Pagan Cult Mosaic Found Under Cathedral

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ray245
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Pagan Cult Mosaic Found Under Cathedral

Postby ray245 » 2009-02-03 11:01am

Feb. 3, 2009 -- A Roman mosaic floor filled with scenes depicting pagan rites and oriental gods has emerged from the ground of a Catholic church in Italy, archaeologists announced.

The mosaic pavement, which measures 13 square meters (140 square feet) and dates to the fourth century A.D., was unearthed at a depth of about 4 meters (13 feet) below the the ground's surface during archaeological investigations in the crypt of the Cathedral of Reggio Emilia, in central-northern Italy.

"The size and design of the mosaic pavement suggest that it formed the floor of a huge room. We believe this was the residence of a wealthy Roman," Renata Curina, the archaeologist in charge of the dig, told Discovery News.

The fact that depictions of pagan gods had lain for hundreds of years just a few meters under the cathedral doesn't come too much as a surprise, according to the archaeologist.

"The church was built on top of preexisting building structures. This is rather normal in Reggio Emilia. We can see that little care was taken of the mosaic floor, since pillars are built on top of it," Curina said.

Made up of small tesserae -- tiny tiles -- of different materials, which include colored stones, glass cameos and golden leaves, the intricate mosaic floor features geometric designs of circles and squares with little figures of dancers, flowers and birds such as magpies and peacocks.

What makes the mosaic unique, however, are three large mythological scenes.

"So far all scenes show naked figures. We are still trying to figure out their meaning. I believe that more clues might come to light as we continue to dig," Curina said.

The scenes are rather unusual. One shows a naked man falling into someone's arms, another displays two naked figures -- a man and a woman -- wearing jewels. The woman holds a just caught fish, while the man holds two live ducks.

Another extraordinary scene shows a naked man wearing an ivy crown and holding a lotus flower in his right hand.

In his left hand, the mysterious character holds a lituus. This is a crooked cane which in ancient Rome was used by the augurs as a cult instrument. The cane was regarded as a symbol of a priestly group.

The augurs were religious officials who observed natural signs, such as the flight of birds, in order to interpret them as indications of divine approval or disapproval.

"Symbols such as the lotus flower and the ivy crown might hint that this was a private room dedicated to the cult of oriental gods," Curina said.

According to Luigi Malnati, superintendent of archaeological heritage in Emilia Romagna, such pagan scenes must have been pieced together before 380 A.D., the year when the emperor Theodosius proclaimed Christianity the state religion. Indeed, a series of decrees in 391-392 A.D. banned and punished pagan cult practices within the empire.

"This is one of the most important and interesting mosaics in northern Italy. It stands out for its size, design and refined technique," Malnati said.

Roger Ling, a professor of classical art and archaeology at the University of Manchester, U.K., and the author of "Ancient Mosaics," agreed. "It's a sensational discovery," Ling told Doscovery News.

Once fully detached and restored, the mosaic will be put on display at a local museum.


http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/02/0 ... osaic.html

Very cool and very interesting indeed. I do hope that we can learn more about the Pagan rituals from it.
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Re: Pagan Cult Mosaic Found Under Cathedral

Postby Thanas » 2009-02-03 05:26pm

EDIT: Spam has been split and moved to testing.

This is interesting. Good find, Ray.

The pictures are also very illuminating in that they show the great attention to detail and the high quality of Roman mosaics.
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Re: Pagan Cult Mosaic Found Under Cathedral

Postby Stark » 2009-02-03 06:37pm

While I imagine this sort of thing isn't unusual, it sounds like this mosaic is in pretty good condition. The use of the term 'pagan' irritates me, however. :)

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Re: Pagan Cult Mosaic Found Under Cathedral

Postby Thanas » 2009-02-03 06:44pm

^Why? It is the scientifically accepted term, used nowadays without the negative connotations it had in the 19th century. Like "Byzantine".
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Re: Pagan Cult Mosaic Found Under Cathedral

Postby Stark » 2009-02-03 06:48pm

True in this context, but it's still used in it's old-fashioned 'catch-all' sense by a lot of people. I'd rather know meaningful specifics about the religion (since I'm pretty poor on late Empire European culture) than 'pagan' which depending on the author could mean 'anything that isn't Catholic, including traditional Roman cults'. It sounds like they think it's from the near east, so I'd like to know about it. Hopefully they can link it to more well-known practicises.

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Re: Pagan Cult Mosaic Found Under Cathedral

Postby Thanas » 2009-02-03 07:07pm

Well, chances are this will get published "soon" (AKA half a year). Until then, I think we should not really trust the discovery channel to get the facts right. Nakedness alone seems to be pretty shaky ground to claim it to be an eastern cult and the depiction of the people holding fish and ducks seems rather standard for roman sacrificial practices. Sadly, I have been unable to find high resolution picture, so all of this is speculation.
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Re: Pagan Cult Mosaic Found Under Cathedral

Postby Fingolfin_Noldor » 2009-02-04 01:55am

Weren't almost all the pagan temples in Rome converted to churches? And finding remnants of the temple by right should be fairly common for these very old churches?
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Re: Pagan Cult Mosaic Found Under Cathedral

Postby Thanas » 2009-02-04 07:01am

Well, it depends. There were several invasions which all did quite a lot of damage - german invaders and christian zealots had a fondness for mutilating works of art depicting old symbols etc. There is a reason the vandals have become a synonym for wanton destruction.
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Re: Pagan Cult Mosaic Found Under Cathedral

Postby Setzer » 2009-02-04 01:36pm

Maybe it was passive agressive defiance of the newly Christian Emperors. I could see a pagan priest bricking over a mosaic instead of destroying it
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