3) Places of devotions and religious offerings

Except in cases of re-employment* - which does not give any information on the religious context -, inscriptions will be studied in their archaeological context: the structure and function(s) of the place of devotion and the nature of the votive offerings will be analysed. Since, as we have noted, the Celts did not write, dedications belong to sanctuaries dating from Gallo-Roman and Romano-British times only. The Celts had nonetheless significant places of worship, which they undeniably dedicated to deities, but their identity remains unknown and open to speculation. Celtic sanctuaries and Celtic religious cults are comprehensively studied by Jean-Louis Brunaux in his works entitled Les Gaulois, Sanctuaires et rites (1986), La religion des gaulois (2000) and Guerre et religion en Gaule (2004). Celtic places of devotion were generally enclosed areas, marked out by a wooden fence or a ditch, with a single entrance and a central pit, called ‘hollowed altar’ or ‘offering well’, where food, animal carcasses or weapons were deposited and left to decompose as an offering to the deity of the place. Examples of such types are the 3rd/2nd-century BC sanctuary of Gournay-sur-Aronde (Oise) and the early 3rd-century BC sanctuary of Ribemont-sur-Ancre (Somme).57

Gallo-Roman and Romano-British religious monuments were often erected on ancient Celtic foundations or places of worship, but this remains difficult to prove, as the materials used by the Celts were putrefiable – they did not use stone but wood – and the places of devotions are not always identifiable – they could be marked out by a ditch, an altar dug in the ground, a tree, etc. In Gallo-Roman/Romano-British times, the sanctuaries, known as ‘fana’, were usually composed of two square or rectangular rooms in stone fitted into each other. The inner room, called a ‘cella’, was open to the east and generally contained a cult image or statue representing the particular deity venerated in the temple and an altar where the votive offerings were deposited. The outer wall of the second room formed a gallery around the cella, where pilgrims would ritually walk around. Such types are exemplified by Coventina’s Well near Carrawburgh (GB) or by the sanctuary dedicated to Apollo and Sirona in Hochscheid (Germany). Other important religious buildings were the water sanctuaries, composed of baths and religious rooms erected near a sacred spring, where pilgrims would come to take the waters, pray to the deities and leftex-votos or ‘votive offerings’ in their honour. The ex-votos fall into different categories: dedications; statuettes in white earth representing protective deities, such Mother Goddesses or Venus; wooden or stone statuettes picturing pilgrims and swaddled infants; coins; jewels; and anatomic ex-votos, which depicted diseased body parts, such as heads, legs, arms, torsos, feet, hands, internal organs (lung, heart, etc) and eyes. They were for example found in large number at the sanctuary of the Sources-de-la-Seine (Côte d’Or), presided over by Sequana, the goddess of the River Seine. Ex-votos are important to study, for they attest to a cult rendered to a goddess and can shed light on her nature and attributes. Anatomic ex-votos for instance clearly evidence the healing function of a goddess.


Brunaux, 1986, pp. 17-26 ; Brunaux, 2000, pp. 91-112 ; Brunaux, 2004, pp. 92-124.