A sparkle of the Divine

The remains of a fourth Century woman living in Britannia unveiled the story of the extraordinary movement of people and ideas in the late Roman Empire.

In March 1999, a stone sarcophagus containing a rare lead coffin decorated with scallop shells was uncovered in Spitalfields.

It indicated the burial of someone of great wealth and high status. Grave goods of fine glass and jet were buried between the coffin and the sarcophagus. Analysis of residue in the coffin revealed that her head lay upon a pillow of bay leaves, her body was embalmed with oils from the Arab world and the Mediterranean, and wrapped in silk which had been interwoven with fine gold thread.

Such an elaborate presentation suggests she may have been displayed to her family and friends seventeen hundred years ago as part of funeral rites.

The “Spitalfields princess” was following the cult of Dionysus, widespread at that time in the Roman Empire and strongly associated with images of centaurs, bulls and wine.

In fact it was a mystery religion where the God represented the spark of divinity in the earth and the source of new life for all its followers.


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