Black and white photograph of the view from above the Telesterion across the modern village and bay of Elefsina

The Mysterious Site of Eleusis

The third installation as part of our Impressions of Greece exhibition series.

'The mysterious site of Eleusis' is the third iteration of our ongoing exhibition series, Impressions of Greece that brings together ancient Greek artefacts with the landscapes and culture of modern Greece captured in the photographs of William J Woodhouse between 1890 and 1920. 

This installation is focused on the sanctuary of Eleusis, dedicated to the mother-daughter goddesses Demeter and Persephone. 

The photographs featured in the display present the archaeological site as explored by Woodhouse in the early 20th century. This includes the entrance to the site following the sacred way looking towards the Ploutonion, or entrance to the underworld; one looking at the Telesterion, with remnants of central square columns that would have supported the superstructure and was the heart of sacred rituals that took place; and one looking out from the top of the Telesterion over the site and captures the modern village that abuts the ancient site. 

The artefacts chosen to accompany the photographs all relate to the cult of Demeter and Persephone. A gold pomegranate pendant is featured as it was the sweet nectar of a pomegranate that Hermes fed Persephone in the underworld that ensured she would be trapped for part of the year with Hades (winter), and return to earth bringing joy to her mother Demeter and allowing crops to grow (spring). 

The two seated goddess figurines and a figurine of a boar/pig dated to the Classical period (500–330BC) conjure the mysterious female rites that took place during the worship of Demeter and Persephone. Known as a mystery cult, the rules and rituals that took place during their annual festival were only revealed to the initiates. Surviving evidence from second-hand accounts, ancient artefacts and bio-archaeological studies have demonstrated that a key aspect of the cult was the sacrifice of pigs. 

Header image: William Woodhouse, [View from above the Telesterion across the modern village and bay of Elefsina], Ελευσίνα, Ελλάδα (Eleusis), Greece, ca. 1890–1910, Nicholson Collection, NM2007.122.2