The present-day location of the temple foundations
Shown within the City of London
|Location||London, United Kingdom|
The London Mithraeum, also known as the Temple of Mithras, Walbrook, is a Roman mithraeum that was discovered in Walbrook, a street in the City of London, during a building's construction in 1954. The entire site was relocated to permit continued construction and this temple of the mystery god Mithras became perhaps the most famous 20th-century Roman discovery in London.
Excavation and artefacts
The site was excavated by W. F. Grimes, director of the Museum of London, 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, 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, Mercury the guide of the souls of the dead, and the syncretic gods Mithras and Serapis, imported from Italy. There were several coarser locally-made clay figurines of Venus, combing her hair. The artefacts recovered were put on display in the Museum of London.
Artefacts were found in Walbrook in 1889; 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 tall, of Mithras in the act of killing the astral bull, the Tauroctony 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, within the cosmic annual wheel of the zodiac. At the top left, outside the wheel, Sol–Helios ascends the heavens in his biga; 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, in fulfilment of a vow, makes this altar [as the result of] a vision"  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, Jupiter-like in his features but securely recognizable by the grain-basket, the modius, upon his head, a token of resurrection.
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 from the east to the west" (Collingwood and Wright 1965, no. 4).
Location and relocation
The Roman temple, 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. 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 Celtic way of reaching the gods that has preserved metal tokens in rivers throughout Celtic Europe, from the swords at La Tène to Roman times. (Compare wishing well.) The temple foundations are very close to other important sites in the city of London including the historic London Stone, the Bank of England and London Wall. Though the present location is at grade, the original Mithraeum was built partly underground, recalling the cave of Mithras where the Mithraic epiphany took place.
The temple site was uncovered in September 1954 during excavation work for the construction of Bucklersbury House, a 14-storey modernist office block to house Legal & General. 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. 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 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 alongside four other buildings in the block, and the creation of the new Walbrook Square development, designed by Foster and Partners (See: Legal & General Launches Walbrook Square). However, redesigns and disputes between freeholders Legal and General and Metrovacesa, who had agreed to buy the project, resulted in the Walbrook Square project being put on hold in October 2008, when Bovis Lend Lease removed their project team. Metrovacesa left the project in August 2009. In May 2010 the Mithraeum remained in situ at Temple Court, though in the same month there was talk of reviving the Walbrook Square project.
The Walbrook Square project has since been purchased by Bloomberg which has announced intent to restore the Mithraeum to its original site, and a projected completion date of 2016. The Museum of London Archaeology is leading a team of over 50 archaeologists excavating the site. 10,000 items have been recovered.
- Roman sites in the United Kingdom
- Mithraism and Rudchester Mithraeum on Hadrians Wall and Caernarfon Mithraeum at Segontium in North Wales
- Roman London
- W. F. Grimes, in The Illustrated London News, 2, 9, and 16 October 1954.
- It was dated to the mid-second century in Maarten J. Vermaseren, "The New Mithraic Temple in London" Numen 2.1/2 (January 1955), pp. 139-145.
- Togodumnus (Kevan White). "Londinivm Avgvsta". Roman-britain.org. Retrieved 2012-01-20.
- "Walbrook Square, London". SkyscraperCity. Retrieved 2012-01-20.
- "Bovis Lend Lease stands down team at £300m Walbrook Square | Magazine News". Building. 2008-10-17. Retrieved 2012-01-20.
- Hogg, Simon (2009-08-04). "Walbrook Square: Foster and Nouvel feel the force of the recession | News". Architects Journal. Retrieved 2012-01-20.
- Site visit, 29 May 2010.
- Kennedy, Maev (19 January 2012). "Temple of Mithras comes home". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
- "Temple Of Mithras Stays Boxed As City’s Big Dig Continues". Londonist. 6 February 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
- "'Entire streets' of Roman London uncovered in the City". BBC. 9 April 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
- R. G. Collingwood and R. P. Wright, 1965. The Roman Inscriptions of Britain (Oxford University Press), nos 3, 4.
- W. F. Grimes, 1968. Excavation of Roman and Mediaeval London (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul).
- Ralph Merrifield, 1965. The Roman City of London (London: Benn).
- John D. Shepherd, 1998. The Temple of Mithras, London: excavations by W. F. Grimes and A. Williams at the Walbrook (London: English Heritage).
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