Mithraic/Chronos allusions and Parallels in Roman-British Mosaics that Portray the Chi-Rho
Capanellius 10/07/2013 Two pavement mosaics from fourth century Britain discovered near Dorchester, one from the Hinton St Mary and another from Frampton have the chi-rho symbol displayed amid various Roman and Greek deities and figures of the time. It therefore becomes puzzling that many researchers would regard the chi-rho, in this setting, as an indication of Christian or even Gnostic influence. Although some Christians would later incorporate this particular monogram as a reference to Christ, it is well-known that originally the chi-rho was clearly a pre-Christian symbol, appearing on coins and other contexts hundreds of years before Christ. In a recent paper, P.L. Tite (2008) attempts to improve on an earlier Christian-Gnostic analysis of these mosaics by D. Perring (2003b), believing the iconography displayed in the Frampton artwork best resembles redactional activity (i.e., editorial activity) in three stages. He speculates that in the first redactional stage, a BacchicOrphic narrative dominates. In the second stage, there is a Christianization of these motifs, as indicated by the introduction of the chi-rho symbol into the displayed Figure 1. Orpheus: Hinton S Mary Mosaic artwork. In the final stage, there is censorship or intolerance, as evidenced by the destruction by Christians of particular images that comprised this mosaic. But since there is no clear support for thinking that the chi-rho is later than the original mosaic construction, there is no reason to suppose a Christianized stage when Roman and Greek deities were worshiped side-by-side with Christ in a spirit of tolerance. For everyone is quite aware that Christian beliefs and practice in all ages, for the most part, have reflected religious intolerance, as their scripture requires. In the third stage of censorship, the pattern or purpose in method for carrying out this practice is absent. And the apparent desecration of certain images rather than others, may just as well have been due mainly to the destruction of the building, roof and walls falling on the mosaic pavement causing damage, as well as from natural wear and tear undergone through the ages. A simpler explanation involves accepting that the chi-rho was intimately linked to the Bacchic-Orphic mysteries and was meant to be understood in relationship to them in this context. For instance, J. Bardill (2012:220) takes note of an embossed medal plate from a grave in Pannonia that displays the chi-rho together with the lyre-playing Orpheus and busts of Sol and Luna. This early association of Orpheus with the chi-rho is consistent with the later Hinton St Mary mosaic (which some identify with Orpheus) with a nimbus around his head in the form of a chi-rho (Figure 1). This identification
Saturn). parallels and other points of contact to the above Orphic-Bacchic iconography with Mithraism are noticeable: 1. D. they may have first come from the antechamber where Bacchus was portrayed. . perhaps to receive encouragement from the god prior to facing the central obstacle symbolized by the chimera who the Greek hero Bellerophon also had once confronted and overcome in the region of Neptune. But before arriving here. it appears to be but one step removed from evolving into a chi-rho. Moeller (1973:9) notes that the chi (“X”) as a solar cross. so in this way becomes most appropriate as nimbus.. a combination of a Sol/Chronos Figure 2. 1-5) also apparently had espoused this heliocentric planetary order: “For that the planets dance about him [the Sun] as their king. could also serve as an abbreviation for Sol or Sol Invictus as well as for “Chronos. as those who are learned in the study of the spheres call their visible motions . Here we may recall that Orpheus worshiped Apollo who he identified with the Sun. and pursuing to and from their orbit. In this connection.e. Hurtado (2003:209) observes that the chi-rho was used as a ligature for word forms that refer to “Chronos” (i. . Planetary Spheres and Cantharus symbol. Emperor Julian in his Hymn to King Helios (135b. in certain intervals. they came to a large cantharus (a twohandled wine-cup) which may have represented placement for the actual chalice that contained the wine for partaking of the mystic communion between themselves and Bacchus. the Rhapsodies. and revolve in a circle with perfect accord. At this juncture. W. fired in relation to him. Interestingly. or spoked sun-wheel with circle removed.O. a sacred enclosure. making certain halts. J. This description is in keeping with the Chaldean version of the planetary order from antiquity. Chronos is said to be the absolute beginning of all things. the guiding lights of Orpheus and his followers. Perring (2003:109) rightly observes that the chi-rho superimposed upon the central sphere on the Frampton mosaic (Figure 2) was essentially a solar symbol and that the seven spheres facing Neptune may allude to the planetary bodies which the soul passed as it ascended to the seventh sphere of Saturn. in which the Sun occupied the central position and Saturn the outermost seventh position.L. out from the watery underworld of Neptune and across the planetary spheres. And in pre-Christian Greek papyri of the Roman period. Chi-rho. Orpheus plays his lyre which calms and tames animals :: Prior to the
.draws support from other mosaics from Roman Britain discovered at Cirencester and Woodchester that depict Orpheus playing his lyre as wild beasts circle around him. we may recall that in one theogony of Orpheus.” As one entered into the apse. In addition.” In this form.
Hurtado. The Mithraic Origins and Meanings of the Rotas-Sator Square (Leiden: E. you have become spiritual. on this day. 2003b.
. You have been [re]born divine-like. Constantine.
4. 1973). grapes from the vine are shown and a drink from the same is offered to Helios There are a number of Orphic-Bacchic side mosaic scenes which support the main theme :: As part of the Mithraic Tauroctony. 34.O. from the man that you were. from the mortal that you were. Divine Emperor of the Christian Golden Age. 149-63. W. Perring D. Bollettino de Archeologia Online.
Tauroctony scene. Mithras and Sol take to the hypercosmic realms in a chariot which lies beyond the planetary spheres The Orphic initiate enters into the apse to partake from the sacred wine of Bacchus :: At the Mithraic Banquet. Moeller. 3.. Mithras slays a bull in a cave After leaving the watery world of Neptune/Okeanos. it would not be surprising that when an Orphic tablet from Pelinna describes the journey's end for the Orphic-Bacchic initiate. Tite P. slays the Chimaera :: In the Tauroctony scene.. Mithras subdues a bull before taking it into a cave Bellerophon. 2008. Britannia. on Pegasus.. Zeba A. J.J. L. 97–127. thrice happy. Harland...
5. Happy and fortunate one." in Identity and Interaction in the Ancient Mediterranean: Jews. Christians and Others: Essays in Honour of Stephen G. Tell Persephone that Bacchus himself has liberated you.2. New York: Cambridge University Press. 'Gnosticism' in Fourth-Century Britain: The Frampton Mosaics Reconsidered.”
References Bardill. Pp. Cambridge. Volume speciale E / E10 / 4. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press. 41-55. there are a number of side panels which support the main theme
As closely linked as Orphic symbolism appears to be to Mithraism. L. Crook and Philip A. "The 'Meta-Data' of Earliest Christian Manuscripts. Wilson. he could just as well have referred to Mithras: “You have died and have been [re]born. the Orphic initiate crosses the planetary spheres guided by Helios/Chronos :: In the presence of Neptune/Okeanos which follows the Tauroctony event. eds. Brill. 2012. 2007. “Reading” and “Re-Reading” the Frampton Mosaics: Religious Innovation and the Construction of Cultural Identity in Roman Britain.W.