Visit the Temple of a Roman Mystery Cult in a New London Museum

James Newton
James Newton

London's newest cultural destination lies in an unexpected place: beneath the new European headquarters of the financial services and news company Bloomberg.

The London Mithraeum, a temple made by the cult of Mithras that dates back to Roman times, was discovered on the site in the 1950s, but its remains were moved to make way for new construction. Now, Bloomberg has installed a new recreation on the original site, and it's opening to the public on November 14.

The three-story London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE brings visitors back to the ancient Roman settlement Londinium using lights, haze, and sound. Created by the New York–based design firm Local Projects, it's designed to make you feel like you're descending through time, until you reach the ruins at what was once ground level, almost 23 feet below modern London's streets, where the exhibition recreates what researchers think the rituals of the cult might have looked and sounded like 2000 years ago.

An artist's conception of what the temple would have looked like in Roman timesJudith Dobie © MOLA

"People walk into the Mithraeum, and it's dark and a bit cold and super quiet, and then as the ritual builds, the entire temple builds around you, almost like standing inside a three-dimensional hologram," Jake Barton, the founder of Local Projects, tells Mental Floss. "It's such a magical experience, to see architecture appear and disappear around you. It never ceases to shock and excite our visitors."

Local Projects worked for years with consulting curator Nancy Rosen Incorporated, artistic consultant Matthew Schreiber, and exhibition architects from Studio Joseph to figure out how to combine the story of the cult, the plentiful ancient artifacts found on the site, the modern castings that represent the objects the temple would have contained, and the ruins themselves, which have been reconstructed using the original building materials (with some help from supplemental stone).

At street level, Bloomberg SPACE displays 600 of the 14,000 artifacts found on the site. James Newton
An interactive exhibit on the Mithraeum mezzanine with a resin replica of a bust of MithrasJames Newton
Dynamic wallpaper features Mithras slaying a bull, the central icon of the cult.

The challenge was to showcase the historical aspects of the site without just showing off a big pile of rocks, illuminating the religious activities and human stories that make it interesting in the first place. "The hard thing in all museums is, how do you make it real, tangible and human?" Barton says. Their solution was to dedicate the upper floors of the Mithraeum to historical context, then leave the lower level to be its own experience.

Six hundred of the 14,000 ancient artifacts of the site are on display on the ground floor, and once you descend underground, a mezzanine features interactive exhibits where you can hear from experts and learn about the beliefs of the cult of Mithras and the rituals performed in the temple. The lower level, where the ruins of the temple are located, is left spare in order to evoke the reality of those cult activities.

The reconstructed templeJames Newton

The temple was recreated based on architectural drawings and photographs from the original excavation and close examinations of the building remnants. The museum uses lighting effects and dramatic music not unlike what you would have experienced if you were part of those rituals 2000 years ago, they say. "We want visitors to have a direct, uninterpreted encounter with this past," Barton explains.

The museum opens November 14 and is free, although reservations are encouraged.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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Remembering the Deadly London Beer Flood of 1814

London's Horseshoe Brewery
London's Horseshoe Brewery
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In the fall of 1814, one of history's most bizarre disasters befell London when a 15-foot wave of beer flooded an entire neighborhood and left eight people dead.

The Horse Shoe Brewery on Tottenham Court Road in London boasted a massive 22-foot-tall vat that held some 160,000 gallons of dark porter. On October 17, 1814, one of the metal hoops meant to secure it snapped, and the wooden vat succumbed to the immense pressure of all that fermenting brew. The gushing beer smashed open the brewery's other vats, resulting in a raging sea of beer that burst forth from the building.

Over 1 million liters of beer flooded out onto the road and raced through the St. Giles neighborhood. The area was crammed with crowded slums, and many inhabitants couldn't escape in time. According to The Independent: "Hannah Banfield, a little girl, was taking tea with her mother, Mary, at their house in New Street when the deluge hit. Both were swept away in the current, and perished."

Others who were gathered in a cellar for a wake were caught by surprise by the flood and drowned in beer. A wall of a nearby pub crumbled and crushed a 14-year-old girl who was standing next to it. In total, eight people perished in the accident.

Unsubstantiated rumors persist that rowdy locals brought pots and pans to the river of beer in an attempt to round up free drinks. In reality though, the citizens of St. Giles were lauded in the press for their help with the rescue efforts, keeping quiet in the aftermath in order to help listen for the screams of their trapped neighbors.

This story has been updated for 2020.