The Museum and its Branches

„Fossa Sanguinis“ Pavilion

In 1956 during rescue excavations at present-day Gepaplatz in Neuss-Gnadental a small cellar was discovered that has since become known far beyond  the borders of the city as the Cybele Cult Cellar. It has mistakenly been construed as a “blood baptism cellar”, but its construction is quite different from the solid Roman quarried stone masonry of the 1st to 3rd centuries AD. The irregular and amateurish stonework with re-used Roman hewn blocks is so unstable that it would not have supported above-ground masonry. The stones are set in the natural sand without mortar. The joints of several stone layers lie vertically over one another. Unusual features are the small bricked bench and the two opposing stairs of the cellar that only measures 1.8 by 1.8 meters. Excavations have so far not provided clues as to what was located above the cellar. Even during the excavation work the two puzzling stairways suggested that the cellar had had a cultic purpose. It was thought it might be connected with the taurobolium, the bull’s blood baptism, a ritual in the cult of Cybele as described by the late 4th century poet Prudentius. The goddess Cybele from Asia Minor had been worshipped in Rome as the Magna Mater (Great Mother of Gods) since the 3rd century BC. Her mystery cult was characterized by orgiastic, ecstatic rituals. In the taurobolium a bull was butchered over a trench covered with a platform of planks through which its blood dripped onto a priest beneath the platform. All hitherto known Roman Cybele sanctuaries were located in ordinary podium temples, none of which had a baptismal cellar. However Prudentius also explicitly mentions a trench dug in the ground, not a cellar. The site in Neuss so far has yielded no indication that it was used to worship the goddess Cybele. Two small female terracotta figurines found near the cellar and a third figure from a grave in Kölner Strasse depicting an enthroned goddess with a crown were previously erroneously identifiedas Cybele. Today we know that they probably represent local Germanic or Gallo-Roman mother goddesses. The finds in the cellar backfill do not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the former use of the cellar. They include, alongside finely fragmented settlement pottery from the nearby legionary suburb, several small consecration altars (one with a Jupiter inscription) and parts of a Jupiter column. Additionally, excavations in the soil with which the cellar was filled after it was abandoned unearthed Roman coins with the portraits of the Emperors Constantine I (313/315) and Constans (341/346). This suggests that the cellar was backfilled in the mid-4th century at the earliest. It is even possible that it does not date from Roman times but from a later period. The “Fossa Sanguinis” exhibition pavilion was erected over the cellar in 1961.

 

"Fossa Sanguinis" Pavilion

Gepaplatz

41460 Neuss