28 Jan 2012

The "Goddess" of Braunston

In Jennifer Westwood's excellent book, Albion, mention is made of a carved figure outside All Saints Church in Braunston, Rutlandshire. This is sometimes referred to as a "Goddess." Citing the Rev. John Dudley's 1846 book Naology, Westwood tentatively links it to the Celtic Mother Goddess, sometimes referred to by the names Anu, Danu, and The Morrigan.

As the Celtic Mother Goddess was a goddess of both sexuality and war, she also had a terrifying hag-like aspect that accords well with the rather grotesque appearance of the statue. Westwood links the statue to the local legend and traditions of Black Annis, a kind of ghoul or witch used to scare children in the area.

It would be gratifying if the statue were an ancient Celtic goddess, but this is far from certain. The church sits atop a raised circular churchyard, which often indicates the occupation of a previously pagan site, and the fact that the statue, when it was found in 1920, was buried upside down may also be significant, suggesting the desecration of a pagan sculpture. However, there is little precedent for the ancient Celts enshrining their major gods in this way.

It has been suggested that the statue is a kind of gargoyle, hunky punk, shelagh na gig, or church grim, which are all forms of protective talismen, allowed at various times by the Catholic church. Such an explantion is in keeping with the size and style of the statue, which is far from impressive. In such a case the statue would date from the medieval period with the desecration of the statue possibly occuring during the Puritan Revolution.

If the statue is older, it is more probably of pagan Saxon origin, with one interesting suggestion being that it is a liminal queen, a kind of boundary marker that was usually made of wood.