Cult in Slovenian Lands
story of beliefs and ritual inscribed on stone
|In the 2nd and
3rd centuries Ptuj was the centre of the Mithra cult, a
new religion that started in Persia and spread throughout
the empire during the 1st century AD. The religion became
extremely popular with traders, imperial slaves and mercenaries
of the Roman army and spread rapidly throughout the empire.
Initially a forbidden cult,
it was later accepted and became almost a state religion
in the 3rd century. Mithraism was the principal rival
of Christianity, with which it had certain elements in
common, at a time when there was a strong move towards
monotheism throughout the Roman empire.
interior of the Mithra temple on the outskirts
of Ptuj, which is one of the best preserved outside
Italy. Also found were segments of the central
relief, that represented Mithra in the ritual
slaughter of the bull (3rd century, Regional Museum,
Fragment of altar relief representing god Mithra
in the ritual slaying of the bull
altar image of Mithra slaying the sacrificial
At the beginning of the 4th
century Christianity under emperor Constantine became
the state religion and all other religions were outlawed.
So the Mithraic images were smashed or burnt in limekilns,
altars and temple walls knocked down and evened with the
ground. These are the remains of a cult that the archeologists
have uncovered during the last century or so in Slovenia
and some of them literally raised up from the ground to
recreate a reality of worship and beliefs of almost two
thousand years ago.
Mithraism was a mystery religion
with devotees sworn to secrecy. Nothing could be spoken
or written down. What little is known of Mithra, the god
of justice and social contract, has been deduced from
reliefs and icons found in temples. Most of these portray
Mithra clad in a Persian-style cap and tunic sacrificing
a white bull in front of Sol, the sun god. From the bull's
blood and semen, grain, grapes and living creatures sprout
forth. Sol's wife Soma, the moon, begins her cycle and
time is born. The letters 'VSLM' that are inscribed on
many Mithraic stones are part of a secret code thanking
Mithra for his good deeds and are recognizable only to
the faithful. Mithraism and Christianity competed strongly
because of the striking similarity in many of their rituals.
Both involve shepherds, an ark built to escape a flood
and a form of baptism. Devotees knelt when they worshipped
and a common meal - a communion- was a regular feature
of the liturgy.
Remnants of Mithra temples can be found everywhere in
Slovenia as they are elsewhere in Europe, however by far
the strongest of regional Mithraism centres in Europe
was Poetovio. All the Mithra temples found in Slovenia
have been transferred to museums, except for the three
which can be viewed in the place where they had stood
In the Lapidarium of the Regional Museum of Ptuj, exhibited
in the Dominican Monastery below the Ptuj Castle is a
huge collection of Roman statues, tombstones, funeral
urns and sarcophagi, stone tablets and reliefs.
The collection includes
a complete Mithraic shrine with representations of the
god Mithra killing the sacrificial bull.
On the outskirts of Ptuj,
two Mithra shrines (Mitrej 1 & 3) are still standing
in their original spot. Mitrej 1, dating from the 2nd
century is the oldest Mithra shrine in central Europe.
It stands in what used to be the business quarter of Poetovio.
A simple building from the year 1900 protects it. In the
space opposite the entrance there is a niche for the altarpiece.
The temple is remarkably well preserved, but there is
no trace of the altar image. Mitrej 3 is also protected
with a hut from 1913.
Archeological work still goes on in the Ptuj area. New
discoveries have been made, and in 2001 another Mithra
shrine has been opened to the public.
shrine in the Lapidarium of the Dominican monastery,
exhibiting the reproduction of god Mithra slaying
Aleksandra Ceferin, Thezaurus(2002)