An underground pagan ‘black magic’ church has been discovered unveiled for the first time in 2,000 years 40 feet beneath Roman ruins.
The esoteric cult church room predating Christianity, has left historians baffled as to its purpose and origins.
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Some of the gods and classical heroes identified on the walls include Achilles, Orpheus, Paris and Hercules.
At the entrance is a head of Medusa and, inside, the walls are painted red at the base, alongside images of centaurs, griffins and satyrs.
Now, historians believe that the room was built by the influential Statilius family for followers of Neopythagoreanism, a mystical school of Hellenistic philosophy that preached asceticism.
The little-known cult was based on the writings and doctrines of Pythagoras and Plato.
But, the mother of Emperor Nero, Agrippina, accused the family of black magic and the head of the family Titus Statilius Taurus was investigated by the Senate.
The ruthless mother also branded the cult as ‘occult worshippers’ and followers of ‘illicit rites’.
Titus Statilius Taurus claimed innocence but committed suicide in AD53 as the cult was hunted down and destroyed.
Dr Giovanna Bandini, the director of the site, explained: “There were lots of cults worshipped at the time and the empire was in general fairly tolerant towards them.
“But this one was seen as a threat because it discounted the idea of the emperor as a divine mediator between mortals and the gods.”
Dr Bandini added: “This place is unique in the Roman world in terms of its architecture and design. It was a precursor to the basilicas built during the Christian era, centuries later.”
The chamber space has been painstakingly restored over the past decade and has since been opened to the public for the first time.