Nehalennia (spelled variously) is a Germanic or Celtic goddess attested by votive deposits discovered around what is now called the province of Zeeland, the Netherlands, where the Rhine River flowed into the North Sea, whose worship dates back at least to the 2nd century BCE, and who flourished in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE.
Nehalennia is attested on 28 inscriptions discovered in the Dutch town of Domburg, a similar number discovered between 1971 and 1972 in the town of Colijnsplaat, and 2 others from the Cologne-Deutz area of what is now Cologne, Germany. In August 2005, a replica of the Nehalennia temple near the lost town of Ganuenta was opened in Colijnsplaat. Asteroid 2462, or 6578 P-L, is named after the goddess.
The name "Nehalennia" is a Latin transcription of a non-Latin language, and thus the real name would probably have lost much of its local vocalization. Various etymologies have been proposed. According to some theorists, because the name Nehalennia is not known to be either a Celtic
name, it must be quite old, at least from the 2nd century BCE. In phonetic comparisons with other names in the region, Jacob Grimm
discussed how Neha-
is also used as suffix for plural females (for example -nehis
), possibly meaning something like "nymphs"
. The goddess has also been adduced as evidence of a controversial non-Celitc non-Germanic Indo-European Nordwestblock
Nehalennia is almost always depicted with marine symbols and a large, benign-looking dog at her feet. The votive stones found depict her sitting down with a basket of apples
, the dog at her side, and sometimes with a scepter
in her hands. In some depictions she rests her foot on a ship, or holds a ship's oar
. Several of the offerings have inscriptions thanking her for safe passage across the North Sea. Hilda Ellis Davidson
describes the votive objects:
Nehalennia, a Germanic goddess worshipped at the point where travellers crossed the North Sea from the Netherlands, is shown on many carved stones holding loaves and apples like a Mother Goddess, sometimes with a prow of a ship beside her, but also frequently with an attendant dog which sits looking up at her (Plate 5). He was on thirteen of the twenty-one altars recorded by Ada Hondius-Crone (1955: 103), who describes him as a kind of greyhound.
Davidson further links the motif of the ship associated with Nehalennia with the Germanic Vanir
pair of Freyr
, as well as the Germanic goddess Nerthus
, and draws a connection between the loaves of bread that appear on some depictions Nehalennia with oblong, shin-bone shaped loaves of bread baked in the shape of a boar at the time of Yule
. Davidson further states that customs in Värmland
, Sweden "within living memory" describe grain from the last sheaf
being used to bake a loaf into the shape of a little girl, as well as examples of elaborate loaves being used for religious festivals, for fertility of fields in Anglo-Saxon England
, and examples from Ireland
Religious practices surrounding Nehalennia were at their peak in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, at which time there were at least two to possibly three temples located in the area of what is now Zeeland. At the time, this region on the sea coast was an important link for the trade between the Rhine
area and Britain
. It is known that the tribe of the Morini
, who lived in what is now the Netherlands, bordering the North Sea coast, worshipped Nehalennia. Visitors came to worship from as far away as Besançon
, France and Trier
, Germany. Nehalennia had two sanctuaries or shrines, embellished with numerous altars: one at Domburg
on the island of Walcheren
, and another at Colijnsplaat
on the shore of the Oosterschelde
. Both are now submerged beneath the North Sea due to the floods and changing seas in Southern Netherlands.
- Davidson, H. R. Ellis (1990). Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-013627-4.
- Green, Miranda (1992). Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art.
- Green, Miranda (1998). Animals in Celtic Life and Myth. London, UK: Routledge.
- Grimm, Jacob (1835). Deutsche Mythologie (German Mythology); From English released version Grimm's Teutonic Mythology (1888); Available online by Northvegr 2004-2007: Chapter 13, page 3 File retrieved 09-24-2007.
- Lendering, Jona, Nehalennia, July 2006 File retrieved 09-24-2007.
- Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer. ISBN 0859915131
- Van der Velde, Koert (August 13, 2005). Zeeuwse godin weer thuis. Trouw (Dutch newspaper).