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Temple of Mithras

Mithraeum Temple

Carrawbrough, Northumberland

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Photo by Michael Wills

The Temple of Mithras is a 3rd century temple built to worship the Roman God Mithras.  This was a very popular religion with Roman soldiers with many examples found. It is said to have beliefs so similar to Christianity that the Christians felt they had to destroy it and this site, like many others, was largely destroyed by Christians.

I have divided this page into two, one part looking at the religion associated with this site and the second further down with photos looking at the remains we have now. I am told there is a reproduction of what this temple may have looked like in the Great North Museum,    as it was remodelled to create it, but I haven't visited it yet.

The Religion

Many ancient religions have the same base information and Christianity was successful as it over wrapped many other religions, took over holy wells and wrapped itself over and took over other beliefs. You can see why Christians did not want people to know of Mithras, which predated Jesus by 600 years when you compare the similarities.

Mithras was considered a great teacher and had 12 companions, performed miracles, was born of a virgin with shepherds present. He was buried in a tomb and 3 days later rose again, this was 600 years before Jesus on the same date. Known as “the way”, “the Truth”, “the Light”, “the Redeemer”, “the Messiah”, “the Saviour” ,“the word”, “the Son of God”, and “the Good Shepherd”, Mithras was sometimes pictured carrying a lamb on his shoulders. Sunday was sacred to the followers of Mithras and called it “the Lord’s Day”.

Mithraism hit Rome in the first century BC as the Mithraic cult fled Persia. Here it flourished as the Sun God Natalis Solis Invicti.  The leader of this religion ruled from what is now Vatican Hill, which is a place previously sacred to Mithras. This male leader was called Papa (which is how we get the word “Pope”). Books in honour of Mithras were called “Helio Biblia,” which translates to us as either “Sun Book” or “Holy Bible”.

However we can go back further and find many other similarities with other beliefs. How about Krishna in India, circa 1200 BC. Krishna was born of the Virgin Mother Devaki after being visited by spirits to announce the impending birth of an immaculately conceived child who is God’s Sun and the “son of God”. His birth was attended by wise men, as well as shepherds. Krishna was presented at birth with frankincense, myrrh, and gold. Krishna worked miracles, restored sight, cast out devils, and raised the dead.  Krishna was baptized in the River Ganges, crucified between two thieves, died, buried, and resurrected in three days and worshipped as the “savior of men”. He proclaimed himself the “Resurrection” and the “way to the Father”. He was said to be without sin, of royal descent, and raised by a human father that was . . . a carpenter. He preached of a great and final day of judgment and used parables to teach the people about charity and love. In death he stood transfigured in front of his disciples. Krishna was called the “Shepherd God”, “Lord of lords”, “the Redeemer”.

Back further how about Horus who goes back to Egypt circa 3000 BC.  Horus was born of the virgin Isis-Meri on December 25 in a cave/manger with his birth being announced by a star in the East and attended by three wise men. In the catacombs at Rome are pictures of the baby Horus being held by the virgin mother Isis. Horus taught in the temple when he was a child. He was baptized when he was 30 years old by “Anup the Baptizer”. Horus performed miracles and raised a man named El-Azar-us, from the dead. Not only did Horus walk on water, he was also crucified, buried in a tomb, and then resurrected. Horus was known as “the Way”, “the Fisher”, “the Truth”, “the Light”, “God's Anointed Son”, “the Son of Man”, “the Good Shepherd”, “the Lamb of God”, and “the Word”. He was also was called “the KRST”, or “Anointed One”. There was a trinity with Horus: Atum the Father and Ra the Holy Spirit. Add Horus and we have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the later years of Horus he had 12 disciples known as Har-Khuttie.

Others with strong similarities were:-

The Greek God Attis, born of the Virgin Nana, (or sometimes Cybelem) on December 25 and was reborn and rose from the dead on the third day. Attis was both the Father and the Divine Son. His crucifixion and subsequent resurrection were celebrated annually, with ritual communions of bread and wine. The wine represented the God's blood, the bread became the body of the saviour. 

