The London Mithraeum is one of London’s hidden treasures. A Roman temple tucked underneath the Bloomberg buildings, let’s discover one of the city’s most important archaeological sites.
Never in a million years would I have guessed that there was a Roman temple underneath the shiny new buildings of Bloomberg’s European HQ.
Planning a visit to the Temple of Mithras? Here’s what you need to know.
What is the Temple of Mithras?
The Temple of Mithras is a reconstructed temple dedicated to Mithras that’s located under the Bloomberg European HQ in London.
Who was Mithras?
We don’t know a huge amount about Mithras – the cult who worshipped him were incredibly secretive and only four temples to Mithras have been discovered in the UK to date.
According to legend, Mithras was born from a rock in a cave and had impressive reserves of strength – using it to kill a divine bull and nourish mankind for the rest of eternity. In other words, he was a pretty important dude.
The scene of Mithras killing the bull is known as tauroctony – experts interpret it as a symbol of fertility and creation. Worshippers recreated the cave setting by building their temples underground.
While he was originally a Perisian God, Roman soldiers took to worshipping Mithras in a religion known as the Mysteries of Mithras. It was a male-only religion and shrouded in secrecy.
It is thought that his worshippers gathered in darkened temples dedicated to him to perform animal sacrifices and drink in his honour. The temple we see today aims to capture some of that mystery and experience.
What’s the History of the Temple?
The site lies on the course of one of London’s lost rivers, the Walbrook. When the Romans founded the settlement of Londinium, the river marked its outer boundary – but they gradually reclaimed land from the river as the town expanded.
The temple was built on this reclaimed land in 3rd century AD.
When the Romans left England, Londinium moved location towards modern-day Covent Garden and the temple was forgotten, buried under the growing city until it was rediscovered in 1954.
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Why is the Temple of Mithras so Well Preserved?
In short, the waterlogged nature of the lost Walbrook river provided the perfect conditions for preserving many of the artefacts displayed in the Mithraeum, as well as the temple itself.
There were more Roman artefacts found here than any other archaeological site in the City – a whopping 14,000 – not to mention over 50,000 shards of Pottery and several tonnes of animal bone.
The effect of the secretive nature of the Mysteries of Mithras religion is that reconstructing the temple was a process of systematic guesswork based on archaeological sites.
Why Visit the Mithraeum?
How often do you get the chance to visit a Roman temple buried underneath the City of London?
The Mithraeum is spread out over three levels, with the Temple located on the lowest of the three. The other levels feature exhibitions of Roman artifacts and information about the cult of Mithras and how they reconstructed the temple.
The top level, Bloomberg SPACE displays modern art works alongside a selection of the many Roman artefacts found on the site.
Each level takes you to another part of London’s history. The current ground level is 9 metres above ground level during Roman times, so you walk back through time with each descending step. It’s a fascinating walk into the London of times long past – and that’s all before you get to the temple itself.
The Temple is the single most interesting piece of Roman archaeology present in London. The ruins are interesting, but it’s the evocation of what it would have been like inside the Temple of Mithras that really brings it to life.
Entrance to the temple is timed so that visitors can experience the full installation. We’re talking haze, chanting, light projections – it’s unusual and completely compelling.
The iconic image of Mithras slaying the bull sits at the centre of the temple, gradually illuminated with shafts of light as the installation progresses.
The installation was created by design studio Local Projects – who also worked on the September 11 Memorial Museum. Their aim was to create a minimalist experience that had maximum impact – something they really succeeded in doing.
London Mithraeum: Practical Information for Planning Your Trip
Visiting the London Mithraeum museum is free of charge but you should book ahead to ensure that you can enter the temple, which is by timed and ticketed visits only.
Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 6pm
Sundays 12pm – 5pm
First Thursday of the month 10am – 8pm
Closed Mondays, Christmas & New Year’s Day.
London Mithraeum Museum: Map
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