Erich Lessing

ON THE COVER: A mithraeum—the place of worship in the cult of Mithras—underneath the Church of San Clemente in Rome displays many characteristics typical of these cave temples. A vaulted ceiling arches over two high stone benches lining the long walls of the mithraeum, creating an aisle down the center. Near the terminus of the aisle, a carved stone monument bears the central icon of Mithraism: the youthful god Mithras slaying a bull. Called a tauroctony, this scene appears prominently in every mithraeum. Mithraism, whose initiates maintained strict secrecy regarding their beliefs and practices, arose in the Mediterranean world at the same time as Christianity and competed with it until the fifth century A.D. The puzzling symbolism of this important ancient religion has now been deciphered, as explained in “Solving the Mithraic Mysteries.”