Another Greek God, Adonis, born on December 25 was son of the virgin Myrha. Hermes born on December 25 was the son of the virgin Maia, as well as a member of a holy trinity Hermes Tris-Megistus. The God Dionysus, born on December 25, turned water into wine. Bacchus, born on December 25, was crucified in 200 BCE. Prometheus, born on December 25, descended from heaven as God incarnate as man, to save mankind, and was crucified, suffered, and rose from the dead..

We could find more...........

It's easy to see therefore why Christians have been so keen to destroy any information and remains of other religions and even toady the books in the library of the Catholic church in Rome are sealed against others discovering their contents.

The Romans were very much a part of this processes, they knew they could not destroy religions so they encouraged the merging and taking over of other beliefs. Very much like today as long as religion was supportive of government and order it was to be encouraged.

In some ways the religion of Mithras was different to Christianity, with 7 grades associated with symbolic items, and having associated planets. People might gain grade by an action or test, or have it as an honour bestowed upon them.

While in existence their temples were small, each being a representation of a cave, although more complex as the remains of  Mithraeum retains traces of blue paint, which may mean the ceiling was painted to depict the sky and the stars. Platonic writer Porphyry wrote in the 3rd century AD that the cave-like temple Mithraea depicted "an image of the world". Others wrote that it represented the world as fabricated by mithra. There are three remaining remains in Britain, the one featured here, one in London that is open, although uprooted and moved to another site and one discovered at Caernarfon, its thought that some others may be under churches. The Caernarfon site, like the one featured here, was put into boggy ground that was very wet, and water features in many religions.

Many ancient Christian churches have crypts with alters, some with water sources, these underground manmade caves may have some similarities with connections to the afterlife, rebirth and more, no longer mainstream Christian teaching.

As the religion initially grew, rather than making larger buildings it developed as a very large number of small units and members continued their other normal roles. This in many ways was different from Christianity, which is built on the empire model with those at the top living in palaces as princes of the church, or Anglicans in Britain as Lords sitting in the House of Lords. There was always the risk that the followers of Christianity would realise that the actions of the followers of Mithras was more in line with early Christian teachings than their church.

By the fourth century Christianity had successfully wiped out the religion of Mithras throughout the Roman empire.

The Remains

Located behind (to the south) of Brocolitia Roman Fort which is just humps and bumps, the temple is a small walled area with pillar markers and some stones plus a part of a statue.

Photo by Darren Haddock

This is a very wet area, many photos I have seen show it at least partly under water and on the day I visited workmen were pumping it out. They have special drain holes that they can pump the water from.

All images on this page except the top two

Left: a broken statue near the temple




A path runs from here to the very near:

Coventina's Well  

Brocolitia Roman Fort is immediately next to both of these

Location: Temple of Mithras, Carrawbrough, Northumberland

Grid Reference: NY858712 Ceremonial County: Northumberland

Map Link: Multimap

Aerial photo: Multimap   Google

Getting there: Parking for this is on the side of the B6138 west of Chollerford.

Parking in a layby by the side of the road unusual in that it has a pay and display meter.

Access: From the layby you can see the humps and bumps of the covered over Brocolitia Roman Fort. Going down the left hand side of the fort, and around behind it, there are no marker signs, you come upon the temple. The first field I went through had beef cattle and the one the temple and fort were in had sheep. Many who stopped were not prepared to go through the cattle, and most of the time I was looking around, other than for the workmen pumping out the temple, I was on my own.

Other Useful Websites: EH (Corrected) TR    Geograph including good images

Wikipedia    Wikipedia - Mithraeum including list of known locations through Europe

Mithraic Mysteries in Wikipedia   May not be independent from the effects of other religions, Wikipedia is editable by anyone and this page is not locked.

Postcode: Telephone:
Opening Times: Access at all times, but as you have to pass through fields with livestock its best to do this when its light.

Charges: FREE - but there is for some reason a pay and display machine on the layby.

Nearby Locations: Brocolitia Roman Fort      Coventina's well  
Other Location Pages: Hadrian's Wall Route Guide

Other Relevant Pages:  Roman Frontiers    Hadrian's Wall      

Hadrian's Wall - Featured Places



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By: Keith Park   Section: Roman Key:
Page Ref: Temple_of_Mithras Topic: Roman Britain Last Updated: 05/2010


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