The Temple of Nodens: Rings, Curses & Dwarves
You may recall my last post about the Devil's Chapel in the Forest of Dean, it's close proximity to the Lydney estate and the traditional link with JRR Tolkien as he was involved with some nearby archaeology. What were they digging up ?
When the Romans occupied large parts of Britain they were very active in the Forest of Dean area, mining iron ore and red ochre. A temple, small villa and bath house were built on a hill in what is now Lydney Park, very close to the estuary of the River Severn. Incredibly, much of these buildings survived into the 20th century and were thoroughly excavated during the 1920s. We know now that the complex was dedicated to the worship of the god “Nodens”, thought to be a Celtic deity that the Romans equated with Mars and sometimes Neptune. His worship was seen as essential to the fishing and shipping work on the estuary.
The bathhouse layout and foundations were and still are very clear, a tank of water slightly uphill would pour water down though a pipe to feed the hot baths where underfloor furnaces with heat conducting pillars maintain the temperature. All this is still in situ. Next was a cold water area then a station for oiling of the skin, then once thoroughly cleaned the individual was ready to enter the temple. A wide set of steps leads into what was the temple, the floor now is bare but during the excavations an impressive mosaic was discovered. This features two strange sea creatures entwined in either combat or a symbolic dance, and an inscription telling us
“To the god Nodens, Titus Flavious Senilis, officer in charge of the supply depot of the fleet, laid this pavement out of money offerings, the work being in charge of Victorious, interpreter of the Governor’s staff”
Here is where JRR Tolkien comes in. He was asked to provide a detailed translation of what the name Nodens meant, it's root forms and possible cognates, and he did this masterfully. In his opinion Nodens comes first from a Germanic root “neut” meaning to catch, trap or aquire, then into a later Celtic term “noudent” meaning almost the same thing. He noted the undeniable similarity with Nuada, the legendary first king of the Tuatha de Danann who lost a hand then had it replaced with a magical silver one, and the Welsh Ludd who went through the same thing. The association with Mars is interesting as he is often equated with the later Norse and Anglo Saxon god Tyr (Tiw to the AS) who also lost a hand.
Now, many say that Tolkien most definitely did visit the site and roam around the surrounding area, including Devil's Chapel and nearby Dwarves Hill, including the Lydney Park curators. This would have been a huge influence on his creation of Middle Earth, but some within the field of Tolkien study say there is nothing in the acknowledgements of the archaeology team that mentions him, and that he did it all from his desk. A mystery indeed, but aside from the concept of Nodens, something else definitely ignited an idea within him.
A real treasure trove of artefacts were found, numerous bangles and bracelets, pins, brooches, figurines, coins and the strange discovery of thousands of counterfeit Roman coins. Perhaps the temple staff had a sideline in swindling visitors? Numerous plates and slabs were found with inscriptions detailing various thanks, offerings etc by prominent people but the most famous one was a lead “curse tablet” inscribed thus...
“DEVO NODENTI SILVIANVS ANILVM PERDEDIT DEMEDIAM PARTEM DONAVIT NODENTI INTER QVIBVS NOMEN SENICIANI NOLLIS PETMITTAS SANITATEM DONEC PERFERA VSQVE TEMPLVM DENTIS”
“For the god Nodens. Silvianus has lost a ring and has donated one-half (of it's value) to Nodens. Among those named Senicianus permit no good health until it is returned to the temple of Nodens”
So here is a “one ring”, with a curse, a god with a silver hand, mystical old mines and a nearby “Dwarves Hill”. Celebrimbor, silver handed elven smith of the rings of power, the dwarves mining deep into the earth, and “one ring to rule them all”. Incredibly, the ring belonging to Silvianus was actually found in a field hundreds of miles away in Hampshire! Senicianus had his name hurriedly carved into it along with a “Vivus in Deo” - “live in God” - in fact carved so quickly it was misspelt as “vivus iin de”.
The ring is currently held in a small library and museum within The Vyne estate near Basingstoke so should hopefully be there for all to see as restrictions end, and the same applies to the temple of Nodens, it is on a part of the beautiful Lydney Park estate which usually welcomes visitors in the summer. May Nodens make it so.
The temple of Nodens
Steps leading into the temple
A realistic painting of the mosaic found in the temple floor, now sadly gone
Hot water area of the baths
Underfloor heating system of the baths, note the thermal pillars that conduct heat upwards
The temple ruins today
The ring of Silvanius...or Senacius
Impression of the original curse tablet of Silvanius