The Temple of Mithras

In the city of London, wedged between Cannon Street and Bank stations, is hidden the London Mithraeum, or Temple of Mithras.

The modern and ancient cities of London meet at the London Mithraeum.

These days, the site is more easily identified as belonging to the financial company Bloomberg, but enter their building to be directed downstairs, and there you’ll find the temple, dating from the last days of the Romans in Britain – maybe from about AD 410.

It was first discovered in the 1950s, during post-war reconstruction of the heavily blitzed City of London.  The remains of the temple were dismantled and reconstructed elsewhere in the 1960s, but its inaccuracies were widely criticised, so when Bloomberg acquired the site they worked with conservation specialist to dismantle and then reassemble and partially reconstruct the temple closer to its original position, and with a fuller understanding of the materials used and its original structure.

The deity Mithras is a mystery. He was worshipped by men only.  There are images of him killing a bull in temples dedicated to him found throughout the territory of the Roman Empire.  Perhaps this is part of a creation or fertility myth: nobody knows for sure.

Head of Mithras.

Here in London, we can visit the foundations of the temple, and witness an evocation of the kind of ceremonies that might have taken place there: chanting, hazy light, an aura of religious fervour. We can imagine the congregation seated in the two side aisles, looking into the central nave of a windowless building, lit by lamps and torches, and gazing at the statue of Mithras housed in the apse – now only the head remains.

The remains of the Temple of Mithras.

On the ground floor above the temple remains is evidence of the prosperous London community where the temple was situated.  Here is a display of combs; keys; drinking vessels; leather shoes and boots; bracelets; glass phials; pewter vessels.  They tell a story of a busy commercial quarter, crammed with small workshops and dwellings built on ground reclaimed from the marshy land surrounding the river Walbrook.

A display wall of Roman London life.

This slice of Roman London life is so well interpreted.  There is plenty of time to explore the temple site, and to examine at your leisure (with the help of freely provided inter-active tablets) the hundreds of artefacts recovered nearby.  And as you enter the space, you’ll find ‘London in its Original Splendour’, an installation by Paolo Bronstein  which envelops the gallery in a complex and decorative ‘wallpaper’,  rich in Renaissance and Classical architectural detail – a homage to the likes of Christopher Wren and John Soane who were themselves indebted to the architectural legacy of the classical past.

Exploring this site takes about an hour, but the impression it leaves of life in Roman London will last far longer.  And it’s free.

32 thoughts on “The Temple of Mithras”

  1. What an extraordinary thing! I’d love to visit this, Margaret. 🙂 🙂 Are there still ongoing excavations on the South Bank near London Bridge? I remember watching a documentary but haven’t kept up with the dig.

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  2. This is a place I would definitely like to visit. In one of our museum visits while in London in ’16 we saw some exhibits of life in Londinium, but this would absolutely delight my husband. We plan a visit to Scotland next year, may have to detour for another stay in London!

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  3. Oh dear slap on the wrist for me – had no idea it was so easily accessible and free!! I chose to write one of my Master’s essays on Mithras and did find the academic discussions and arguments greatly enlivened the surviving source material. Honestly, can’t think why I haven’t made the effort to go and see this Mithraeum in UK. Your post has fired me up again, thank you. It does look very well done.

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      1. Yes, I can understand that. We have a very old mission with original art in my city (Mission San Xavier del Bac) that I never visited until this year. Amazing that I could live here decades and never gone. The place is amazing. Thank goodness for blogging, it pushes me to explore more. Although a secret underground Roman Temple would make a much better setting for a novel — a mythic mystery, roman gold, hidden architecture. It’d be cool.

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  4. I just saw this blog and yes, I remember the Mithras temple being discovered, I think it was some time in the fifties when London was being rebuilt after the war damages were being repaired. A new building was being erected and they happened to discover there was a temple below. Everything was stopped and what happened afterwards I do not know, but the building was continued of course, no-one stops for an old Roman temple, it would cost money. Now it seems it is there and another London tourist attraction. It was quite a sensation at the time, but progress continues and so they eventually found a solution for Mithras.

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    1. Oddly, it’s not a tourist attraction. It’s one of London’s best-kept secrets. And to be fair, Bloombergs must have put in enormous amounts of money to celebrate the Temple of Mithras in a suitable way.

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  5. I have been meaning to visit this temple since I first found out about it from Susan’s blog. It’s not often that a company takes such care and spends such money on this kind of project. Well done, Bloombergs!

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