“This find is astonishing and exceptionally rare. We have never suspected that Mithraism had been practiced on Corsica. We have discovered around a dozen of shrines of Mithra in continental France, the latest discovery being made in Angers in 2010,” said the head of archaeological excavations Philippe Chapon in an interview to IBTimes UK.
In the territories once controlled by the Roman Empire, archaeologists discovered about a hundred of shrines of Mithra. The most known examples are located in the heart of the Empire, Rome, and in Ostia Antica. The cult of the Indo-Iranian deity Mithra reached the Roman Empire at the end of the 1st century, the main “distributors” being Roman soldiers and eastern traders.
During several centuries, Mithraism has been the main competitor of another young religion, Christianity. Like Christianity, supporters of Mithraism have been violently prosecuted. Eventually, Mithraism, along with other “pagan” religions, was forbidden by Roman Emperor Theodosius in 392, while Christianity became a state religion.
For modern scholars, Mithraism still remains highly mysterious, the main reason for it being scarce historical data. Historians numbered over 60 references to Mithra and Mithraism in Greek and Roman accounts, however, segmental records are not capable of providing them with clear understating of the religion.
“We know very little about the cult of Mithra. Due to the absence of direct written sources, our knowledge of this ancient monotheistic religion is mostly gathered from the temples dedicated to Mithra and images within them”, said Chapon.
The Corsican shrine of Mithra is located not too far from the seaside on the outskirts of the past Roman settlement called Mariana. In modern geography, this region is a part of the Lucciana commune in Haute-Corse. Nearby is the famous 12th-century La Canonica Cathedral.
In the central passage of the shrine is an image of Mithra killing a sacred bool in a scene generally known as tauroctony. Such scenes could be depicted on frescos, bas-reliefs, and sculptures. In the Mariana shrine, archaeologists discovered three fragments of a marble bas-relief.
On the fragments, archaeologists discerned the lower part of Mithra wearing a tunic (meaning that the missing head probably wore a Phrygian cap), as well as fragments of the sacred bull and other mandatory elements of the scene – a snake and a dog rushing towards the stream of blood flowing from the wound on bull’s neck, and a scorpion pinching bull’s genitals.