Nemeton – Religious Groves

NEMETON is a word that has been frequently discussed and is commonly said to mean a religious grove, however this is far from certain. In reality the basis for this attribution is several mentions in inscriptions of a deity: “Nemetona” and a possible etymology of NEMETON from “heaven”. The etymology is based on Early Gaelic naomh, Irish nóemnaomh (holy) and also Gaelic nèamh, Old Irish nem (Heaven). But there are other possible derivations of Nemeton in other languages, so the Gaelic etymology is insecure. In contrast, we know we have inscriptions for the goddess Nemetona. Although rare in Britain, being only found in a single inscription in Bath, evidence of Nemetona is found along the Rhine in Germany. This suggests she was sacred to the German peoples and therefore it is conceivable her cult was brought to Britain.

Do we have a suitable candidate in Old Kilpatrick? Yes! The First Cohort of Baetasians, an auxiliary infantry regiment recruited from the Baetasii tribe of Lower Germany inhabited the lands between the Rhine and the Meuse, were present at Old Kilpatrick

It is therefore possible that the original Nemeton, was a site dedicated to the Germanic goddess Nemetona by the Baetasii around 120AD, that this name was then used for the fort at Old Kipatrick. However all the likely etymologies could be interpreted as relating to a religious site. The only one that needs explaining is Old English niman (to receive) which could refer to a place where Gods received offering.

Thus whatever way we look at it, it is very likely that NEMETON did refer to a religious site, that by the time of Saint Patrick was known as “Nemthur” and that this name is possibly** retained as “-notter” in the valley which became known as Dalnotter. Indeed, the wooded Dalnotter valley, although filled with industrial archaeology, is now very much a grove. So perhaps there is some credibility in the idea that “Nemeton” did mean grove! And, whilst there is no reason to connect the cult of the Goddes Nemetona with Patrick, religious sites tend to attract other religions as well as their own. Patrick’s father was a deacon, his grandfather a priest and as Patrick a very capable priest. He clearly came from a very religious family that was likely driven to Strathclyde by the various Roman persecutions of Christians. It may be that these early Christians were attracted to Nemeton because it was already a religious centre.

References for Nemeton Page

The Druids by T.D. Kendrick (the definitive work on the subject),_x000D_ the excellent map on page 37 of Druids by Anne Ross,_x000D_ The Gods of the Czwnj;elts by Miranda Green,_x000D_ Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary by John Lempriere,_x000D_ Atlas of the Greek and Roman World in Antiquity by Nicholas G.L. Hammond and_x000D_ the indispensable Roman Britain by Peter Salway._x000D_