The Woodkirk Sheela Na Gig

The Woodkirk Sheela Na Gig
Photograph copyright Peter Connor
My thanks go to Peter Connor and Macolm Haigh for bringing this figure to light.

The figure is located in the church of St Mary at Woodkirk Yorkshire.
The church has a number of Romanesque features but the main body of the church is thought to date to the Early English period. Anthony Weir author of Images of Lust is of the opinion that the figure dates from the Early English period.
The figure is unusual in that it does not appear to be corbel or appear to server some
other architectural function. At the time of writing (21 Nov 2009) the figure is in storage.

It is quite plump with a pronounced vulva with the left hand reaching down
to pull it apart. The right hand is held to the side of the neck possibly indicating that it
is holding its hair though the top of the figures head appears to be bald. The hand
gesture is not dissimilar to that found in Roman depictions of the goddess Venus (see below) who is usually depicted with the right hand holding the hair.  Given that a Romanesque carving
incorporates many classical motifs this comparison may not be without merit. Another carving
from Kirknewton  also has a hand to head gesture but in this case the hand is that of an accompanying male figure.

This figure is approximately nine miles away from another unusual sheela na gig
figure at Cleckheaton which would seem to indicate that there was a local tradition
of carving these figures.

The church of St Mary Woodkirk has its own website here http://www.stmarywoodkirk.org/

Pipe Clay Venus figurine from Caerwent
Pipe clay venus figure from Caerwent in South Wales showing
the hand to hair gesture.

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