London Mithraeum - a remarkable hidden temple in the City of London
Earlier in the year we spend a wet Saturday in the Museum of London, a museum often overlooked but one which we found to be fascinating. Whilst we were there, in the Roman London section, we looked at some amazing artifacts from the London Mithraeum and were amazed to discover that it still exists, hidden within Bloomberg's European HQ. The London Mithraeum is one of London's least known attractions.
I was on a course earlier in the week, hosted by one of the big employment law firms that we use and it happened to be opposite the Bloomberg building. It was too good an opportunity to miss, so I popped in once the course finished.
This building lies over the course of one of London's lost rivers, the Walbrook. In the 3rd century AD, a Roman Londoner, possibly an army veteran called Ulpius Silvanus, built a temple to the god Mithras next to the river. By the early 5th century London was abandoned by the Romans as the empire collapsed. It lay hidden until a chance discovery on a bomb site in 1952 revealed the long forgotten temple.
The first part of the exhibition is a space for modern art installations. Currently work by Fernando Casasempere is on display. A Chilean artist living and working in London. The commission is called 'Scratching the Surface', made from ceramic elements it links the new to the old. On display until 22nd July 2022. The ground floor level also showcases many of the artifacts found here; from wooden doors, leather sandals through to glass wear.
But the most amazing part is the temple itself, which you have to descend to, since Roman London was much lower than modern London, some 9 metres in fact. There are a number of interactive displays showing where Mithras was worshipped across the Roman Empire, and interpretations of the image of Mithras killing a bull. It seems likely that the worshippers of Mithras were relatively wealthy - merchants and the like, and all male.
The Temple is both conservation and reconstruction, and situated very slightly to the west of where it was originally discovered.
The London Mithraeum project aims to evoke the mystery of being the Temple when it was in use. It is hazy inside with different levels lit up, and the sound of a priest and the congregation. Of course the incantations and the priests' blessing are all conjuncture as there are no eye-witness accounts of what actually went on inside the dark temple (it was designed to be a dark place). It's also accompanied by the sound of drinking, as vessels were found on the site. The central nave is where it is thought that the rituals took place, with 2 aisles to seat a small congregation of around 30, and 7 pillars. The stone head of Mithras, which was also found in 1954, is likely to have been part of a statue of Mithras on a raised platform at the apse.
I found this to be really interesting, and a fun experience. I didn't book; but it was midweek in low season, so I would advise doing so in peak times. Allow about an hour for your visit.
Entrance to the exhibition and Temple of Mithras is free.
It's very near to Cannon Street overground and underground stations as well as one of the many entrances to Bank station.
Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 – 18.00
Sundays 12.00 – 17.00
Wednesday during term time 12.30 – 18.00
First Thursday of the month 10.00 – 20.00
Closed Mondays, Christmas & New Year bank holidays
London, EC4N 8AA