautes holds his torch raised up, and Cautopates holds his torch downward.-Interpretation:...

, within the cosmic annual wheel of the zodiac
Zodiac
In astronomy, the zodiac is a circle of twelve 30° divisions of celestial longitude which are centred upon the ecliptic: the apparent path of the Sun across the celestial sphere over the course of the year...

. At the top left, outside the wheel, Sol–Helios
Helios
Helios was the personification of the Sun in Greek mythology. Homer often calls him simply Titan or Hyperion, while Hesiod and the Homeric Hymn separate him as a son of the Titans Hyperion and Theia or Euryphaessa and brother of the goddesses Selene, the moon, and Eos, the dawn...

 ascends the heavens in his biga
Biga (chariot)
The biga is the two-horse chariot as used in ancient Rome for sport, transportation, and ceremonies. Other animals may replace horses in art and occasionally for actual ceremonies. The term biga is also used by modern scholars for the similar chariots of other Indo-European cultures, particularly...

; at top right Luna descends in her chariot. The heads of two wind-gods, Boreas and Zephyros, are in the bottom corners. It bears the inscription
VLPIVS SILVANVS EMERITVS LEG II AVG VOTVM SOLVIT FACTVS ARAVSIONE

which may be translated "Ulpius Silvanus, veteran soldier of the Second Augustan Legion
Legio II Augusta
Legio secunda Augusta , was a Roman legion, levied by Gaius Vibius Pansa Caetronianus in 43 BC, and still operative in Britannia in the 4th century...

, in fulfillment of a vow, makes this altar [as the result of] a vision" http://www.roman-britain.org/places/londinium.htm or "Ulpius Silvanus, veteran of the Second Legion Augusta, fulfilled his vow having become (a Mithraist) at Orange" [University of Edinburgh, Classics Department, teaching collection] (Collingwood and Wright 1965, No. 3).

Nearby were buried heads of the Roman goddess Minerva and a finely detailed bearded head of Serapis
Serapis
Serapis or Sarapis is a Graeco-Egyptian name of God. Serapis was devised during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. The god was depicted as Greek in appearance, but with Egyptian trappings, and combined iconography...

, Jupiter-like in his features but securely recognizable by the grain-basket, the modius, upon his head, a token of resurrection
Resurrection
Resurrection refers to the literal coming back to life of the biologically dead. It is used both with respect to particular individuals or the belief in a General Resurrection of the dead at the end of the world. The General Resurrection is featured prominently in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim...

.

An inscription dateable AD 307–310 at the site
PRO SALVTE D N CCCC ET NOB CAES DEO MITHRAE ET SOLI INVICTO AB ORIENTE AD OCCIDENTEM

may be translated "For the Salvation of our lords the four emperors and the noble Caesar, and to the god Mithras, the Invincible Sun
Sol Invictus
Sol Invictus was the official sun god of the later Roman empire. In 274 Aurelian made it an official cult alongside the traditional Roman cults. Scholars disagree whether the new deity was a refoundation of the ancient Latin cult of Sol, a revival of the cult of Elagabalus or completely new...

 from the east to the west" (Collingwood and Wright 1965, no. 4).

Location and relocation


The Roman temple
Roman temple
Ancient Roman temples are among the most visible archaeological remains of Roman culture, and are a significant source for Roman architecture. Their construction and maintenance was a major part of ancient Roman religion. The main room housed the cult image of the deity to whom the temple was...

, when it was originally built, would have stood on the east bank of the now covered-over River Walbrook, a key freshwater source in Roman Londinium
Londinium
The city of London was established by the Romans around AD 43. It served as a major imperial commercial centre until its abandonment during the 5th century.-Origins and language:...

. Nearby, in its former streambed, a small square hammered lead sheet was found, on which an enemy of someone named Martia Martina had inscribed her name backwards and thrown the token into the stream, in a traditional Celt
Celt
The Celts were a diverse group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages.The earliest archaeological culture commonly accepted as Celtic, or rather Proto-Celtic, was the central European Hallstatt culture , named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria....

ic way of reaching the gods that has preserved metal tokens in rivers throughout Celtic Europe, from the swords at La Tène
La Tène culture
The La Tène culture was a European Iron Age culture named after the archaeological site of La Tène on the north side of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland, where a rich cache of artifacts was discovered by Hansli Kopp in 1857....

 to Roman times. (Compare wishing well
Wishing well
A wishing well is a term from European folklore to describe wells where it was thought that any spoken wish would be granted. The idea that a wish would be granted came from the idea that water housed deities or had been placed there as a gift from the gods, since water was a source of life and...

