For thousands of years an ancient temple lay undiscovered beneath the City of London. In 1954 the remains of the structure were found on a bomb site after the end of World War Two- and had appeared by chance. Crowds of Londoners came to see the Roman ruin, queuing for days. Today the London Mithraeum has been restored and is in a purpose built center, thanks to building owners Bloomberg.
But what was the Temple of Mithras used for and who were its worshipers? The ancient temple is shrouded in mystery and is thought to date from 3AD. That’s around 200 years after Roman Londinium was formed. Visiting the Mithraeum is free but visitors must book ahead as numbers are limited. To enter the museum is to step back in time.
Archaeological excavations have taken place all over this area and one of the best displays is a grid with all kinds of intriguing artifacts. Using a tablet, visitors can click on a picture corresponding to the item and reveal more about the exciting find. There’s an example of London’s oldest writing acknowledging a debt, and a miniature amulet. I click on a piece of mosaic and discover it originated from Kimmeridge clay. I could have played with this all day but it was time to descend the stairs and go back centuries in time.
There’s a mezzanine level with statues and a recording of the cult of Mithras. Little is known about it as nothing was written down. Of 1000 people who worshiped in this cult focused on tauronomy, not one was a woman. The icon of the cult features Mithras killing a bull and it has been suggested this related to fertility. I’m intrigued and tempted to find out more about this aspect of Roman history.
The entry to the actual temple of Mithras itself is time controlled. Entering in darkness there is a walkway around the excavation and an atmospheric chanting, designed to simulate what it would have been like thousands of years ago. I stand in silence just taking in the atmosphere. Above me, the streets of London are full of chaotic noise but here in this recently discovered temple it is as if we are transported to Ancient London for a moment. When the lights come on, the excavated walls are more visible and it is incredible to think this lay undiscovered for centuries.
Exiting into the City of London I return to the 21st century once more, thrilled to have seen one of the city’s hidden treasures beneath the streets.