The Mithraic Altar

  • The Mithraic Altar
In 1895, the altarpiece discovered in Sarrebourg at the foot of the Marxberg strongly testifies to the implantation of the sanctuaries devoted to this god (the mithraea) in the secondary agglomerations. Pons Saravi (Sarrebourg) was an average economic area, but its location on one of the great ancient routes to Argentorate (Strasbourg) where the VIIIth Legion was stationed, probably explains the presence of a mithraeum in this city. 

Let us note that in the initiatory hierarchy, the myste (the insider) passed through a stage called miles (the soldier), a peculiarity of the ritual that makes it possible to better understand the attraction of the legionaries for this cult, as well as the triumphant character of Mithra, young and vigorous god who practices tauroctony in a cave. It is this action that decorates the central part of the altarpiece of Sarrebourg. We can here discover Mithra sacrificing a bull whose blood flows on the ground to reinvigorate the earth and fertilize it. On both sides of the deity are two teenagers, holding torches or "dadophores", cautes and cautopates. One of them personifies the rising sun, the other the sun descending. The god Sol, which appears on one of the uprights of the relief, is there also to accentuate the solar character of Mithra. Represented together, hand in hand, Mithra and Sol seal a pact of friendship. The upper frieze lists some traditional deities of the classical pantheon (Jupiter, Mercury, Bacchus, etc.), while Mithra takes off an arrow pointing towards a rock to make a spring gush out. 

God of light and creation, promoting the struggle of good against evil, Mithra also ensures to his initiates the immortality of the soul. With the beneficial water, the invigorating blood and the image of the sacrificial banquet in which bread and wine are shared, it is easy to understand why the early Christians fiercely opposed this worship. The hypothesis they were able to destroy the Mithraic center of Sarrebourg around 395 remains plausible. Mithra was to overshadow Christ, whereas in 380 AD., Theodosius had just elevated Christianity to the rank of official religion.
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