.)

Due to the necessity of building over the site, the whole site was uprooted and moved down the road to Temple Court, Queen Victoria Street, London EC4, where the remains of the temple foundations have been reassembled for display to the public.

Though the present location is at grade, the original Mithraeum
Mithraeum
A Mithraeum is a place of worship for the followers of the mystery religion of Mithraism.The Mithraeum was either an adapted natural cave or cavern or an artificial building imitating a cavern. Mithraea were dark and windowless, even if they were not actually in a subterranean space or in a natural...

 was built partly underground, recalling the cave of Mithras where the Mithraic epiphany took place.

The temple foundations are very close to other important sites in the city of London including the historic London Stone
London Stone
The London Stone is a historic stone that is now set within a Portland stone surround and iron grille on Cannon Street, in the City of London.-Features:...

, the Bank of England
Bank of England
The Bank of England is the central bank of the United Kingdom and the model on which most modern central banks have been based. Established in 1694, it is the second oldest central bank in the world...

 and London Wall
London Wall
London Wall was the defensive wall first built by the Romans around Londinium, their strategically important port town on the River Thames in what is now the United Kingdom, and subsequently maintained until the 18th century. It is now the name of a road in the City of London running along part of...

.

An interim report on the excavation included in W.F. Grimes, The Excavation of Roman and Mediaeval London (1968) was superseded by John Shepherd, The Temple of Mithras, Walbrook (an English Heritage
English Heritage
English Heritage . is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport...

 monograph) (1998).

It was intended that in 2009 the Temple would be relocated to its original location beside the ancient Walbrook River, as part of the demolition of Bucklersbury House, and the creation of the new Walbrook Square development, designed by Foster and Partners
Foster and Partners
Foster + Partners is an architectural firm based in London. The practice is led by its founder and Chairman, Norman Foster, and has constructed many high-profile glass-and-steel buildings....

 (See: Legal & General Launches Walbrook Square). However, redesigns and disputes between freeholders Legal and General and Metrovacesa
Metrovacesa
Metrovacesa S.A. is a major Spanish property company, headquartered in Madrid, which was the largest publicly-traded real estate developer in the Eurozone prior to the June 2007 creation of Unibail-Rodamco...

, who had agreed to buy the project, resulted in the Walbrook Square project being put on hold in October 2008, when Bovis Lend Lease
Bovis Lend Lease
Lend Lease Project Management & Construction is the international project management and construction division of Lend Lease Group.-History:...

 removed their project team. Metrovacesa left the project in August 2009. As of May 2010, the Mithraeum remained in situ at Temple Court, though in the same month there was talk of reviving the Walbrook Square project.

See also

  • Roman sites in the United Kingdom
    Roman sites in the United Kingdom
    There are many Roman sites in the United Kingdom that are open to the public. There are many sites that do not require special access, including Roman roads, and sites that have not been uncovered.-England:*Ambleside Roman Fort , Cumbria...

  • Mithraism
    Mithraism
    The Mithraic Mysteries were a mystery religion practised in the Roman Empire from about the 1st to 4th centuries AD. The name of the Persian god Mithra, adapted into Greek as Mithras, was linked to a new and distinctive imagery...

     and Rudchester Mithraeum
    Rudchester Mithraeum
    Rudchester Mithraeum is a Roman Temple to the Roman god Mithras at Rudchester , an auxiliary fort on Hadrian's Wall, the northern frontier of Roman Britain. The temple was located 137m to the west of the castra.- Discovery :...

     on Hadrians Wall and Caernarfon Mithraeum
    Caernarfon Mithraeum
    The Caernarfon Mithraeum is a Roman Temple to the Roman god Mithras . The temple was located 137 metres north-east of the Roman castra of Segontium on the outskirts of modern Caernarfon in Gwynedd, Wales....

     at Segontium
    Segontium
    Segontium is a Roman fort for a Roman auxiliary force, located on the outskirts of Caernarfon in Gwynedd, north Wales.It probably takes its name from the nearby River Seiont, and may be related to the Segontiaci, a British tribe mentioned by Julius Caesar. The fort was founded by Agricola in 77 or...

     in North Wales
  • Roman London