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Nehalennia

A few weeks ago I visited a place that I wanted to go for ages: the Nehalennia Temple in Colijnsplaat (province of Zeeland in The Netherlands). It is a reconstruction (based on archaeological studies and findings), dedicated to the goddess Nehalennia. It’s free to visit, but if you want to go inside you’ll have to contact the manager beforehand. It’s better not to emphasize the pagan interest in her too much; the management is more interested in history and archaeology, and the area is considered mainly christian and not too much into paganism. The original Nehalennia Temple was situated in the international port city called Ganuenta, just 500 meters from the reconstruction where nowadays the Oosterschelde flows.

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In the time of the Nehalennia worship (about 200 years in the first three centuries of our era) this was Roman territory (Germania Inferior), inhabited by Romans, Celts and Germanic tribes. They asked her for protection (safe passage over sea to Brittanica), fertility (agriculture, fruit culture), high profits & prosperity in trade and guidance for the souls of the deceased. They built votive stones and altars for her in return. After this relatively short period of worship it seems Nehalennia was forgotten, until remains of her temple near Domburg were found in the 17th century. In 1970 a fisherman found a votive stone with inscriptions in his nets near Colijnsplaat. More votive stones and other remains of her temple were discovered. The inscriptions in Latin show us the reason for placing the votive stones, most are about a safe passage to England. An example of a typical inscription:

DEAE N(e)HALENNIAE To the goddess Nehalennia, 

OB MERCES RECTE CONSERVATAS on account of goods duly kept safe, 

M(arcus) SECVND(inius) SILVANVS Marcus Secundinius Silvanus, 

NEGOTIATOR CRETARIVS BRITANNICIANVS trader in pottery with Britain, 

V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) M(erito) fulfilled his vow willingly and deservedly.

 

Inscriptions are also found in Cologne, Germany (back then the capital of Germania Inferior). Because of a fire in 1848, only three pieces remain of the Domburg votive altars (in the Zeeuws Museum in Middelburg, and the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels). The Colijnsplaat altars are displayed in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (Dutch National Museum of Antiquities) in Leiden, a permanent exhibition as part of the Roman Era collection. I visited the exhibition in 2009, but hope to go back again soon. In archaeological theme park Archeon another temple for Nehalennia has been built. It has a colourful statue of the goddess and several replicas of votive stones. It is situated in the Roman area of the park. The temple complex in Archeon consists of a walled courtyard, a pillar dedicated to Jupiter, an annex (all found in Maastricht) and the temple as main building (found, among others, in Cuijk).

 

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Nehalennia statue in the reconstructed temple in Colijnsplaat

 

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One of the votive altars

 

Nehalennia is portrayed holding loaves and apples in a basket and she is accompanied by a dog. Sometimes parts of a ship or other marine symbols are added. She wears a short cloak called ‘pelerine’. On some votive altars she is shown with a cornucopia.

Sometimes she is referred to as Neel or Neeltje Jans, common Dutch names, used locally and as a hypocorism or pet name. Always with respect of course! There is a lot of speculation about the origins of her name. The most likely (linguistically explicable) explanation is from West-Germanic: ‘she who lives near the water’. Neha =nearby, halen/lenne = water area, -ia = female suffix.

Today Nehalennia is embraced by the pagan community in the lowlands and some abroad. Because she is associated with Germanic, Celtic ánd Roman worship she fits right in and is very much ‘alive’ again. The Dutch folk metal band Heidevolk has a song called “Nehalennia” which alludes to the goddess’s mythology. Dutch trance DJ Armin Van Buuren produced a song called “Nehalennia” with DJ Arty in 2013. In the area concerned Nehalennia is known by everyone, not only the pagans. A viaduct that wears her name, boats, companies, etc.

To me personally she is a sea and coastal area goddess, especially the North Sea . I live in a harbour town on the west coast of The Netherlands. I love the sea, the beach and the dunes and that’s where I talk to her. I always take my dogs with me and bring a little offering for her: an apple, piece of bread, shells, etc. Sometimes I make a shell mandala on the beach, close to the water so she’ll take it when the water comes up.

 

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Nehalennia Temple in Colijnsplaat

Did you hear of the goddess Nehalennia before? I hope this short introduction and pictures sparked your interest. There is lots more to explore about her!

Blessings

Sources and other interesting stuff: