The Rudchester (Vidobala) Mithraeum
Sometime before 1772 an unfinished altar was found at Rudchester although the exact find spot is unrecorded. RIB 2344 - No Translation
The capital carries two wheel-patterns above three recesses. After its discovery the altar was inverted and the base was recut to carry heraldic shields and the lettering: R + H and beneath WRAH, and on the face a simple IR.
Hodgson noted that the initials wr and ir may refer to members of the Rutherford family, which owned Rudchester until 1667
It was taken to Gateshead, where the Rev. Andrew Wood built it upside down into the garden-wall of his Rectory.
Later presented to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne and kept in the Black Gate, being finally transferred to the Museum of Antiquities
In August 1844, 5 altars and a statue were discovered by men 'working stones out of a mound of earth” about 200 yards west of Rudchester Manor. This find was published by John Bell and Thomas Hodgson in Archaeologia Aeliana Series 1 Volume 4 for 1855
The statue was broken up, for the purpose of covering a drain, by the labourers employed (and subsequently lost).
Of the altars 4 bore inscriptions
RIB 1395 - To the Invincible god Mithras, Publius Aelius Titullus, prefect, gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
RIB 1396 - To the Invincible Sun-god, Tiberius Claudius Decimus Cornelius Antonius, the prefect, restored this temple.
RIB 1398 - To the God, Lucius Sentius Castus, (centurion) of the Sixth Legion, set this up as a gift.
These 3 'perfect' altars as they were called were at first moved to Otterburn Castle on 14th December 1844. In 1931they were moved to the Black Gate Museum in Newcastle and then to the Museum of Antiquities at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
One altar was broken upon discovery and one was a plain altar with a socketed base
RIB 1397 - To the Sun-god Apollo Invincible Mithras, Aponius Rogatianus …
This broken altar and the socketed uninscribed altar were formerly held in the Black Gate museum and later transferred to the Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle upon Tyne
All are now held in the Great North Museum in Newcastle.
The Mithraeum at Rudchester was located and excavated over a period of 14 weeks from May to 28th August 1953 by Gillam and MacIvor and published their findings in Archaeologia Aeliana Series 4, Vol 32
Gillam identified two distinct phases of use in two successive Mithraea on the site. He concluded that the first Mithraeaum was built in the late second or early third century AD, oriented east west, and was constructed in stone with clay used to bond the blocks. The plan was of a rectangle with an apse to the west was 43 feet long by 22 feet wide. It was of a typical Mithraeum plan having a central nave flanked by low benches.
A roughly-built narthex was later added to the outside of the east wall, but so that there was no direct view from the front entrance into the temple.
Similar to the shrine at Carrawburgh this anteroom contained a low stone bench, possibly for the use of the Corax grade, the messenger of the temple or for those uninitiated who were requesting admission to the Mithraeum.
A Centurial stone which may have come from the Vallum, was reused and built in upside down in the third course of the secondary wall in the south jamb of the east entrance into the nave.
RIB 1406 - The century of Imid[… (built this).
A second Centurial stone was reused and built into the eighth course of the outer face of the north wall of the nave.
RIB 1406 - The century of Juventius (built this).
The east wall was built over a badly filled-in pit and an earlier, unidentified stone structure apparently of Antonine date. Subsidence into the pit caused the collapse of this first incarnation of the building near the end of the third Century.
A second Mithraeum was rebuilt soon after, but without the ante-room, and access was now directly into the shrine from the outside, a stone podium was constructed in front of the apse and the free space within the building was reduced by extending the benches, perhaps the religion was growing amongst the soldiers.
A new roof with wooden posts standing in front of the benches was built, much like the plan of the Mithraeum at Carrawburgh, which we will visit later.
Four small uninscribed altars were found inside the nave beside the benches, and the remains of a stone cut water-basin was recovered about two-thirds of the way along the northern bench.
Gillam found the two heads of the torch-bearers Cautes and Cautopates, and speculated that this was the result of a deliberate decapitation of the statues. The lack of any trace of the tauroctony scene remaining in the Mithraeum was also used to argue for a deliberate desecration
It was short-lived, and the pottery evidence from the area shows that it was out of use and desecrated by the mid-fourth century.
All the finds and altars were placed in the Museum of Antiquities at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, and are now on display in the Great North Museum – formerly named Hancocks Museum