London Mithraeum & St Stephen Walbrook

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Bloomberg Space in the City of London


Most Londoners are aware of London’s Roman history, and that most of the Roman archaeological sites are buried underneath the City of London, London’s historic financial district. However, not many knew about a Roman temple ruin that was rediscovered by chance on a bomb site in 1952-54 during the construction of the Bucklersbury House. Later, the temple was dismantled and reconstructed – inaccurately – 100 metres from its original site to the car park roof at Temple Court ( I wonder how many Londoners had visited this site?).

After the demolition of the Bucklersbury House, the site was purchased by Bloomberg in 2010, and the company decided to restore The Temple of Mithras to its original site as part of their new European headquarters designed by Foster + Partners. Originally constructed around AD 240, the Temple of Mithras was finally restored close to its original position and level, which is seven metres below modern street level and by the – now subterranean – River Walbrook. Aside from the restoration work, Museum of London Archaeology also led a team of over 50 archaeologists and excavated the site between 2010-14. They recovered more than 14,000 artifacts, including a large assembly of tools.


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Top row: Isabel Nolan’s installtions at Bloomberg space: ‘Another View from Nowhen’; 2nd & bottom rows: around 600 items Roman artifacts are on display


In early November, the free cultural hub opened its doors to the public, and visitors could book a time slot to visit via the London Mithraeum website. On the ground level, there is an art gallery space showcasing contemporary art work, and a vast array of Roman artifacts excavated from the site. Apart from on-site guides, visitors are also given ipads explaining the functions of these items.

Then we were led down the stairs to a waiting area where we could learn more about the temple and its origin. When we were finally allowed to descend down into the pitch black and smoky temple space, there was a sense anticipation among the visitors. Slowly, the room started to light up while a soundscape of chanting, bells and horns was added to enhance the multi-sensory experience.


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The Cult of Mithras was a mystery religion centered around the the Indo-Iranian deity Mithras, which was practised in the Roman Empire from about the 1st to the 4th century CE. The temples of Mithras were always an underground cave, featuring a relief of Mithras killing the bull. It’s all-male membership was drawn from soldiers, merchants and freeman who travelled widely through the Roman Empire. It is believed members gathered in windowless temples to drink and perform rituals and animal sacrifices naked in the dark, illuminated by torchlight. I wonder if this is what the Scientologists do when they get together?

I think Bloomberg has done a remarkable job of restoring the temple and in creating a mysterious atmosphere and immersive experience once inside the temple space. Best of all, it is free and visitors (both locals and tourists) can learn a great deal about the history of Roman London.



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After the visit of the temple, I walked past the nearby St Stephen Walbrook and decided to go inside to take a look. Interestingly, the church’s history is intertwined with the nearby temple of Mithras. The original church of St Stephen was built on the Mithraic foundations on the west side of River Walbrook between 700 to 980 A.D, but was moved to its present site, on the east side of the river (by then, it was no longer a river) in 15th century.

In 1666, the church was burnt down at the Great fire of London. After the fire, the English anatomist, astronomer, geometer, mathematician, physicist and architect Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design and rebuild 52 churches within the city including St Stephen Walbrook and St Paul’s Cathedral. The constructions of the church started in 1672 and completed in 1679; this was his prototype for the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, and the first classical dome to be built in England at the time.




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I am surprised that I have never visited this Grade I listed church before – it is a stunning masterpiece. Unexpectedly in the middle of the historic church stands an 8-ton white polished stone altar commissioned from the artist/sculptor Henry Moore by churchwarden and property developer Lord Peter Palumbo in 1972 during the restoration of the church after it was badly damage during The Blitz in 1941. The controversial altar was considered unsuitable until it was approved by The Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved of the Church of England.

Later in 1993, a circle of brightly coloured kneelers designed by abstract painter Patrick Heron was added around the altar. The kneelers were made by Tapisserie, a shop in Chelsea that specialises in fine hand-painted needlework. Personally, I think the minimalist altar blends well with the surroundings, but I am less convinced about the kneelers. Nonetheless, it’s courageous to challenge the conventions, and I am all for breaking the dogmatic rules set by religious authorities.

There are days when I feel fed up with London, but when I discover something new or unusual in the city, it would always bring me joy, excitement and fascination. Sometimes we all have to be more like a tourist in order to see and appreciate the city we live in. Now I can’t wait for my next discovery!


