[For some ambiance while reading this post, open rainymood.com and turn up your speakers. Or, if it’s raining where you are, just look out the window and appreciate the power of nature. Also, I’d like to thank Andrew Birley for his wonderful lecture today on religion at Vindolanda, which allowed me to write this post.]
It rained today. From the moment we awoke there were nothing but clouds above us, melded into a mass so pure and white that it was as if someone had gone and scrubbed out the entire sky.
It started about ten am. Then it fell upon us like mist, gentle but persistent, slowly soaking our trenches and our bodies until we were forced to pull out or risk damaging the archaeology with our muddy boots.
We’ve been digging for almost four weeks, so it’s almost surprising this is the first day we’ve lost to rain. After all, England is famous for its rain. In fact, according to the (inaccurate) weather forecast I consulted before the trip, we were only supposed to get three dry days this entire month.
Obviously we’ve been very lucky, but we still couldn’t help but be disappointed when we had to come inside after only an hour of digging. Was it such a loss, though, when the rain brought us together to laugh about the muck on our clothes and warm up with hot tea?
But that’s thinking small. The rain’s chilly pitter-patter is what gives the Northern English countryside its beautiful verdant hills, the ones which support a countless number of farmers and livestock. And two thousand years ago, before the invention of modern plumbing, water in all of its life-giving forms would have been even more precious. In fact, there is evidence that the water at Vindolanda was sacred for the entirety of its centuries-long occupation, even as the various gods who watched over it faded away into obscurity.
The Romano-Celtic temple. It was built with the permanence of stone when the Vindolanda fort was only timber. Only the foundations remain, but it was likely once a place to worship the water-goddess Ahvardua. Little is known about her, but next to her former temple there are springs, water tanks and aqueducts – did she protect them, perhaps? Did she keep them flowing?
Jupiter Dolichenus. A century after Ahvardua’s days had come and gone, this eastern god of sky, storms and metalworking was worshipped within the walls of the now stone fort. The altar recovered from his temple pictures him carrying an axe and a lightning bolt — a symbol of the danger storms could bring. And yet, a drain ran through his temple and into a water tank nearby, filled by those same storms. Though it could be violent, rain would always be precious.
Rain remained vital even in Christian times. In this later period, a water tank originally used to supply the cavalry barracks was re-purposed, given a series of stone steps which would allow people to step into the pool. For drinking, it was now useless – but in this new form it would have served perfectly as a baptismal font, filled by the same rain which fell in Ahvardua’s aqueducts, which brought Jupiter Dolichenus’s thunderbolts, and which patters against the window as I type this today.
Thus the cycle continues. I may be cold and dirty, and my clothes may be soaked through, but as I look up at the grey skies which have watched over Vindolanda for thousands of years I can’t help but think — maybe a bit of rain isn’t so bad, after all.