Rye

The Rye Figure
The Rye Figure

The Figure

This figure was discovered by Theresa Oakley and was published in her doctoral thesis Lifting the Veil.

The figure is very worn and as such it is hard to tell what it was originally meant to represent.

The question is was this once an exhibitionist figure? There are a number of features that count against this. The land for the building was granted to the Austin friars in 1379 which puts the carving in a much later period than the 12th century when we normally see female exhibitionist sculpture.

Another view of the figure
Another view of the figure

The Chapel

It resides on the now disused Chapel of the Augustinian Friary on Conduit Hil, Ry and is in a somewhat dilapidated state. Permission was granted to the friars to rebuild their friary after a French raid destroyed the original buildings along with most of the town. The chapel is the only building to have survived into the present day. It has had a varied life serving as a store house in the 1700s. In the twentieth century it wet through many incarnations including Salvation Army barracks, theatre, malthouse, butter and cheese warehouse, wool store pottery and dance hall.

While I was visiting the figure one of the locals very kindly let me into his garden to have a look at the side of the building and photograph the odd blocked up floor level windows.

Augustian Chapel Rye
Augustinian Chapel Rye
The Rye Monster Figure
The Rye Monster Figure

Is this a Sheela Na Gig?

If this is an exhibitionist figure then it would be exceptional given the likely date of carving. It is worn and it is hard to tell what originally it once was. Angel figures from this period when they become worn start to become suggestive of exhibitionist figures. Having said that carving as it stands today is suggestive of one. At the end of the day this carving is simply to worn to make an accurate judgement.

 

 

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Winterbourne Monkton

The Winterbourne Monkton Figure
The Winterbourne Monkton Figure

The church of St Mary Magdalene in Winterbourne Monkton lies near the famous village and henge of Avebury. Monkton has religious connections going back to 928AD and was owned by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey. This can be seen reflected in the village’s name of “Monkton” 

There is a figure on the font in the church which has been referred to as sheela by the folklorist Ivan Bunn in his list of UK sheelas. At the time of writing his website now appears to be offline.

The font in the church is thought to date from the 12th century which would put it in the right period for sheela carvings. The figure however has no clearly defined gentials and has a number of other features which do not fit in neatly with it being a sheela. The head has no visible facial features the face itself being a scooped out hollow. The head also appears to have three horns or possibly a crown. There is a “bra” like structure on the chest which could indicate  breasts. The arms of the figure are very odd, as you face the figure the arm on the left terminates in what appears to be a bird head while the right arm dissolves into a  curl below the elbow (foliage perhaps?).The figure is splay legged with “something” appearing to emanate from the groin. This has been interpreted as foliage but as you can see from the photo on the left this “foliage” still retains some of the medieval red/orange paint. One of the ribs of the font has a definite bulge on it which looks to be deliberate and is missing from the rest of the ribs. (see below left)

The figure is one of the more puzzling figures I’ve come across and I’m not aware of any other figure quite like it. It seems to be more abstract than most medieval figures. It lacks the defined genitals which would definitely make this figure a sheela. Nevertheless it is an interesting and unique figure.

Thanks go to Carl Grigg for the photographs.

Closeup of Head
Closeup of Head

Close-up of the head showing the “horns” and scooped out face

Close up of the groin area
Close up of the groin area with foliage

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Tugford

The Right Tugford Sheela Na Gig
The Right Tugford Sheela Na Gig
The Left Tugford Sheela Na Gig
The Left Tugford Sheela Na Gig

The Figures

These two figures can be found inside St Catherines church Tugford either side of the main door. The sheela on the right is in a better state than the one on the left. It bears a passing familiarity to the Sheela at Kilpeck

The right sheela (see right) is squatting in an upright position it’s tongue protrudes and both hands are gesturing to the vagina. The right arm is beneath the right knee while the left arm appears to be in front of the left leg. Due to damage on the figure this hard to make out there also appears to be damage to the left knee. 

The one on the left is recumbent (see below), lying on it’s left side. The left sheela is badly weathered and it is difficult to make out details on the carving. This figure has always been referred to as a sheela but it is very hard to make out any details from the photograph on the right there appears to be faint facial features and the figure appears to be hugging something with it’s left shoulder hunched up against the left cheek. Its very hard to determine any features on this figure let alone a definitive sex so the sheela epithet may not be justified.

