The Alstonefield Figure
The Alstonefield Sheela Na Gig being eaten

The Figure

Picture copyright Tim Prevett used with permission
This figure was found in a pile of loose sculpture fragments in the church by Akiko Kuroda on a Northern Earth Walk
The find was subsequently published in Northern Earth magazine.

The figure is of a monster eating someone with only the legs and buttocks protruding from the mouth. The monsters head is recognisably Romanesque with striations on the face that can be seen at many other sites (Kilpeck and Romsey are good pair of examples). The motif of someone being eaten by a monstrous head is reasonably common in religious Romanesque sculpture (Devizes has a similar monstrous figure with legs protruding from the mouth). This figure with the additional exhibitionist motif is to my knowledge unique. A pair arms holds open what appears to be the labia between the legs of the figure. It is difficult to see in the photo whether the arms belong to the monster or the person being eaten. The motif of a person being eaten is very much a symbol of sin and damnation. A number of Romanesque manuscripts and sculptures show the damned within the jaws of a huge monster. The theory that sheela na gigs are warnings against lust was put forward in Images of Lust by Anthony Weir and James Jerman and has been argued against by some people. Here however we have a example which unequivocally places both exhibitionism and damnation within the same context. The figure as now been set into the wall inside the church for safekeeping.

The church was dedicated to St Peter in 892 St Oswald Archbishop of York. The church has a number of Romanesque features including an arch and other architectural fragments built into the walls along with other newer features.
The church also holds one of the oldest gravestone in the country bearing the date of 1518

John Harding

Video of the figure Copyright Charles Wildgoose used with permission

Link to the video on Flickr

Examples of the striated monstrous head motif on the doorway at Kilpeck. (Image Inverted for clarity)
Examples of the striated monstrous head motif on the doorway at Kilpeck. (Image Inverted for clarity)