30 DECEMBER 1995, Page 22

LETTERS Eclipse of the sun

Sir: At the time of year which has just passed I am always reminded of a religious figure who was first thought to have been born in a cave, discovered by shepherds who brought him gifts, and who later ascended into heaven to intercede between Man and the Supreme Being. Furthermore he baptised his followers with the sign of the cross, celebrated his communion with a meal of bread and wine to signify the body and the blood, and taught the doctrine of heaven and hell, good and evil, a final judg- ment and the immortality of the soul. His birthday was celebrated on the winter sol- stice (25 December) and his rebirth com- memorated at Easter and his holy day of the week was Sunday — known as 'the Lord's Day'. He was worshipped by several Roman Emperors and for a time his was the official state religion, his temples spread over the whole of the then civilised world and, indeed, one of them can be found in the City of London to this very day.

He was, of course, Mithras the Sun God. The official Roman state religion, to be found wherever the Roman army con- quered and certainly over 400 years before the birth of Christ, was Mithraism. Howev- er, when Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity and missionaries travelled throughout the Empire, no doubt it was easy for them to latch on to established teachings and beliefs — hence our Christ- mas story.

Nevertheless, I cannot escape the feeling that there is and always has been a conspir- acy of silence among Christians who never tell us about the possibility that the Gospel story relates to another religion. And would you believe it? — they go on blessing the crib. Mr Enoch Powell tells me that the mention of a 'cave' is interesting because there is an early variant reading in Matthew which replaces 'manger' with 'cave'.

Brian Davis

Pen Cottage, Box, Gloucestershire