The Temple of Mithras on Hadrian’s Wall is a shrine dedicated to the Roman God Mithras who slew a sacred bull in a cave.
Mithraism was essentially a Roman religious cult or secret society that would meet in temples called Mithraeaums.
The sect was popular amongst Roman soldiers who would hold initiation ceremonies, sacrifices, and feasts in honour of the mysteries of Mithras.
One of these Mithraic temples was built at Brocolitia Roman Fort or Carrawburgh as it is known today. You can visit it as part of the Hadrian’s Wall tourist trail in Hexham, Northumberland.
Here is a complete guide on the Temple of Mithras on Hadrian’s Wall including the history and how to visit in Carrawburgh!
Who was the God Mithras and what is Mithraism?
The Roman God Mithras was originally a Zoroastrian or Persian deity called Mithra who was worshipped in the Eastern Empire.
The Roman God Mithras was eternally at war with evil. Although there are many stories about Mithras, the most famous was the legend about him capturing a sacred bull and slaying it in a cave. After he feasted with the sun god, Sol.
Mithraism is a modern term for the Roman religion centered on the ‘mysteries of Mithras’ and was a secret cult.
The worshipers in Roman times would meet in underground temples also known as Mithraea or Mithraeaum all centered around the story of Mithras and the sacred bull.
They were dark and mysterious places made to represent the legendary cave. Mithraic cult members would hold secret ceremonies of initiation and celebrate with feasts.
Initiates would call themselves syndexioi meaning “united by the handshake”.There were seven levels of initiation, dictated by the cosmos, each level requiring gruesome tests of mental and physical strength.
The cult religion was very popular amongst Roman soldiers from the 1st to the 4th century. In both the heart of the Roman Empire and its provinces.
Even to the likes of Carrawburgh in Northumberland which is how this Mithraic Temple was formed.
Who built the Temple of Mithras on Hadrian’s Wall?
It is believed that the Temple of Mithras on Hadrian’s Wall was built around 200 AD by Roman soldiers stationed at Brocolitia Fort, or Carrawburgh today.
Hadrian’s Wall is a huge 73-mile defense wall that was built in 122 AD under Emperor Hadrian to protect the Northern Frontier.
It stretched from the North Sea to the Irish Sea, from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway, and had 16 large forts.
Brocolitia Fort housed around 500 soldiers, mostly auxiliaries, and it is believed the commanding officers built a temple dedicated to Mithras.
It was a small temple with one door opening and no windows. It would have been dark and cramped to represent the cave where Mithras slew the bull.
There are three altars (these are replicas today) dedicated by three commanding officers. They would have most likely drawn in cult members and carried out the initiations including sacrifices here.
Temple of Mithras history
Excavations reveal that this temple was most likely rebuilt and refurnished four times at Brocolitia.
It is believed that this Mithraic Temple fell out of use by around 350AD. It was around this time when Christianity started to spread in the Roman Empire and Mithraism declined massively.
Mithraists suffered religious persecution from Christians and the cult was eliminated from the empire completely by the end of the 4th century.
It’s thought that this temple was purposely desecrated by Christians for building materials and then they left the remains amongst the rubble when the Romans left Britain.
Today, the stone foundations of the Temple of Mithras are all that physically remains of Carrawburgh Roman Fort or Brocolitia. But, you can still see the structure of the fort outlined by scars in the earthworks.
The original altars of this temple were donated to various museums to protect them and you can see many of these at Chesters Roman Fort in the Clayton Collection.
How to visit the Temple of Mithras on Hadrian’s Wall
Of course, most people visit the Temple of Mithras while walking the Hadrian’s Wall Walk and you can find this temple four miles from Housesteads Roman Fort.
If you were driving on the Hadrian’s Wall tourist trail, this is a 5-minute drive from Housesteads.
Drive along the B6318 road which runs along Hadrian’s Wall in Hexham. You’ll find a brown sign pointing you towards a car park for the Mithraic Temple.
