We had come to Northumberland because of its wonderful dark sky area and were set for some serious star gazing. In the daytime though, despite the biting wind and lashing rain, we decided we'd visit Hadrian's Wall and were delighted to discover - quite by accident - the beautiful Temple to Mithra, a Persian warrior god who, according to legend, entered a cave and killed a bull that had been created at the dawn of time.
The temple stands close to the site of Carrawburgh Roman Fort. Mithra was hugely popular with Roman soldiers. The cult of Mithras placed great emphasis on valour, honour, and military prowess and Temples of Mithras, or mithraea, were fairly common in civilian settlements close to Roman forts. Several are known to have existed along Hadrian's Wall, but sadly Carrawburgh's is the only one that can be seen today.
Temples of Mithras tended to be sunk into the surrounding landscape and be entirely without windows, in an attempt to recreate the sense of the dark cave in which the bull was slain. What we found at Carrawburgh was a stone base of a rectangular building, in a rugged landscape, with walls rising up to about eight courses at their highest. It isn't of course, a complete building, but you really got the sense of what it was like.
At the north end of the Temple are three altars. One has a depiction of Mithra with three pierced holes above his head. A candle or lamp would have been placed behind the altar so that its light shone out through the holes giving a halo effect. It must have been wonderful to enter the dark temple, lit only by the flickering candlelight, shining out through the altar.
It was so emotive, even with the driving rain, it made no difference, we loved it! Offerings from others who have visited were in evidence. I'm always so happy when I see the lovely offerings of fellow Pagans, left with respect and love. It gives me the feeling of comradeship knowing they, too, have come to this place and have loved it.
The Temple was founded in the 3rd century, destroyed in AD 297, reconstructed at the turn of the 4th century, before being finally destroyed around AD 330. This final destruction was quite possibly the work of Christians, who saw Mithraism as a threat.
There is a large pay and display car park on the south side of the B6318 and there is a helpful information panel showing how the site was built and how it evolved over time.
A BIT ABOUT MITHRAISM : Mithraism is a religion that has its roots in the Hindu Vedas. It developed an independent following in Persia about five hundred years before the Christian story of Jesus and further developed in Zoroaster's movement . It was at its height in ancient Rome around the third century - the same period that Christianity was growing in popularity. In the 4th century, Mithraists faced persecution from Christians and the religion was subsequently suppressed and eliminated in the empire by the end of the century.
Mithra was born on December 25th of the virgin Anahita.
The baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger and attended by shepherds.
He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
He had 12 companions
He performed miracles.
As the 'great bull of the Sun,' Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
He ascended to heaven.
He was identified with both the Lion and the Lamb.
His sacred day was Sunday, 'the Lord's Day', hundreds of years before the story of Jesus
His religion had a eucharist or 'Lord's Supper.'
Mithraism emphasized baptism.