Monday, March 12, 2007

Altar Stones to local Goddesses

The north east of England has a surprising number of Romano-British altar stones dedicated to local Goddesses. Not surprisingly many of these are specifically dedicated to Brigantia of the Brigantes. There are some fine examples at Arbeia at the very eastern end of Hadrian's Wall. The one pictured above is set in a quiet garden there and it is a joy to be able to leave an offering of altar plants (Verbena) and rest awhile in the presence of the Goddess.

Nearer home two unique altar stones were discovered at Ilkley. The parish church stands on the sight of a Roman fort and some of the stone from the fort was used in its construction. This included an altar stone depicting a Goddess in a pleated dress holding a snake in each hand. The second altar stone was found under the stairs of a house. It bears the inscription, VERBEIAE SACRVM CLODIVS FRONTO PRAEF COH II LINGON (To holy Verbeia, Clodius Fronto, prefect of the Second Cohort of Lingones dedicated this). The original became the property of the Catholic Church and is now hidden away somewhere but a copy can be seen in the Manor House Museum. It is possible that in these two altar stones we have both an image and a dedication to the Goddess Verbeia.

Verbeia is now recognised as the Goddess of the river Wharfe which flows from her source at Langstrothdale Chase in the Yorkshire Dales for 97 kilometres until she joins the river Ouse passing through Ilkley along the way. The Wharfe has always had a reputation of being very dangerous and many people have drowned whilst swimming. Upstream from Ilkley is the Strid, a narrow gorge at some points less than two metres across at the surface. The gap looks as if it can be jumped easily, but is deceptive as the many ledges on the sides are at different heights and often very slippery. Many people have fallen in and drowned. Fierce currents that run through this section drag people down where they become trapped among the underwater ledges, and hollows carved by the rapids.

Dangerous rivers are full of the wild powerful energy of the Goddess and their very power is reflected in local legend. It is said that whenever the Strid claims a victim a white horse appears at the spot. Another tale speaks of a pony that appears to travellers trying to cross the river but if the traveller mounts the pony it gallops off to the deepest whirlpool. And then there is the tale of Jinny Pullen a witch said to have lived on the banks of the Wharfe who was noted for crossing the river in a sieve.

All these cautionary tales remind us that our forebears treated the Wharfe - its awesome power and wild natural beauty - with a great deal of respect. In Spring she brings the dale to life again and in Summer she brings a greening to the land.

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Blogger deborah oak said...

lovely. last spring I visited the British isles at this time and remember so clearly the daffodils... are they out?

Blogger Sojourner said...

Hi Paul!

This is awesome. Thank you for sharing the picture and the information.

I am wondering - is this in a place where it is easy for tourists to visit? :) I'm thinking it would be neat to pay this location a visit if I could when I am in England.

Blogger Paul said...

Yes, Deborah the daffodils are in full bloom everywhere. This is such a beautiful time of year.

Hi Sojourner, yes, the River Wharfe runs through the Yorkshire Dales National Park which is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Ilkley has good bus and train links. The Strid and the rest of Wharfedale really need either a walking holiday or car hire. All the places mentioned have easy public access. Arbeia is in the far north-east of England by Hadrian's Wall. There is an excellent museum there. I'd be more than happy to show you Wharfedale if you are in the UK.

Blogger Sojourner said...

Thank you for offering to show me the area! I will be in the UK at the end of April through the end of May, so if that works for you, let me know.

Would you be willing to email me to continue this conversation? :) (I don't want to clutter up your comment with my questions.)


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