Her name is lost to us, the last Melissa Battakes of Cybele in Rome, but we owe her a debt that cannot be repaid. The year is 397 CE, Julian is dead and the revival of Roman pagan practices and return to the honouring of Cybele with him. Julian had revived the "Cult of Rome", our religion, without the indignity of appointing a male archigallus over the Messillean priestesses at the Phrygianum. The christians are now in power again, John Chrysostom has almost finished the wholesale murder of Mother's priestesses even in the land of their origin. Just a scant six years before, the last burning of the library of Alexandra has taken place, perhaps the greatest crime the christians have to answer for against learning and ancient knowledge in the entire history of the world. The year before that, Theodosius had already reunited the Eastern and Western Empires, declared christianity as the Roman state religion of the reunited Empire, and blocked the restoration of the Altar in the Temple of Victory by the Roman Senate. He went on to outlaw all pagan religious practices by Roman citizens in 392.
The Cybelines were held practically captive in their Phrygianum on the Vatican hill. Mother's followers were prevented from worshiping at the Maetreum on the Palatine inside Rome itself. Word of the slaughter of the other Cybeline priestesses in the homeland and the vast eastern reaches of the Empire no doubt on their minds. They knew their days were numbered, yet they had the prophecy that even as the christians attempted to erase Mother and Her followers, so they too would fall when Her worship arose again. Knowing of this prophecy, the church was desperate to literally leave no stone unturned that had been raised towards Cybele, no representation of Her intact. Throughout the entire history of the church they never knowingly placed a christian church on a site that had been holy to Cybele despite the widespread practice of doing just that on the holy sites dedicated to other gods and goddesses.
The Battakes and her remaining priestesses gathered the statues and temple records and placed them in the marriage chamber, the inner sanctum of the Maetreum at the Phrygianum. When they finished, they closed of the entrances from the twin hallways that flanked the chamber, all beneath the Temple proper above. In doing so, they had protected the contents for none but the Melissa even knew of the chamber and while typical Roman construction had underground halls under the foundations, typically nothing but fill was between them. In this manner the statues, votives and records remained safe until the mid 1500's. Still the stone of Cybele, brought to Rome in 204 BCE, sitting as head of the figure of Cybele and primary symbol of Her to Rome sat unguarded in the Maetreum on the Palatine. We can only guess how the Battakes begged entrance to the main temple after the outrage the Cybelines must have felt when Serena, the wife of Roman general and christian zealot Stilecho, openly walked into Her temple and stole the sacred necklace from around Mother's statue. Already Stilecho had scraped the gold from the doorways of the Temple of Mercury and it was said that it was he who burned the Cybeline scrolls. For over five hundred years the stone and statue represented the state religion of Rome and had been the centre of the the Meglensia celebrations. The only other time such sacrilege had happened during those five hundred years was when the boy emperor, Elagabalus, had stolen the stone and paraded it through the streets of Rome in a wagon and then installed it in his temple on the west side of the Imperial Palace with the other artefacts he had looted from other religions. A gender variant, Elagabalus was said to been initiated into the outer circle of the Cybelines, but upon becoming Emperor, he attempted to establish the worship of a single male solar deity as the new state religion. He was torn to bits by the same centurions who only a few years before placed him in power and the stolen artefacts in his temple restored to their owners. His temple was sealed, never to be opened again. Elagabalus died unmourned by christian, pagan and Cybeline alike.
Finally given permission to go to the Maetreum on the Palatine after such an outrage with several of Cybeline priestesses, the Battakes executed a daring plan to hide the stone. It would have been impossible to return the stone to the Phrygianum unnoticed or remove it from Rome. It was clearly no longer safe from disrespectful christians or even common Romans. There was exactly one place in all of Rome that no one would ever look and it was a mere 200 or so feet from the Temple. By the dark of the new moon, this courageous woman and her priestesses carried the precious stone on a litter to the nearby Imperial Palace. Likely with the aide of a follower serving as watchman, they carefully pried open the sealed temple of Elagabalus, installed the stone in it's centre and then just as carefully resealed the breach. No doubt a day or two later she then reported the theft of the stone to the authorities, who would have not have cared or investigated.
