Senua Ritual Site, England

A previously unknown Romano-British Goddess has been identified at a site near Baldock in Hertfordshire. A metal-detector enthusiast last year discovered twenty six pieces of gold and silver at an unidentified field, including figurines and plaques. The finds were reported to the British Museum, who have spent the time since then prising lumps of encrusted soil from the gold and corroded silver of the figurine, and trying to decipher the faint inscriptions on the votive plaques.

Image of Senua from votive silver plaque from the site

Now it has emerged that the pieces were dedicated to a Goddess whose name was Senua, and whose shrine, probably a ritual pool, was at the place where the finds were made. Ralph Jackson, Roman curator at the British Museum, said: “To find a hoard of a temple treasure, such as this one, is incredibly rare, not just in Britain but anywhere. To give Britain a new Goddess is extraordinary”.

He believes Senua was probably an older Celtic Goddess, worshipped at a spring on the site, who was then adopted and Romanised, and possibly twinned with their Goddess Minerva. There is a direct parallel at Bath, where the Romans absorbed the Celtic Goddess Sulis, and a much older shrine, into their worship of Minerva. Senua’s shrine would probably have consisted of a ritual spring, into which offerings were thrown, surrounded by a complex of buildings, including workshops and accommodation for pilgrims. The offerings include silver plaques with gold highlights, seven gold plaques, and a superb set of jewellery,

including a brooch and cloak clasps. The plaques still have the metal tabs which allowed them to be set upright, and they are so thin that they would have shivered and glittered in any draught.

In addition to the jewellery, the major find was of the silver figurine, which although badly corroded nevertheless revealed who she was. The base of the statuette was found nearby, and when the inscription was deciphered it revealed the name of the Goddess Senua. “It was an extraordinary moment” said Dr. Jackson, “like seeing her reborn before my eyes”.

The finds from the Shrine are on display at the British Museum from November 2003-March 2004.