Sequana, Celtic River Goddess


 Whenever we are in Dijon, I pay a visit to the Archaeological Museum to see this magical goddess in her duck boat. Although it is only just over a foot  tall, it has the power of many much larger bronzes.

sequana sequana head

This bronze image of Sequana dates from 100 AD and resides in the Archaeological Museum in Dijon. It was discovered at the source of the Seine.

 

Sequana was the goddess of the River Seine; particularly the springs at the source of the Seine, located in the valley of the Chatillon Plateau north-west of Dijon in Burgundy. Standing in a duck boat (the duck holds a ball in its beak) and wearing a diadem, she stretches out her arms to welcome pilgrims who visited her shrine. Water was venerated by the Celts as a source of the life-force, as well as for its cleansing and  curative  properties. Her followers were called by the Romans the tribe of the Sequani.

coin reverse
A gold Sequani coin circa 1st century BC.

 The Sequani were a Gallic people who occupied the upper river basin of the Saone, the valley of the Doubs, and the Jura Mountains. Their territory corresponds to the modern Franche-Comte and part of Burgundy.

Most of what we know of the religion of the Celtic Gauls is from the Commentarii de Bello Gallico, Julius Caesar's firsthand account of his nine years of war in Gaul.  From that work we are informed that the people practiced animism, ascribing human characteristics to lakes, streams, mountains, and other natural features and awarding them a quasi-divine status, such as Sequana. Some animals were regarded as sacred, especially the boar.

 Their system of gods and goddesses was loose. There was no real theology, just a set of related and evolving traditions of worship. Some of the gods were related to Greek gods; the primary god worshiped at the time of the arrival of Caesar was Teutates, the Gallic equivalent of Hermes. The father god in Gallic worship was "Dis Pater," the Greek Zeus.

The Druids formed a class of priest. They closely guarded the oral secrets of their order and were influential over the people of Gaul. They monitored the religious activities of the Gauls and were in charge of educating the aristocracy. They had the power of excommunication from the assembly of worshipers, which meant a separation from secular society as well.


source of the seine
 The Fontes Sequanae today. 

 

At Fontes Sequanae (The Springs of Sequana) she was worshiped since perhaps 500 BC.  In the first century BC, a healing shrine dedicated to Sequana was established, the sanctuary was later taken over by the Romans who built two temples there. All that remains of these temples are their foundations, however two pottery vessels were discovered in this area, the first vessel contained over a hundred carved effigies of eyes, breasts, limbs, heads and even carved internal organs, the second vessel  contained eight hundred similar carvings.  Images such as these are generally linked with healing centers and the carvings represent the afflicted area in need of the deity's attention.  Likely the pilgrims attending the sacred shrine entered a dormitory building where they would take a sacred sleep, in the hopes of receiving a vision of the healer goddess.  At the top of the hill would have been the main sanctuary and this, at least in Roman times, would have contained an image of the goddess.

In 1864 the city of Paris bought the domain of Les Sources de la Seine  to celebrate the river that runs through Paris. They constructed a grotto and placed this statue there.

sequana modern
The lady in the background has reason to laugh; it is indeed  a silly statue.

Here is a link to a reconstruction of the Gallo-Roman sanctuary.

 

dijon  museum

Archeological Museum, Dijon

End