Thetis next to the beach?

According to a text written sometime between 1623 and 1638, there was a votive inscription to Thetis and the gods of the sea in the old church of Saint Nicholas, in downtown Lisbon. Hübner is unsure about the veracity of the record (1871, 14) and the doubt is furthered by the possible existence of a necropolis in the area of the same church, which makes it an unlikely place for a temple. Yet, as will be seen, Olisipo had its share of unusual burial grounds and the location of the inscription in the 17th century doesn’t have to be the original one. Though it is interesting to note that Saint Nicholas stands close to what was the banks of the inlet of the Tagus.

Whatever the case, if the inscription ever existed, it is now lost. It seems to have survived the 1755 earthquake, but was later used as building material in the construction of the new and currently existing church of Saint Nicholas. The text seems to have been: DIS MARIS SAC NAVTAE ET REMIG OCEA…NVS IN TEMPL… THET… OBTVLERVNT PRO TVENDIS … E.V.D.D., which Vieira da Silva translates as “Sacred to the gods of the sea, the sailors and boatmen of the ocean, in fulfilment of a vow, gave Them this gift at the temple of Thetis for protection” (1944, 219; n. 104).

Even if the 17th century record is a fake and there never was any inscription, let alone a sacred place to Thetis, it can at least be said that old Lisbon was known as a dwelling place of sea creatures: in the Ninth Book of his Natural History, chapter V, Pliny the Elder speaks of an embassy sent to Emperor Tiberius to report the sighting of triton in a cave, playing a shell like a trumpet.


2 thoughts on “Thetis next to the beach?

  1. I think, since Lisbon is a coastal city, it seems quite logical sea deities would be very much part of daily worship, and there must have been at least some shrines to sea deities in the ancient city. 🙂

    • I totally agree! Sailing was essential to the city, as was fishing and fish products industry (more on that later). It would make little sense if sea deities were absent from Lisbon’s religious life.

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