Both of the sheelas are above head height on wall making close examination difficult.

The Tugford, Holdgate and Church Stretton Sheelas are all in the same vicinity. Holdgate and Tugford being a mile distant from each while Church Stretton is about 10 miles away. The Diddlebury figures are approximately 2 miles away.

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

The Location of the figures
The Location of the figures

 

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Torksey

 

The Torksey Figure
The Torksey Figure

The Figure

It was Margaret Murray (1934) who first thought the figure located in St Peter’s Torksey was a Sheela na Gig, as a result, Andersen accepted this on her authority. In her account ‘Female Fertility Figures’ Murray writes:

‘At Torksey, in Lincolnshire, the figure is so worn and battered, although it is inside the church, that it is impossible to say whether the breasts were originally represented; the pose of the arms, however, leaves no doubt that this also is a Sheila-na-gig, though possibly of a late type’.

From Roman to medieval times Torksey was a very busy port set on a canal 80 miles from the sea, and much larger than Nottingham was at the time. But by the late 14th century the area started to decline but not before a small Cistercian Nunnery, and a Priory were set up. It seems St Peters was one of three churches, and served as a chapel to the Priory just to the east of the present church. Of these constructions nothing now remains, but it seems reasonable to assume the figure was formally located in the Priory buildings, and later moved inside the present church. St Peter’s Church was rebuilt during 1821-22 when the figure was probably painted with whitewash. According to Mr Burgess the Church Warden with was done by Victorian attitudes towards Pagan subjects. But it was during the restorations the vicar of the day insisted on putting the figure on display in the nave.

The figure is located inside the church, about 3 to 4 meters up on the west corner of the south wall, and measures roughly 60cm high by 22cm wide, and is framed in an arch. The whitewash is so thick, a lot of the original features are difficult to make out. However she seems to have two ‘pecked’ eyes, a gaping mouth, with a short stubby nose, and from the shape of her head may indicate some hair. The arms which seem to gesture towards her lower abdomen are mis-shaped, and her upper left arm seems to be missing. She is standing, although you may be forgiven for thinking she is seated. Although not clearly represented the genitals, or rather lack of them suggest she is female. Although the genitals of the figure are not evident, Andersen claims:

‘Like a few figures Torksey, for instance this Sheela is a standing figure with arms and hands down the sides of the body. There is no gesture towards the genitals, but these are very clearly marked, and sagging belly and genitals repeat an ugly feature of many Irish Sheelas.’

Photographs and Text by Keith Jones

Torksey Church
Torksey Church

 

 

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Killevin

The Killevin Figure
The Killevin Figure

The Figure

The following information comes from Marc Calhoun who very kindly allowed the use of his picture left.

“First recorded position of this stone was that it was embedded in the north wall of Killevin (Cill Eibhinn) burial ground near Crarae (NR 987 973). It is a pillar stone that stands some 3.5 feet high, 9 inches wide, and 8 inches deep. Incised in the top of the pillar is a figure that, to me, resembles the Janus figure on Boa Island. It is a head, possibly bearded, with worn arms that appear to cross below the face. Below the head is double circle (or boss), and below this is an equal armed cross. There is a transverse hole through the pillar behind the boss, which may have been used to place cross arms, or as a way to carry the stone.

Described by K M Dickie (1962) as “A stone, 3’ high and 9” to 10” wide, in the N wall of the graveyard is a Sheela-na-gig (a grotesque female figure, Irish in origin).”

The stone fell from the wall of Killevin cemetery in 1991, and was subsequently moved to Cumlodden Parish church (Furnace) for safekeeping (NS 015 998). A plaque in the church dates it to the 8th or 9th century, but it makes no reference to the possibility of the stone being a Sheela, and instead refers to it as a cross-shaft, and that the figure may be that of Christ. The plaque also has a drawing of the figure that includes detail not easily visible on the worn stone today. I do not think this is a Sheela. Possibly the circle (boss) positioned at what may be taken to be the crotch of the figure could lead someone to think it is.”

