Who Was Coventina?

Though Coventina is widely regarded as a goddess of great importance to the ancient Celts and the Romano-British culture, there is very little known about her or her origins.

What we do know is that Coventina was a goddess of wells and springs and that quite a few inscriptions were discovered to and of her in Northumberland near Hadrian?s Wall. On the Northumberland moors, there is a temple or shrine dedicated to Coventina, where a well had been built over the spring, now called Coventina?s Well.

A short story about Coventina can be found in Stories From the Northern Frontier by Newcastle University?s Museum of Antiquities, and it goes like this: 

?A long time ago in the wild and peaty moors of Northumberland, there lived Coventina, a beautiful goddess of a spring where the native people and animals visited her and drank the cool, refreshing water. One day Roman engineers arrived and ordered soldiers to build a wall stretching from the horizon where the sun rose to that where the sun set. The soldiers needed freshwater, and they constructed a square wall around Coventina?s spring to make a well. They piped the water to their fort and the soldiers and their families visited offering gifts in return for the goddess? help.

Years later the new Christian religion spread throughout the Roman world. Emperor Constantine commanded that the temples and shrines to Roman gods be demolished. People carefully took down Coventina?s altars and incense burners and placed them gently in the well. In time the Roman army marched away and was never seen again. For centuries, Coventina and her treasures remained unnoticed and unloved.?

There is some truth to this story, as when the well and surrounding areas were excavated in 1876, more than 13,000 coins, as well as incense burners, jewelry, and carved stones, were discovered. 

Some believe it wasn?t soldiers who constructed the well, but rather Coventina?s worshippers. It is believed that they covered the spring with stones and building blocks in an attempt to conceal it, after Emperor Theodosius I ordered the destruction of all temples and shrines dedicated to the old gods and goddesses in AD 391.

The Wishing Well

Have you ever tossed coins into a fountain or well, closed your eyes and made a wish? We all have. But have you ever stopped to think about where that tradition originated?

There is a reason that when excavated, 13,000 coins were found in Coventina?s Well. That?s because it?s believed that her well was the origin of the Wishing Well lore. 

For the Celts, water was always believed to have magic properties. It was life-giving and healing. And all bodies of water, be it an ocean or a small spring, were inhabited by deities. Coventina was believed to be a goddess of sympathetic magick – like attracts like. So her devotees, in the hopes that she would grant them some form of sympathetic magick, would toss coins into her well and say a prayer to her, asking for help. 

And thus, the tradition of the Wishing Well was born.

Depictions of Coventina

Being a water goddess (sometimes called the Queen of River Goddesses), Coventina represented abundance, prophecy, inspiration, and sometimes (depending on who you speak to) healing. 

Though there were no artifacts excavated at Coventina?s Well to suggest that she was worshipped as a goddess of healing, the fact that she was a water goddess is why she?s often also depicted as a healer. As mentioned earlier, especially to the ancient Celts, water equaled healing. 

In statues and bas relief excavated both at her site in the Northumberland moors, as well as other places around Europe, like Gaul, France, Coventina is depicted as a water nymph. Often laying on a water lily or reclining in water. In one particular Roman-style bas relief found at Carrawburgh, where her well is located, she is portrayed as a triune. A triple goddess taking the form of three water nymphs pouring water from amphorae.  

Though she is not as well known as other ancient deities these days, in her time, Coventina was held in high regard by her devotees and was given high ranking titles such as Sancta, which means holy, and Augusta, which means revered. 

To learn more about Coventina as well as other ancient gods and goddesses, visit us at Coven Cloud. Welcome home.

Linda Green

Linda Green

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