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During emergency excavations in Neuss during 1956, a stone cellar from the late-antique period was discovered. At the time, the building was thought to be a Fossa Sanguinis, a blood baptistery consecrated to the cult of Cybele.

During the Taurobolium, bull sacrifice ritual, a priest of the Great Mother goddess Cybele from Asia Minor descended into a pit, which was covered with a perforated wooden board. A bull was then slaughtered above him, and the blood of the animal streamed down onto the priest promising him rebirth and eternal life.

From today’s point of view this interpretation is questionable, as none of the Roman Cybele sanctuaries found to date have such a baptistery. Yet it is highly likely that the cellar had a sacral function even if its actual purpose is still unknown. One possibility is that it was Christian or a part of a Pagan temple, for instance for the Rhenish Mother Goddess Sunuxal.

The cellar is built from reused Roman bricks which probably came from a nearby sanctuary. The walls contain an altar for the highest Roman God, bearing the wording Lovis Optimus Maximus, best and greatest Jupiter. What is unusual about the place are the opposing staircases and a small brick bench in the cellar which is only 1.80m wide. There is nothing of this kind known from Roman cellars.

The irregular masonry gives rise to the assumption that the installation could only have been built after 300 A.D., after the Franconian invasions had led to a rapid economic and technical decline in the Lower Rhineland. Coins which were found here give evidence to the fact that the cellar was out of use after 341 A.D. Today, the cellar remains unique and without any direct parallels so far.

By Vincent Green, Sep 23 2012

Cybele Baptistry

41468 Neuss

+49 2131 120 669

Museum building


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