Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds Perhaps one of the best ways to appreciate the complexities of the cult of Mithras is to look at a reconstruction of a Mithraeum, a temple to Mithras.
Skip to 0 minutes and 23 seconds In this case, we’re looking at the reconstruction of the Carrawburgh Mithraeum that was produced at Newcastle University for the old Museum of Antiquities.
Skip to 0 minutes and 35 seconds Here you see what a worshipper would have seen on entering the temple. At the far end is the tauroctony, the bull-slaying scene. The scene that actually records the essential mysteries off the cult of Mithras. The moment of creation. The bull was slain originally within a cave, and the Mithraeum very consciously actually emphasises and creates a cave-like, enclosed environment.
Skip to 1 minute and 7 seconds Beneath the tauroctony, we see three altars. The altars, which are dedicated by different commanding officers off the Carrawburgh garrison, are inscribed with dedications to Mithras.
Skip to 1 minute and 23 seconds Along the sides of the temple, there are couches to allow worshipers to recline and to dine together. And in the near ground, we see two figures– Cautes and Cautopates, torchbearers.
Skip to 1 minute and 43 seconds Their presence there reminds us yet again of the importance of light and darkness, in Mithraic cult. The figure in red, moving around inside the temple, is actually an initiate. And this is one of the very important points to remember about Mithras.
Skip to 2 minutes and 3 seconds There were seven steps, seven levels of initiation for the worshipers of Mithras. Each step was accompanied by performance of new rituals; by the overcoming of new ordeals; and by the revelation of new, secret knowledge– new mysteries that would have deepened an initiate’s understanding of this fascinating Persian sun god.
The cult of Mithras
One spectacularly interesting group of altars was recovered from the Carrawburgh mithraeum on Hadrian’s Wall.
The altars were discovered in situ, in their original locations within the temple. In the next step we are going to practise reading these altars, but before we do so we need to know a little more about the cult of Mithras. This video was filmed in the reconstruction of the Carrawburgh mithraeum built at Newcastle University. A longer version of the video, with a different commentary, can be seen in the Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle upon Tyne. You can see its dark cave-like interior, illuminated by flickering torches, ideally suited to enacting and sharing the cult’s mysteries amongst the small community of worshippers at the fort.
© Newcastle University