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The So-called “Mithraic Cave” of Angera

A New Perspective from Archaeological Investigations

Author: Stefano De Togni

Summary

The existence of a mithraeum at Angera (VA, Italy) was assumed for the first time in the 19th century, after the discovery of two Mithraic inscriptions re-used as ornaments of a private garden in the middle of the small town. The location of the alleged mithraeum is still uncertain: the inscriptions have been found out of context, and the place of worship has never been localized.

The “Antro mitraico” (Mithraic Cave), also known as “Tana del Lupo”, is a natural cave situated at the base of the East wall of the cliff on which the Rocca Borromeo (the Castle of Angera) stands. At the cave the most visible archaeological evidences are tens of breaches cut into the outside rocky wall, which probably contained votive inscriptions or stele. These elements denote the use of the cave as a place of worship.

In 1868 Biondelli identified in the cave the location of a Mithraic cult, giving rise to a theory that continues still today. If, on the one hand, the proposal appeared plausible, there is no clear evidence that in the cave a mithraeum was ever set up; besides, the presence of many an ex voto is in conflict with the mysteric ritual practices. This paper is intended to present an analytical study of the monument, with a broader inquiry on the characteristics of mithraea and other sanctuaries within natural caves.

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