They did not have long to wait until their time was over. In 405 CE, seven years later, the last known Cybeline priestesses were all brutally murdered in their own home, the Phrygianum on the Vatican.
The church thought they had beaten the prophecy..............
Circa 500 CE the church has been quite busy stamping out pagan practices all over europe. Imagine their horror to discover that the wooden Mary statues placed on the bases of former statues of Cybele were being visited at night and offerings of grain, honey and flowers left. Later, at St. Peters, the central building placed on the earlier catacombs and with quite firm foundations has all the additions on less stable material and sinking. Someone could not have helped but notice that the result bore a striking resemblance to the traditional "beehive" Temples of Cybele. In Italy, the first six victims of the "inquisition" were tried and convicted of being "Dianic", the witch charge a later stage change. All six chose death over conversion.
By the mid 1500's the church is once again comfortable with having stamped Cybeline practices, even Her name largely forgotten except by scholars. Upon the return to Rome as the centre of the church, Pope Pius IV was quite unhappy with the situation around St. Peter's. Being largely fill, the area is a swamp most of the summer with hoards of mosquitoes . The cathredal structure on the Lateran a ruins. Pius IV had a summer residence built on the site of a "complex of ancient temples" that surrounded a central, largely intact, courtyard. Being an avid classical scholar, he made the decision to restore the general "feel" of the structures. He retained noted architect, Pirro Ligorio to head the restoration.
To understand how we know the next part, one must first be aware of the church practices regarding materials reused from other sites. The church was always quite anal about recording each and every piece of marble and other primary materials taken from other sites. None are recorded for Casino Pio IV meaning all the materials used by Pirro Ligorio came from "on site". Additionally, the church suddenly acquired a large amount of Cybele and Attis statuary at this same time, again, standing alone in not having the source recorded among all the collections. One of the statues of Cybele was re-erected in the courtyard, known as the Nymphaea. That the courtyard is still called the Nymphaea, the statue of Cybele restored to it's position and the subsequent use by future Popes of this complex, it is almost impossible to believe the church did not know precisely what the site was. As late as the 1800's it was this complex that was reserved for women to meet with church officials. Today the complex is off limits to visitors. Clearly, during the reconstruction of the Phrygianum's Maetreum, the excavations opened the underground sealed off "marriage chamber" where more than 1100 years earlier the last Battakes of Cybele sealed them up to keep them safe. Only Cybele and the church know what other materials they uncovered and are still hiding.
In 1730, under the direction of Monsignor Bianchini, an excavation of the Roman Imperial Palace opened a temple on the west end that had been sealed up and later believed to be the temple constructed by Elagabalus. The notes indicate that "I am sorry that no fragment of a statue, or bas-relief, or inscription has been found in the chapel, because this absence of any positive indication prevents us from ascertaining the name of the divinity to whom the place was principally dedicated. The only object which I discovered in it was a stone nearly three feet high, conical in shape, of a deep brown color, looking very much like a piece of lava, and ending in a sharp point. No attention was paid to it, and I know not what became of it."
The stone of Cybele was very well known to scholars before and after Bianchini, even sometimes the subject of fiction. Either he was one of the most ignorant scholars the church ever produced, or he knew exactly what he had found and was instructed to blow it off. Again, I find it impossible to believe that the excavation of a Roman site within the city itself would be allowed to be directed by a scholar so ignorant of Roman history.
Today the Cybelines once again beat their frame drums (tars), and rattle the mountains with the sounds of cymbals. Once again a Phrygianum houses Cybele's daughters. Once again they eat from the drum, drink from the cymbal, carry the cernos and lay in the marriage chamber. Once again Her daughters dance in the light of the moon. It is time the church make amends and return that which they have taken or at least grant Her daughters access to it. Why do they continue to fear 1600 years later? Where is the faith in their own tradition?
-Rev. Battakes, Cathryn Platine