Nehalennia is known from more than 160 votive altars, which were almost all discovered in the Dutch province of Zeeland. (Two altars were discovered in Cologne, the capital of Germania Inferior.)
During the 17th and 19th century AD altar stones dedicated to Nehalennia were found by fishermen on the bottom of the sea near the peninsula of Walcheren in Zeeland.
All of them can be dated to the second and early third centuries CE. Most pieces show a young female figure, sitting on a throne in an apse between two columns, holding a basket of apples on her lap. Nearly always, there is a wolf dog at her side. In some cases, the fruit basket is replaced by something that looks like loaves of bread; in other cases, we can see the woman standing next to a ship or a prow.
Most of the votive stones dedicated to Nehalennia bear the Latin inscription; “Votum solvit libens merito”, or similar, which tells us that the votive altar was placed to show gratitude for a safe passage (usually across the North Sea). An example of a typical inscription:
To the goddess Nehalennia,
on account of goods duly kept safe,
Marcus Secundinius Silvanus,
trader in pottery with Britain,
fulfilled his vow willingly and deservedly.
Nehalennia is attested on 28 inscriptions discovered in the Dutch town of Domburg on the Zeeland coast, when a storm eroded dunes in 1645, disclosing remains of a temple devoted to the previously unattested goddess Nehalennia. A similar number were discovered in 1971-72 in the town of Colijnsplaat, and two others have been found in the Cologne-Deutz area of what is now Cologne, Germany.
Hilda Ellis Davidson describes the votive objects:
Nehalennia, a Germanic goddess worshipped at the point where travellers crossed the North Sea from the Netherlands, is shown on many carved stones holding loaves and apples like a Mother Goddess, sometimes with a prow of a ship beside her, but also frequently with an attendant dog which sits looking up at her (Plate 5). This dog is on thirteen of the twenty-one altars recorded by Ada Hondius-Crone (1955:103), who describes him as a kind of greyhound.
Davidson further links the motif of the ship associated with Nehalennia with the Germanic Vanir pair of Freyr and Freyja, as well as the Germanic goddess Nerthus and notes that Nehalennia features some of the same attributes as the Matres.
There are also comparisons to be made with Diana/Artemis, and holy women such as Walburga http://www.friggasweb.org/walburga.html
Walburga’s Dog and Bundle of Grain
Walburga’s symbols, as shown in the oldest stone carvings in her chapels, are a dog and a bundle of grain. There is nothing in the abbess Walburga’s biographies to account for portraying her with a dog, but there is much to show that German goddesses were associated with the dog as their “Hilfstier” (helping animal). “Grey hounds accompany the three Norns. The fertility goddesses Frau Harke, Frau Gode, and Frau Frick (Frigga) have always a hound beside them, and…Frau Berchte in Steiermark is called the “poodle-mother” because of her dog” (Rochholz p. 20). The goddess Nehalennia is usually pictured with a dog on her altars and votive sites. Speaking Walburga’s name is a charm to tame fierce or even mad dogs. In folklore, the dog has much to do with fertility, health and good luck. For example, Rochholz mentions superstitions about the need to feed a mysterious “Windhound,” sometimes said to be left behind from the Wild Hunt, during springtide, to ensure good weather for the crops. The Windhound is connected to fertility, good luck and plenty in the house and the farm fields, and in some places is called the “Nourishment-Hound” (Nahrungshund) (p. 22). Rochholz details many other superstitions relating dogs with goddesses of fertility. The christian Mary and female saints are also frequently portrayed with dogs in German chapels, and there is a “Hundskapelle” (dog-chapel) in Innsbruck said to have originally been a Heathen temple. One must suppose that this attribute of a dog accompanying Heathen goddesses was carried over into the christian iconography of holy women, including particularly Walburga.
The loaves that Nehalennia is depicted with on her altars have been identified as duivekatar, “oblong sacrificial loaves in the shape of a shin bone”. Davidson says that loaves of this type may take the place of an animal sacrifice or animal victim, such as the boar-shaped loaf baked at Yule in Sweden, and that in Värmland, Sweden “within living memory” grain from the last sheaf was customarily used to bake a loaf into the shape of a little girl that is subsequently shared by the whole household. (Davidson provides further examples of elaborate loaves displayed in churches, bread employed for the fertility of fields in Anglo-Saxon England with parallels in Scandinavia, and examples from Ireland).