A Roman Temple Has Reappeared In The Heart Of The City

A Roman Temple Has Reappeared In The Heart Of The City
The reborn Temple of Mithras. © MOLA

What surfaced in 1954 after almost 1,800 years underground, was treated like crap in the 1960s, disappeared again for a while, and has finally rematerialised with the treatment it deserves?

That would be the Temple of Mithras, AKA the London Mithraeum, in the City of London.

The conjecture around such Roman temples is myriad and varied, but in simple terms, it's believed the Temple of Mithras was where 3rd century men — many of them soldiers — came to offer up gratitude to Mithras, a god famed for killing a bull in a cave. (And often to get starkers and glug vino while doing it, naturally.)

Temple of Mithras in its setting in Roman London. Artist: Judith Dobie © MOLA

Though some have posited the notion that actual bulls were dragged into the temple to be slaughtered, it's more likely that bite-sized sacrifices, such as chickens, were made.

From 14 November, the public can witness the temple at its new home, beneath the Norman Foster-designed Bloomberg London, on Queen Victoria Street. We say new home — in fact, it has been returned close to the spot where it was first uncovered, over 60 years ago.

Sunk seven metres into the earth (ground level Londonium in the 3rd century) the temple has been painstakingly 'resurrected' by way of an atmospheric light and mist show, with the walls of the Mithraeum gradually condensing into view. Sound effects add to the experience, although don't, thank goodness, include the sound of poultry being dispatched with.

It's an innovative, altogether eerie, reconstruction — the result of a sterling joint effort by Bloomberg, MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) and the City of London.

The next revamp like this, in our view, should be the outdated amphitheatre display beneath Guildhall.

People queue to see the Temple of Mithras in 1954. © MOLA

Says Sophie Jackson from MOLA: "London Mithraeum is not only a truthful presentation of the archaeological remains of the temple of Mithras; it is a powerful evocation of this enigmatic temple and a fantastic new heritage attraction for the capital."

Discovered serendipitously during building works in 1954, the Temple of Mithras was an overnight sensation — with 30,000 Londoners queuing round the block each day for two weeks, to glimpse the remains of this strange cult temple.

In the 1960s, it was infamously relocated outside Bucklersbury House, where it lay open to the elements, and surrounded, for some reason or other, by crazy paving.

The Temple of Mithras in its unloved state, dumped outside Bucklersbury House © MOLA

The relaunched London Mithraeum experience — free to visit — includes items discovered during the 1954 dig, such as the first financial document from Britain, etched on a wooden tablet, a tiny amber amulet in the shape of a gladiator's helmet and a hoard of pewter vessels that may have been used in rituals within the temple.

In the adjoining Blooomberg Space, the first artwork, by Dublin-based artist Isabel Nolan, is a wall-spanning work directly influenced by the Temple of Mithras and the buried River Walbrook.

  

For more information, and to book a visit, go to the London Mithraeum website.

Also read: An Ancient London Street Returns

Last Updated 09 November 2017