Henry Moore at Perry Green

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Main: Henry Moore’s Large Reclining figure in bronze; Bottom left: Henry Moore’s house, Hoglands


I love seeing sculptures outdoor, and one of my favourite sculpture parks is the Hakone open-air museum near Mount Fuji in Japan, where you would find over 100 sculptures by masters like Picasso, Rodin, Miro and Moore etc set in a stunning landscape. In the UK, I have long wanted to visit the Yorkshire sculpture park, which was awarded Museum of the year 2014, though somehow not quite managed it yet. However, I did make a trip to Perry Green in Hertfordshire at the end of summer with a group of art lovers to see the sublime sculptures by Henry Moore and their current exhibition, ‘Body & Void: Echoes of Moore in Contemporary Art‘ (until 26th October). In some ways, I feel like this extraordinary place is still a relatively hidden gem in the country, and I am not quite sure why.

Moore and his wife Irina moved to Perry Green in 1940 after their home and studio in Hampstead, London, had been damaged during the war. Originally planned as a temporary home, the Moores eventually settled in Perry Green for the rest of their lives and built up an estate which included their home Hoglands, a collection of studios and 70-acres of grounds in which Moore‘s sculptures could be displayed. Today, the estate is run by the Henry Moore Foundation, and it is open to the public every year between April and October.


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Top right: Richard Deacon’s Associate; Main & bottom right: Lygia Clark’s Fantastic Architecture 1; 3rd row left: Rachel Whiteread’s Detached 3; 3rd row right: Thomas Schütte – Stahlfrau No.1 200; Bottom left: A telephone booth filled with artwork; Bottom middle: Richard Long’s North South Line


Soon after our arrival, we visited Moore’ former house, where most of its original furnishings and contents are still intact. There is a guide in each room to explain the stories and history behind his collections and their daily activities. It is fascinating to see the books Moore used to read, his ethnographic collection, as well as his private art collection, which includes a Picasso in the kitchen!

After the house tour, another guide was assigned to us for a longer tour of the estate, including Moore‘s former studios, the stunning tapestry barn and the current exhibition. ‘Body & Void: Echoes of Moore in Contemporary Art’ draws connections between Moore‘s investigation of internal space and its relationship with the human body, and reveals how his ideas have inspired subsequent generations of contemporary artists including Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor and Richard Long etc.


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Top left: Sheep piece; Top right: The Arch; Main: Large Reclining figure surrounded by sheep; 3rd row left: Draped reclining figure; 3rd row middle: Large upright internal/external form; 3rd row right: Family group; Bottom left: Double Oval; Bottom right: Large figure in a shelter


One of the reasons why Perry Green is so special is because you can see many sheep surrounding Moore‘s sculptures in the fields behind his studio. Moore was born and grew up in Yorkshire, so he had a long fascination with sheep and used to sketch them all the time when he was living in Perry Green. Moore commented that sheep were “just the right size for the kind of landscape setting that I like for my sculptures, as opposed to cows or horses whose larger size would reduce the sense of monumentality in his work.”

There are about 23 outdoor sculptures by Moore at Perry Green, and most of them are in bronze. I have seen many Moore‘s sculptures inside museums before, but the impact is less powerful than seeing them out in nature against the beautiful landscape. Moore‘s sculptures are inspired by nature and organic objects, and so they look most at home out in the open air. Like the artist once said: “I would rather have a piece of sculpture put in a landscape, almost any landscape, than in or on the most beautiful building I know.”


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In order to appreciate Moore‘s outdoor sculptures, you need to walk around them and observe them from different angles. These sculptures change according to the sun light, clouds, shadows, and it is hard not to be mesmorised by them. Like Moore said: “Sculpture is like a journey. You have a different view as you return. The three-dimensional world is full of surprised in a way that a two-dimensional world could never be.”

Interestingly, this insightful statement seems to be relevant to how we live today… as we are so bogged down and obsessed with the two-dimensional world behind the screens that many are unable to experience life or interact with other human beings and their surroundings in reality.


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Top & bottom right: Henry Moore at Tate Britain; Bottom left: The Arch by Moore at Kensington gardens


Although we all felt quite exhausted after walking for hours, the day excursion was inspiring and uplifting for us all. And if you cannot make a trip to Perry Green before the end of the month, you can always visit Tate Britain, where you would find two permanent galleries dedicated to his work.

I also discovered an interview of Moore from the from the BBC archive: Henry Moore at Home, where you can hear him talk about private art collection and his fascination with sheep.


The Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, SG10 6EE.