Capua’s Mithreaum

February 6, 2013 / Art & Archaeology
Capua, Campania
CapuaThe ancient Romans had as many gods as there were people and if you visit the Capua amphitheater, make sure to stop at the entrance and ask the custodian about the Mithraic temple. He disappears for a moment, then returns with a key and tells you to follow him by car. You drive through narrow streets until the custodian stops at a dead-end road. Unremarkably pressed between two apartment houses, a placard simply announces: Mithraeum.

The custodian unlocks double iron doors, brings you down a flight of stairs and into a vestibule where a curved ceiling has vestiges of red and green stars on a yellow background. In the front niche a rather dilapidated fresco depicts the god Mithras slaying a bull.

The cult of Mithras originated in Persia during the 14th century B.C. and his worship traveled across Asia Minor to Greece and then to Rome where by the 1st century A.D. the Mithras deity gained popularity. Interestingly, many Christian churches were formerly Mithraic temples and the birthday of Christ coincides with that of Mithras — December 25th.

Mithras Sanctuary

Capua
Capua

by Barbara Zaragoza

Barbara is author of several books, including “The Espresso Break: Tours and Nooks of Naples, Italy and Beyond” available on Amazon.com in print as well as Kindle versions.

Bonnie Alberts, Penny Ewles-Bergeron and Barbara have teamed up to create a new Naples travel guide, the Napoli Unplugged Guide to Naples. See all their articles at napoliunplugged.com or order the book at partenopepress.com.

15 Responses to “Capua’s Mithreaum”

  1. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    most interesting to see the pagan roots of the Christian Church..could it be that Christ birth was not December 25th? rather October?

    Reply
  2. Angela Finch

    Thank you for your note. It was most interesting along with the photos.

    Reply
  3. Barbara, What a wonderful and unexpected treat for you. All of these amazing hidden treasures and stories. Grazie for sharing! Victoria

    Reply
  4. Mary Lou Branson

    Love your notes! I lived just above the Solfatera in Pozzuoli for 2 years (totally delightful experience), but before I moved to that villa was shown several others by real estate folks who stated that they were heated by pipes of water, heated by running down into the volcano. Wish you’d write a note about that.
    And, do you have information about any Italian university housing that might be available for tourists to stay in during school breaks? I’d love to visit Napoli (or anywhere else in Italy)again and lesser housing costs would really help. (I could then eat more pizza)!

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, I don’t know about University housing. I do recommend a youth hostel in my book. There is also camping at Solfatara. But the best (and relatively inexpensive) option throughout Italy is the agriturismo.

      The ancient Romans likely harnessed the hydrothermal waters for their baths. I’ve written about that, however, to write about today’s pipes of water in Naples…. I’m not sure if I’d want to pursue that one in fear of what I might find out. LOL!

      Reply
  5. Colleen Simpson

    Very interesting Note! Most important pagan dates (Methriac and Celtic) were subsumed the the Christian Church to make the new religion attractive to those pagan converts. This is a great example and wonderful that we now know howto find this wonderful place to visit! Grazie mille, Barbara.

    Reply
    • Hi Colleen. Yes, exactly. I always found this fact so fascinating. Then, when I visited Virgil’s Tomb I discovered that because people were so unwilling to leave their gods and goddesses behind, the Church initiated the worship of the saints as a way to subsume the pagan traditions. It’s all so interesting how the transition to Christianity was made. Naples archeology is the best way to examine the change, I think.

      Reply
  6. On a more general note, just noticed that Italian Notebook reached the 4,000 LIKE benchmark on Facebook! Congrats to IN! :D

    Reply
  7. What are the different dates of creation for the separate art works? They exhibit different styles – are there other images / depictions here? Thanks – Gina

    Reply
    • Now this is a great question! The custodian didn’t know the dates of the artwork and it was clear that the sanctuary had several centuries of layers. I wonder if art historians give tours here with more clear explanations during the May of Monuments.

      Reply
  8. Linda Boccia

    Hi Barbara:

    What a great little nugget of information about Italy and the God Mithras. when we move permanently back to Italy, the birth nation of my husband Lidano, we too hope to discover many other out of the way gems like you just described.

    Grazie tanto.

    Linda

    Reply
  9. D. Bianchi

    We visited an underground Mithraic Church in Rome, I believe, which is near Bernini’s elephant. At least I recall it as such. As you pointed out, many Christian churches used the same buildings. Thank you. We haven’t made it to Capua, yet, but when we do we now have a spot to seek out.

    Reply
  10. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    Barbara

    You ask ,’why October’? some reason that the Sheppard were tending sheep, not customary in Bethlehem in Dec. as bad weather would not permit it. Also dating back to prophecy and birth,the fall of the year would be more likely,and dating to time of death and age at death the fall once again hold trump. Couple that with the dates of other Pagan celebrations and the Need/Desire of the Emperor to better establish Christianity while keeping the pagan people happy December 25 was a day already known, so why not Christ birthday? After all he never ask us to celebrate it,he asked only that we remember the advent and importance of his death.

    Reply
  11. Virginia C. Mars

    In actuality, there is some evidence to suggest that it also could have been spring. As said, in December, the shepards would not have been ‘in the fields’. There is something written about when the taxes would have been paid. Anyway, Dec. 25 was definitely a ‘picked’ date to also coincide with the celebration of the Winter Soltice, a popular festival. Again, to entice the heathens by not having to give up a holiday. Now, if we could only think of something to entice us back from shopping and Santa Claus (which was not at all associated with Christmas but celebrated on Dec. 6th) to what we are supposed to be celebrating.

    Reply

Leave a Reply