Wednesday 3 January 2018

A visit to the Mithraeum

I didn't get photos inside the temple, so this is
the police box near Bank Station, which is close by! 

Do you remember, back last summer, when I had a prowl around the City of London, looking for the Temple of Mithras? I didn't find it, but suspected that it was under a massive building site. Well, it was, although I wasn't looking in quite the right place - and now it's open to the public again. It's been reconstructed under the Bloomberg building - along with displays of contemporary art created in response to the temple, a small collecting of Roman artifacts found on the site and an interactive interpretation area, with sound and lights and information screens. Kudos to the Bloomberg organisation putting all this together and making it available to visitors for free - although you do have to book in advance.

Mithras was a Roman god, said to be the soldier's god as he was a favourite of the army, although there were other followers too. He's usually depicted ritually sacrificing a bull. My first encounter with the cult of Mithras was in Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave, when her young hero, Merlin, has a vision of the ceremony. It's a powerful scene, and the interest has stayed with me ever since. As a writer I'm drawn too to theatrical spaces - not just theatres themselves, but churches and temples too. And standing stones. Places where mankind has conducted special rituals, often for thousands of years. Places that have an atmosphere all their own.

I was interested in this temple as I have a serial killer who wanted to dump a body there. In it's original location, which was an outdoor site, which I dimly remember, this would have been possible. Not going to happen now that the whole thing has been reconstructed so beautifully - indoors. I've left him thinking about another Mithric temple at Hadrian's Wall ...

I enjoyed the visit to the site. The temple is on the lowest level, where it would have been when it was first built. The remains of the walls are in place, with viewing platforms over and a sound and light show that recreates what a visit to the temple would have been like  - a dark entrance way, torchlight, an image of the god, astride the bull - a babble of male voices. The cult was strictly men only, apparently, and the temple would not have been used to actually sacrifice a bull - good to know - as it was too small. It was probably used for ceremonies and feasting - lots of chicken bones were found when the site was excavated.

While I was pleased to have visited, I have to say that I didn't find the site as atmospheric as I'd hoped. There were no 'shivers up the spine moments' like the one I had looking into the grave space of Richard III, when the King's skeleton gradually emerged in the ground in lighted silhouette. There was just a few seconds, when I stepped onto the platform at the centre of the temple ...

Although numbers are controlled, there were quite a lot of visitors, and I think that broke up the atmosphere. I'd like to go again, hopefully with fewer people. It was a spectacular space and I'd like to have another chance to appreciate it. And maybe I'll re-read The Crystal Cave, in the meantime.


  1. Interesting! Not that different from modern men sitting around watching sports and eating chicken wings :)

    1. Probably not! The commentary suggested that some of the ceremonies might have been a bit scary - and in the days of modern lighting, you always have to remember what it was like to live by torchlight - the feast was probably very welcome afterwards.