This is the same place you will need to park to visit Brocolitia Roman Fort. The temple is just outside of the original fortifications.
The Temple of Mithras postcode is NE46 4DB. Click here for a Google Pin!
Temple of Mithras Hadrian’s Wall parking
There is a dedicated car park for the Temple of Mithras on Hadrian’s Wall, this is the same place to visit Brocolitia Roman Fort.
It is a large car park with plenty of room for cars. But, this can get busy on weekends and in summer.
Parking is £2 for 1 hour and £1 for each hour after that. You’ll probably find that an hour is enough as the walk to the temple is not very long and it’s a small shrine.
Although owned by English Heritage, parking is not free for members.
Temple of Mithras opening times and prices
The Temple of Mithras is open 24 hours a day so you can visit anytime but I would definitely visit with enough daylight to spare.
There is no artificial lighting in the countryside around Hadrian’s Wall so you won’t see very much if you choose to visit at night.
The Temple of Mithras on Hadrian’s Wall is also completely FREE to visit!
How long is the walk to the Temple of Mithras?
The walk from Brocolitia car park to the Temple of Mithras takes around 5-10 minutes. It’s not as straightforward as you’d like to think, or it wasn’t for me anyway!
From the car park, head straight down the beaten path, It’s here you’ll find a sign pointing you straight ahead to the Temple of Mithras. But, that’s where the signs end.
Once you reach the end of the path, take a right and then follow that path over the field down to the temple which is hidden in a dip.
You’ll find a gate you need to walk through to access the temple, make sure to close this due to wildlife grazing. Dogs must also be kept on a lead.
Exploring the Temple of Mithras
When you get to the temple, you’ll find a small information board at the very beginning. This gives you some more information about the temple and a drawing of what it may have looked like when it was being used.
You’ll see a small stone placed just outside of the temple. This is where they found a large altar dedicated to the water Nymphs and Genius Loci.
You can then head inside the temple via the small ‘door’ opening. Back then, this temple would have been dark and mysterious on purpose and was built to present the cave where Mithras slew the bull.
There would have been no windows and it was probably quite hot and cramped. This is where the cult of Mithras would perform their initiation ceremonies with the syndexioi. Afterward, all the Mithraists inside the temple would have a feast.
There are three altars at the very end of the temple that are recreations of where sacrifices would have been made. One is of Mithras and his crown and the original is in Chesters Roman Fort museum today.
You may notice there are three holes in his crown. The Mithraists would have lit a lantern or candle behind this to allow his crown to light up. I can’t imagine how atmospheric this would have looked as it was completely dark inside!
Visitors like to leave small offerings to Mithras here today. I saw people leave coins on the central altar but also things like bread, olives, fruit, and cheese.
Although small, I highly enjoyed my visit. It’s a lot quieter than the other English Heritage attractions so it was lovely and peaceful.
Looking for more places to visit on Hadrian’s Wall?
Whichever way you are choosing to explore Hadrian’s Wall, whether on foot or by car, there are plenty of places you can visit on the tourist trail.
Nearby you have Housesteads Roman Fort where you can climb up to the remains of a military garrison. They have some impressive latrines that have remained intact.
Chester Roman Fort is also a great place to visit where you can see what was found in the Temple of Mithras in the museum. There is also a spectacular Bathhouse here beside the River Tyne.
You can visit a commander’s house which has one of the famous Hadrian’s Wall Phalluses. Over the river is the Chesters Bridge Abutment which has another.
Although not on the wall itself, Corbridge Roman Town is worth a stop which is a huge complex with an informative museum.
Back on the wall, you have the museums of Birdoswold Roman Fort, the Roman Army Museum, and Vindolanda.
Plus, you can enjoy many walks along the wall. The most popular is the Sycamore Gap from Steel Rigg car park. Or, you can discover the Walltown Crags near the country park.
If you’re looking for more information I would visit the Sill Discovery Centre which has a lovely café!
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