b) The ‘Mother-River’ Goddess

What were the functions of the goddess Matrona, embodiment of the River Marne? First and foremost, her name points to her maternal function. The river is envisaged as a mother who nurtures her people, for it had a significant life-giving and nourishing character insomuch as its waters were full of fishes, irrigated and fertilized the soil, ensuring thus the growth of crops, which in turn provided food for the cattle and the people living on its banks. The tradition of ‘mother-rivers’ was important in Gaul, since many river-names in France are derived from matra, matrona, ‘mother’, such as La Moder, a tributary of the Zorn in Drusenheim (Bas-Rhin); the Maromme, a tributary of the Seine in the valley of Cailly (Seine-Maritime); La Maronne, a tributary of the Blaise in Brousseval (Haute-Marne); Maronne, a fountain in the parish of Ognes (Aisne); La Marronne, a tributary of the Dordogne (Corrèze); the Mayronnes, a tributary of the Orbieu (Aude); La Meyronne, a tributary of the Argens (Var); the Meyronnes, a spring flowing in the Ubayette (Alpes de Haute Provence); La Meyronne, a tributary of the Desges (Haute-Loire), etc.1856 The cult of the river as a mother is not specifically a Celtic tradition. It is indeed found in many other mythologies of the world. Without going into details here, Adolphe Pictet specifies that rivers are called mâtaras, ‘mothers’ in the Vedic glossary Naighantu, matarô, ‘mothers’ or matarô ģitayô, ‘living mothers’ in the Iranian collection of sacred texts Avesta, and are given the epithet of mâtrǐtamâs - the superlative form of mâtar - ‘the mothers par excellence’ in the Vedic mystical text Rigvêda.1857

The fact that the goddess Matrona had a sanctuary, composed of a complex of baths and a temple, built in her honour at the spring of the River Marne tends to indicate that she was also regarded as a goddess possessing salutary virtues. Apart from the baths, there is as yet no archaeological evidence of a curative cult rendered to Matrona. Unlike the sanctuary of the Sources-de-la-Seine, where a healing cult to the goddess Sequana is clearly evidenced, archaeologists have not found any representations of pilgrims or anatomic ex-votos* at the shrine of Matrona. Neither does the dedication offered by Successus provide proof of such a cult. Even though Successus thanks the goddess for granting his vow, nothing indicates that it is a vow of recovery. It would have been so if the inscription had been engraved on an anatomic ex-voto*, such as the ones found at the Source-de-la-Seine, inscribed on a leg in stone or on a metal sheet representing breasts (see above). Nonetheless, the waters of the River Marne were certainly envisaged as beneficial and salutary, since a complex of baths was erected at its source. The ruins of the Gallo-Roman buildings and the mention of a temple dedicated to Matrona by Succellus prove that pilgrims came to pray to the goddess Matrona and to take the waters of her river. As the site has not been entirely excavated, new investigations could provide further evidence of her cult.1858


Pictet, 1873-1875, pp. 7-8 ; Lebel, 1956, p. 322 ; Nègre, 1990, pp. 119-120, n°2178-2182 ; Carnoy, 1951, pp. 105-106 ; Lacroix, 2007, pp. 59-61, 168-171 ; Delamarre, 2003, p. 220. In Ireland and Britain, there are no recorded cases of river-names bearing the name of ‘mother’. Nonetheless, it is significant that other features of the landscape are called ‘mother’. In Wales, for instance, the highest point in the Clwydian Mountains (Denbighshire) is named Y Foel Famau (‘the Hill of the Mothers’). See Rhys, 1878, p. 39 and Chapter 1 p. 128.


Carnoy, 1951, p. 103.


Grenier, 1960, t. 4, p. 608, note 3 explains that only a part of the sanctuary was unearthed and that further excavations would be necessary.