The Goddess Nehalennia

The goddess Nehalennia was worshipped in ancient Roman times by the people of the Schelde delta; what is now Zeeland in the Netherlands. She is always depicted with a basket of fruit and/or loaves, and a dog. Nobody knows why.

She had been largely forgotten by history until 1645, when a massive storm shifted the coastal dunes revealing a lost temple near the town of Domburg. Dozens of votive plaques to Nehalennia were found, all showing her with her dog and her basket of apples. It is thought that sailors threw them overboard, or otherwise dedicated them, at the start of a voyage to pray for safety.

The many votive plaques were stored in the church in Domburg. One night in 1848 the church was struck by lightning, caught fire and collapsed, destroying the ancient limestone within. (I am not making this up.) Only one of the ancient tablets to Nehalennia survived, because it had been lent to scholars in Brussels and had not been returned following Belgian independence. The sole surviving tablet is now in the Cinquantenaire Museum, and I went to see it with little U at Christmas time.

Since 1970, more tablets to Nehalennia have been coming to light a bit further along the coast at Colijnsplaat, where local pagan enthusiasts have now built a small Roman-era-style temple to the goddess, which I visited last September.

It includes both a genuine Roman Nehalennia tablet and a more modern vision of the divinity.

Local pagans use the building for weddings and other celebrations. It is good to see the memory of a powerful woman being revived and venerated, even if she probably never existed.