Mist and mysticism at the London Mithraeum

I had a brilliant afternoon doing some research for my PhD at the new London Mithraeum exhibition and installation underneath the new Bloomberg offices in the City of London today.

Situated on the site of Bloomberg’s new European headquarters, this new cultural hub showcases the ancient temple, a selection of the remarkable Roman artefacts found during the recent excavations, and a series of contemporary art commissions responding to one of the UK’s most significant archaeological sites.

You start your experience looking at beautifully presented Roman archaeological artefacts, displayed in a cabinet of curiosities style on the wall at the entrance to the exhibition. You’re given a digital tablet with a fantastic app to let you explore each object, one by one, with accompanying text, images and video to help you understand the life and culture of Roman London. One particularly outstanding find was the earliest dated writing tablet from London. Written 8 January AD 57, it is a financial record of money owed, dating from when London was just 7 years old and 1,960 years before a global financial markets company built their base on the site.

The experience continues to its apotheosis and you are ushered through thick dark hanging curtains to the reconstructed archaeological remains of the actual temple site. Bloomberg Space have done something really interesting here, they’ve tried to evoke the ‘genius loci’ or spirit of the place through audio and visual interpretation that speaks to the ephemeral and fragmentary nature of the site. You step into the space, it’s dark and you can only see a faint outline of the walls and foundations of the temple. As you walk around you hear voices of worshippers, the clang of bells, chanting, conversations. Mist is projected down from the ceiling creating screens on to which light is cast to illuminate the imaginary walls of the temple. Slowly the light gets brighter and you begin to see the temple and it’s structure more fully. Finally, a reconstruction of the sculpture of Mithras killing the sacred bull appears at the end on the alter and the experience comes to a conclusion.

I really loved it. It was fascinating to see how they’d tried to use emotional interpretation rather than factual to give you a sense of the mysticism of the site. I look forward to exploring it more in my PhD research around the lost heritage of London.

To find out more, please go to www.londonmithraeum.com

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