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Cult of Cybele in Corbridge (UK)… and Lovecraft

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Ruins of granary in Corbridge
Ruins of granary in Corbridge | license Creative Commons Attribution

Corbridge (Coria/Corstopitum) was a Roman fort and a town located in the area of Hadrian’s Wall (contemporary Northumberland county, England). Among numerous archaeological finds from Corbridge, there are also testimonies of the cult of Cybele – Phrygian deity originating from Asia Minor, the goddess of fertility and also the protectress of cities during the war.

In 1913, inside one of the ventilation channels in the east granary in Corbridge, archaeologists found a fragment of altar made of sandstone, dated between 43 and 410. On the back, there is a head of Hermes Hegemonios in winged cap. In the upper part of the altar, on each side, there are heads of mourning men wearing Phrygian caps: the god Attis and the lunar deity Men who was sometimes identified with him. Both of them are presumably assisting Panthea – the deity “of all gods” identified sometimes with Cybele and Magna Mater – to whom is dedicated the partially visible inscription on the altar:

Ḅ(ona) F(ortuna)
Deae
Pantheae
[…]

The fragment can be translated as: With good fortune: to the goddess Panthea.

In Corbridge, there was also found the upper part of a pipeclay figurine of a seated Cybele wearing a tunic, a mantle and a veiled mural crown. It depicts the goddess as the protectress of the city.

It is worth mentioning that Corbridge and its neighbourhood, especially Hexham Priory, were most likely an inspiration for The Rats in the Walls (1923), one of the more ‘archaeological’ stories of H. P. Lovecraft. The author changed Corbridge (Corchester) into Anchester and the nearby Hexham Priory into Exham Priory.

In the story, there is mentioned the cult of Cybele – in its most terrifying version, as it could be expected of Lovecraft – as well as the incomplete stone inscription dedicated to the goddess and enormous, underground storage pits and ensilages filled with remains of food.

Author: Ewa Wielocha
Sources
  • RIB 1135. Altar dedicated to Panthea, [wpis w katalogu:] romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/inscriptions/1135 [dostęp: 16.01.2021]
  • David Haden, Lovecraft in historical context – the fourth collection of essays and notes, 2013
  • Maarten Jozef Vermaseren, Corpus Cultus Cybelae Attidisque (CCCA) V. Aegyptus, Africa, Hispania, Gallia et Britannia, Leiden, 1986

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