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Plans to dismantle and move the reconstructed Roman Temple of Mithras to temporary storage, ahead of a more faithful reconstruction, will begin on the 21 November 2011 by Museum of London Archaeology.
The temple, which is located at Walbrook Square, was discovered by chance in 1952 by archaeologist WF Grimes as the site was being prepared for redevelopment.
On the final day of excavation – September 18th 1954 – the marble head of the god of Mithras was unearthed. Several more amazing artefacts, including some sculptures, were later found – these are now on display in the Museum of London’s Roman gallery.
The temple was dismantled at that time and the Roman building material put into storage. In 1962 the temple was reconstructed on a podium adjacent to Queen Victoria Street, 90 metres from its original site, nine metres above its original level and set in modern cement mortar.
In December 2010, Bloomberg LP, purchased the Walbrook Square site to build its new European headquarters building. Listed building consent was granted for the dismantling of the current Temple of Mithras reconstruction and expert stone masons have been commissioned by Bloomberg to carefully extract the Roman stone and tile from the 1960s cement mortar. The temple is due to be carefully packaged up and moved to storage for the second time.
Bloomberg LP will restore the temple to its original Roman location and in a more historically accurate guise. Upon completion of Bloomberg’s new development, the new reconstruction of the Temple of Mithras will be housed in a purpose-built and publicly accessible interpretation space within their new building.
This head of Mithras depicts the god as a handsome young man with an unusual Phrygian styled cap. The head is thought to have been part of a large bull slaying scene, where Mithras would kill the bull who's blood gave eternal life.
Mithras was the god of a mystery religion which became popular among the military in the Roman Empire, from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD.
Information on the cult is based mainly on interpretations of the many surviving monuments such as this head of Mithras. The head was discovered in the Temple of Mithras, in Walbrook London, standing in the aspe of the Temple.
The Temple of Mithras, or London's Mithraeum, is a large Roman temple, built between 307-310 AD, dedicated to Mithras, the Persian god of light and the sun (who many believe to be the actual identity of Christ). It is low-built, as it would have represented the cave in which Mithras is thought to have slain the primordial bull.
Mithraism emerged as a serious rival to Christianity in the Roman Empire around the second century AD, and was a men-only cult in which those indoctrinated would be subject to fearsome initiation ceremonies.
It is the precursor to the traditional Christian church, with long aisles leading to an altar and apse, and was discovered accidentally in 1954 during rebuilding work on Walbrook - a busy road in London's financial City district. Yet due to the necessity of the building work on Walbrook, the entire temple was uprooted with help from the Museum of London and moved to its current home, just down the road at Temple Court, Queen Victoria Street. This year, however, sees the temple moved back to Walbrook as part of an ambitious new development.
Among the sculptures found at the site are a head of Mithras himself and a marble relief of Mithras killing the bull - the 'Tauroctony'; an episode akin in importance to the crucifixion of Christ. By the relief is an inscription which reads: "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."
Mitra is mentioned in the Hindu Vedas, while Mithra is is the subject of Yashts (hymns) in the Zoroastrian Avesta, a text compiled during the Sassanian period (224-640 CE) to preserve a much older oral tradition. Cumont himself recognized possible flaws in his theory. The most obvious is that there is little evidence for a Zoroastrian cult of Mithra (Cumont 1956), and certainly none that suggests that Zoroastrian worship of Mithra used the liturgy or the well-devoloped iconography found in the Roman cult of Mithras. Moreover, few monuments from the Roman cult have been recovered from the very provinces which are thought to have inspired worship of Mithras (namely the provinces of Asia Minor). Finally, Cumont was aware that the earliest datable evidence for the cult of Mithras came from the military garrison at Carnuntum in the province of Upper Pannonia on the Danube River (modern Hungary). Indeed, the largest quantity of evidence for mithraic worship comes from the western half of the empire, particularly from the provinces of the Danube River frontier and from Rome and her port city, Ostia, in Italy. To explain this phenomenon, Cumont proposed that soldiers stationed in western provinces and transferred to eastern provinces for short periods of time learned of the deity Mithra and began to worship and dedicate monuments to a god they called Mithras when they returned to their customary garrison. It is true that soldiers from the Roman legion XV Apollinaris stationed at Carnuntum in the first century CE were called to the East in 63 CE to help fight in a campaign against the Parthians and further to help quell the Jewish revolt in Jerusalem from 66-70 CE. Members of the legion made mithraic dedications back in Carnuntum after their return from these campaigns, possibly as early as 71 or 72 CE. Once these Roman soldiers and the camp-followers of the legions, who included merchants, slaves, and freedmen, started to worship Mithras, argued Cumont, their further movements around the empire served to spread the cult to other areas.
The archaeological evidence for Mithraism, consisting mostly of monuments, inscribed dedications, and the remains of mithraea, indicates that the cult was most popular among the legions stationed in frontier areas. The Danube and Rhine river frontier has the highest concentration of evidence, but a significant quantity of evidence amply demonstrates that Mithraism was also popular among the troops stationed in the province of Numidia in North Africa and along Hadrian's wall in England. The inscriptions on dedications found in all these areas support Cumont's assertion that Mithraism was most popular among legionaries (of all ranks), and the members of the more marginal social groups who were not Roman citizens: freedmen, slaves, and merchants from various provinces
The reformation of Zarathustra retained the hundreds of Persian deities, assembling them into a complex hierarchical system of 'Immortals' and 'Adored Ones' under the rule of either Ahura- Mazda or Ahriman. Within this vast pantheon, Mithras gained the title of 'Judger of Souls'. He became the divine representative of Ahura-Mazda on earth, and was directed to protect the righteous from the demonic forces of Ahriman. Mithras was called omniscient, undeceivable, infallible, eternally watchful, and never-resting.