The Holdgate Sheela

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Holdgate is a tiny village in Shropshire, Tugford lies a mile away and it is not too far away from Church Stretton. The church is quite old and fairly decrepit though it is still in use.

The sheela can be found on the south facing wall of the church over a small doorway. It is quite easy to miss as a large tree obscures both the sheela and doorway. The Carving is, as usual, quite weathered and is quite large especially in comparison to the nearby Tugford Sheelas

I originally thought that figure lacked legs but this is not actually the case. The figure is described by some authors as "pugilistic" which is understandable given the weathering on the figure. In fact what at first seem to be the figures hands are in fact its knees. The arms are behind the knees with the hand holding the vagina open. You can see this in the photograph on the left. This pose is very similar to the nearby Tugford sheela. The sheela also appears to grimacing and the lips are joined in the front leaving holes either side. . You can see a similar head on the doorway (see below) which has  joined lips. This may be an unusual type of beakhead but does not follow the animal theme (brought to my attention by Keith Jones but also noted by Andersen in The Witch on the Wall). The church is again of Norman origin and somewhat dilapidated. The village of Holdgate is very small consisting of a few houses a farm and the church. The font in the church is thought to be of Herefordshire school origin1. If this is the case then this would tie this church in with Kilpeck in Herefordshire some 40 miles to the south. There is also some indication that nearby Diddlebury is also connected with the Herefordshire school of sculptors.

The Tugford, Holdgate and Church Stretton Sheelas are all in the same vicinity as well as the Diddlebury Figures. Holdgate and Tugford being a mile distant from each other while Church Stretton is about 10 miles away.

There is more information on the Shropshire group of sheelas at the Shropshire Promotions website 

 

The inner doorway arch from left to right.

  • Beakhead
  • Human head with long tongue sticking out
  • Roll
  • Human head with joined mouth similar to the sheela
  • Rams Head
  • Abstract
  • Foliate?
  • Human head at angle with open mouth
  • Arrow/lightning possibly beakhead
  • Beakhead
  • Beakhead

Close-up of the head on doorway which is similar to that of the sheela
Similar Joined Mouth motif at Ely CathedralA romanesque corbel at Ely cathedral also shows the joined lip motif.
1 .This information was taken from www.british-history.ac.uk. after Zarnecki. It does not explicitly say that the work is Herefordshire school but compares the font (right) to those at Eardisley and Castle Frome which definitely is Herefordshire school work. The sheela is also thought to be 12thC which would make this contemporary with the Kilpeck sheela and may have been carved by the same people. There is also a bear head at near by Diddlebury which is very similar in style to a bear head at Kilpeck and English Bicknor. 



Other views of the sheela

Side view {short description of image}The Holdgate sheela na gig

 



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