Buried seven metres below the frantic roar of City life lies a temple shrouded in mystery. First discovered on a bomb site in 1954, the reconstituted temple now resides at the site of Bloomberg’s swanky, new European headquarters in the heart of the City. Brought to life with the help of truly immersive sound and light effects, the London Mithraeum is the perfect lunch break sanctuary to delve into during a stressful day. Listed in the World’s Top 100 places to visit, I couldn’t resist a sneak peak at this subterranean gem.
What is the London Mithraeum?
Mithras was believed to be a Persian God who rose to fame by slaying a bull in a cave surrounded by an audience of animals and people. The scene is thought to portray an act of creation with Mithras linked to the wider cosmos, nature, fertility and the seasons of life. While only four such temples have been discovered in Britain, several hundred “Mithrae” have been discovered across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Although the Cult’s activities remain a mystery, it is believed to have had an all-male following with worshipers participating in initiation ceremonies, feasts and the odd animal sacrifice.
Review of a lunch break outing to the London Mithraeum
The Temple is located just next to the new tube entrance to the Waterloo and City line on Wallbrook, a five minute walk from the bustling commercial heart of Cheapside. Built on three floors, the Ground Floor is currently adorned with floor-to-ceiling 3-D rendered wallpaper inspired by Renaissance and Baroque Masters and influenced by the legacy of prestigious neighbouring buildings designed by John Soane, Edward Lutyens and James Stirling. The effect is deeply immersive with disorientating, vistas suddenly popping up between buildings to take you unawares.
However, the undisputed highlight of the ground floor is the 600 cherry-picked artefacts unearthed during the construction of the Bloomberg building. The marsh-like conditions of the Walbrook valley created ideal conditions for the preservation of such items with a staggering 14,000 individual artefacts unearthed – the largest haul of any site in London. Pottery, ceramics and intricate amulets form the basis of the display all beautifully arranged on sleek, modern wall tiles. The gems include: a wooden tablet depicting the oldest financial transaction in Britain, a hobnailed sandal and a tiny gladiator’s helmet.
After a perusal of the ground floor, a narrow black-stoned staircase takes you down into the Mezzanine level and the waiting room for entry into the temple. The polished tones of Joanna Lumley reverberate around the room as she adds her own weight to the voices of leading academics. There are also fascinating digital display boards that trace the origins of the building. The Temple tours leave every twenty minutes from the Mezzanine. (No flash photography is allowed in the Temple.)
Plunging seven metres below ground level, the rectangular temple contains a central nave which was the focal point of the rituals. While lamps, torches and braziers flickered during Roman times, today, carefully suspended lighting creates prisms of light, haze and shadow over the temple walls. A mural of Mithras slaying his bull rises up on a raised platform where the original statue would have been. A brief sound and light show captures the slap of sandalled-Roman feet against a hypnotic soundtrack of rhythmic chanting immersing you in the daily traditions of Cult life.
In total, the visit to the whole building takes around 30 minutes – making it an ideal attraction to slot into your lunch break. If you fancy a subterranean sojourn below the hustle and bustle of the hard City streets, the London Mithraeum is hard to beat.
To pre-book a trip to the London Mithraeum, visit: www.londonmithraeum.com.
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