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Blog: The London Mithraeum

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This weekend The Provenance Of My Artifacts and I went to The London Mithraeum. It was DEAD GOOD!

A mithraeum is a Temple Of Mithras i.e. a Roman church, and this one was discovered during an archeological excavation of a former bomb site in 1954. It's a bit like what you get at Vindolanda i.e. the layout of the walls up to about 3 feet high, and it's contained in a specially built museum underneath the new Bloomsberg Building. When it was first uncovered it was moved down the road to a new site for display, but when Bloomsberg bought the original site they decided to put it back (almost) in its original place, and build a museum around it.

The Squares On My QR Code had heard about it when she'd been to a Thing at the building a little while ago, so we booked our (Free!) tickets and rolled up. I am on record as saying that my favourite sort of museum is a Museum Of One Thing, and this was NEARLY that - they had an art exhibition on the ground floor, but otherwise it was ALL Roman Stuff, including a really clever display of artefacts found on the site, shown in a vertical glass cabinet.

Downstairs from that was a darkened room, which the aforesaid Text In My Caption suggested was to prepare our EYES for a darker room to come. She was correct, and we remained there for a while as we waited for our turn to go in, reading some VERY good computer display screens that told us all about the MYSTERIOUS cult of Mithras. Actually, it didn't seem all that mysterious to us - it was an all-male sect made up of ex-soldiers, civil servants and building contractors who met regularly for secret rituals and then a lot of booze. Surely that's The Masons isn't it?

When it was our turn we headed down another level to the mithraeum itself, seven metres below current street level. This is something that always bothers me - why is Old Stuff always so far underground? I know about rubbish and rubble and dust and all that, but surely that stuff must COME from somewhere? Did the world used to be populated with gigantic mounds of Loose Earth that gradually blew over everything? Or did there used to be Old Stuff that would now be hanging in mid-air?

When we all got into the room it was indeed a bit dark. A member of staff said "The EXPERIENCE will begin in a couple of minutes," and then clsoed the door. Sure enough we could soon hear VOICES engaged in some sort of ritual which was a) very cleverly done, especially as they used the Quadrophonic Sound to make it seem as if the voices were moving around the room, but b) a bit daft, as they'd just told us upstairs that nobody knew what went on in these rituals! The BEST/CLEVEREST bits though were the way that they made it seem like much more building than it actually was - there was MIST all around the room which was lit from above, so it looked like a BOX, but there were seven little dangling SHELVES along the sides which created shadows that looked like PILLARS all around it. It's hard to explain, but it looked REALLY good!

The whole thing lasted, as we'd been promised, about 20 minutes, after which we went back upstairs, looked briefly at the ART, and then went to the new (ish) branch of TIBITS round the corner, which was FAB. The entire endevour was, in fact, GRATE - I do like a Museum Of One Thing!
posted 21/5/2019 by MJ Hibbett

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