Joint Expedition to Caesarea

A shaft of light pierces the ceiling in the Mithraeum at Caesarea. Originally built by Herod in the first century B.C., this 96-foot-long vault was part of a huge seaside storage complex composed of, perhaps, 100 such vaults. This one was converted in the third century A.D. to a place where Romans could worship the god Mithra, an ancient deity of life and truth. Benches were built along the walls, a small square stone altar was placed in the area between the benches at the innermost end of the vault, and the walls were plastered and covered with frescoes. Now badly deteriorated, the frescoes depicted events in the life of Mithra. Once a year, at the time of the summer solstice, a shaft of sunlight passing through this hole in the vault roof would fall directly upon the altar. A beautiful marble medallion bearing scenes from Mithra’s life was found on the floor near the altar and helped to assure the excavators that they had indeed discovered a Mithraeum.