Naples, the city of the divinity Mitra

Naples mythology Mitra divinity

We present you the venues in Naples hiding traces of a pagan cult of the divinity called Mitra. A journey in three stages.

During excavations in the caves of the immense labyrinth of the antique Greek-Roman city, archeologists came across traces of a pagan cult of the deity Mitra.

Mitra is a divinity that, according to mythology, leads the spirits to the Underworld. Moreover, he has also the right to judge them. The cult of this deity, of Mediterranean origins, is yet rather undiscovered. It is estimated that it spread between the 6th century BC and the 5th AD, and it could be practiced only by men. The cult of Mitra is typical of Hindu and Iranian-Persian religions, though it influenced also Hellenistic and Roman world. Mitra is a divinity born from a rock, whose destiny was to save the world. According to a myth the god Sun sent to Mitra a raven with an order to kill the Taurus, symbol of life. Mitra took the Taurus to a cavern and, helped by a dog, a snake and a scorpio, grabbing him by the nostrils, succeed to fulfill the order. Mitra and Sun celebrated the victory with a big feast, during which, obviously, the bull’s meat was served. One borns in the cave, kills in the cave and celebrates there. In fact, a cavern is the traditional place of the cult of Mitra. It was a site of ritual celebrations that had a character of a transmission of basic, primordial and primary knowledge. The cult had its followers also in Naples, once called Neapolis.

The first place of cult of Mitra in Naples is located nearby the church of Santa Maria del Carmine ai Mannesi, in the archeological area of Carminiello ai Mannesi (vico I Carminiello ai Mannesi, nearby Duomo) that has been destroyed by bombardments during the Second World War, revealing the venues of the cult (in the 1960s and 18970s).

The second leg of our journey brings us to a Roman tunnel called Crypta Neapolitana, excavated under the Posillipo hill. In the 16th century, a marble relief has been found there, depicting the scene of killing of the bull by Mitra, a ritual sacrifice that is supposed to prove the Iranian-Hindu origins of the cult. The construction of the tunnel is veiled by mystery: a legend says that it was excavated in one night only by Virgil, a poet considered a wizard, and by other spirits helping him. The fact is that the place for a long time consisted in a seat of pagan rituals and orgiastic feasts. Then, festa di Piedigrotta was launched, a music and dancing celebration that involved all the local community.

The third destination of our esoteric journey is situated in a giant grotto on via Santa Maria a Cappella Vecchia, two steps from piazza dei Martiri square. The third Mitra’s shrine was located exactly under Monte Echia (Monte di Dio) that have lost its features of place of cult and have become an ordinary cave, today used as a parking place. The last temple dedicated to Mitra worth to mention is located in Capua, an antique town in the province of Caserta.

Tags: Archeology, Itineraries