The Santa Prisca Mithraeum in Rome

Under the church of Santa Prisca in Rome is the remains of a Mithraeum.  It is notable because of an inscription somewhere in it, which is often supposed to refer to Mithras “saving” people “by the eternal blood”.  There seems to be more than a little doubt about whether it really does say this, tho.  The Mithraeum is full of frescos, all in glorious colour!

Obviously we could use a photograph.  So I was wondering where the inscription is.  Is it still in situ, I wonder?  Is it possible to visit the Mithraeum?  Or how else can one get a picture of the inscription?

This site suggests that it is, although it looks as if you have to make an appointment.  I’m not quite sure what that site is, tho.  But this site suggests it can arrange site visits to various unusual sites.  An Italian site gives slightly different info here.  I must admit I am tempted to go over to Rome for a couple of days and see what I can snap!

I did a Google images search for “Santa Prisca Mitreo”, and came up incidentally with this wonderful colour tauroctony (click on it to see it full size) from here, which is in fact from the Mithraeum at Marino, not the Santa Prisca one:

Fresco of Mithras from the Mithraeum at Marino

I’ve seen a few of these, so here are the standard elements.  Their real meaning, of course, is largely forgotten, but we can list the elements of the painting.

At the top left, the sun beams down rays, one ray striking Mithras.  Top right is the moon.  Mithras kneels on the bull and stabs it, and a dog and a snake leap up to lick the blood, and a scorpion grabs the bull’s balls.  In this case Mithras’s cloak is lined with stars.  The action takes place in a cavern.  The two attendants, Cautes and Cautopates appear on either side, one with the torch pointing up, one down. 

A band of coloured images reciting the myth is on either side.  I can’t make out most of them, but on the right, from the top, #2 is the sun, Helios, kneeling to Mithras; #3 is the two shaking hands.   Those on the left ought to depict Mithras’ struggle with the bull.

4 thoughts on “The Santa Prisca Mithraeum in Rome

  1. Roger, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make this offer when I happened upon your blog post from June 3rd 2010. In it you state it would be nice to have a photograph of an inscription. I am going to visit Rome 15-20 Feb and would be happy to attempt to track down this requirement. I’m an “amateur” who has had an interest in the study of Mithras for several years (Member SBL & ASOR). I did some internet research and found this site which shows you to locations of mithraeum: http://www.mithraeum.eu/map.php.
    If you click on the placemark for the Mireo di Santa Prisca, it gives you some information, but also refers you to a book with indepth information on the site by Brill. I’ve ordered the book, but a good portion is on preview on Google Books (you probably know this already). Anyway, I’m trying to get smart on the site before I go. I would be happy to take pictures for your work if you can describe what I should look for. I’m going to try to visit several of the mithraeum in Rome and Ostia provided I don’t run out of time. Just wanted to make this offer to make a contribution to the work on your web site. Craig Baugh

  2. Thank you for your kind offer! Photos of the frescos, inscriptions etc would be very, very nice to have. I dont have access to that book yet, but if you could retake his photos, that would be a nice start to getting the s. Prisca mithraeum online.

    I have a work-related crisis, so may be offline for a few days, n.b.

  3. Unfortunately, the tour company that I was counting on sent an email stating a tour would not be possible. The mithraeum is only open the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month and I’ll be there the 3rd Saturday. Unless I can figure out some other way of getting in, gaining access to Santa Prisca souinds pretty unlikely. I also question whether they have restrictions on your average tourist taking pictures. I noticed that picture are prohibited at the San Clemente mithraeum. I’m still holding out hope of getting on a tour for the Circus Maximus, but will have to see on that one. Will let you know. I think the mithreums at Ostia are much more accessible, so I’m hoping I’ll have no problem getting in those and taking pictures. Craig

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