Marc Calhoun

Despite this figure being recorded as a sheela na gig there is no evidence of genitalia even taking into account the worn nature of the carving. The figure appears to have a “hands in lap” stance and the pointed chin seems to indicate a beard making the figure male. All in all I find it hard to see why this figure was recorded as a sheela na gig given the lack of vulva or anything that could be interpreted as such.

John Harding

The symbols on the stone outlined
The symbols on the stone outlined

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Cleobury Mortimer

 

The Cleobury Mortimer Figure
The Cleobury Mortimer Figure

The Figure

The small town of Cleobury (Pronounced Clibbery) Mortimer  lies in Shropshire. Set in the retaining wall of the churchyard of St Mary’s there is very worn carving of what appears to be a seated figure with bent arms. As you can see from the photograph below the figure faces directly onto the main road through Cleobury. This figure has been defined as  a Sheela Na Gig by the Courtauld Institute of Art . There is a record of the figure on the internet here on the institute’s “Public Monuments and Sculpture” pages. After speaking to Dr. M.W.Baldwin of Cleobury’s history society he informed me that the definition of the carving as a sheela na gig was a tentative one. After having seen the figure it is very hard to say what it originally represented as it is too worn to be able to identify any features. There does appear to be a cleft at the bottom of the carving, but it’s hard to distinguish any legs. There also appear to be two pillars either side of the figure. The pillars may be legs which would make the figure splay legged or equally they could be part of something the figure is seated on. Dr Baldwin also mentioned that the figure is fairly near Church Stretton which would make the figure part of the Shropshire sheela na gig cluster. The church is of the right age being from the late Norman period according to some information in the church. There is also a font or tub set into the wall of the porch which was found in a local garden. The church is also famous for it’s twisted spire.


The position of the arms seems to count against this figure being a sheela as they appear to b holding something over the abdomen/chest. This may indicate that the figure is very worn representation of Christ holding a bible. These Christ figures tend to be seated as well.  All in all this figure is really too worn to make a hard and fast judgement as to whether it is a sheela na gig or not although some of the features suggest otherwise.

The location of the figure
The location of the figure
The church's twisted spire
The church’s twisted spire
Font or tub in the porch
Font or tub in the church porch which was found in a local garden.

 

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Aldsworth

Worn figure at Aldsworth
Worn figure at Aldsworth

The Figure

This figure was found by Keith Jones while visiting the church looking for green men. It was at first thought to be a decayed exhibitionist figure but on further inspection has turned out to be somewhat harder to interpret. The figure is very worn and consists of what appears to be a decayed face surmounting a deep cavity at the base of the figure. The right and left hand sides of the figure are hard to interpret due to weathering but there seems to more carving on the left hand side of the figure making it asymmetrical. The left side of the figure could be body with a sideways facing head similar to another corbel (see below) this is of course open to interpretation. Despite the figure being weathered it appears to be well integrated with the rest of the corbels and not an older figure kept from a previous building.

The church has a number of finely carved corbels representing dragons, monk like figures, bearded heads and flowers. There is also a corbel representing a branch which is echoed on the window surround below it

The style of the church is late perpendicular putting it in the late 1400’s. This and the style of the carvings which seems to be later than the early Norman period from which Sheelas are thought to originate puts some doubt on this figure originally being a sheela. Again the figure is too decayed to be certain.

John Harding

SheelaAldsworth06

SheelaAldsworth02

SheelaAldsworth07

SheelaAldsworth03
Repeated branch motif see photograph above

SheelaAldsworth05

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Alderwasley

The Alderwasley Figure
The Alderwasley Figure

This carving gets a passing mention in the book Ghosts and Legends of the Peak District being listed as one of the sheelas in Derbyshire. It is situated on the old chapel in the village of Alderwasley near Wirksworth. The chapel is a small building next to a church yard and is now being used as the village hall after a number of years lying derelict. The chapel is small, distinctly un-church like and dates from 16th century. It used to be the personal chapel of the Hurt family whose old alabaster coat of arms can still been on the front of the building where it hangs above the main door. The building is supposed to be haunted and some of the carvings on the building are quite eerie. (see the head carving below).  David Clarke in his book Ghosts and Legends of the Peak District states that the carvings on the chapel are taken from an older building which used be at the site. However I can find no mention of a church or chapel on site the before this one (if anyone knows differently please get in touch). There is some evidence to suggest that the materials used to build the chapel have been robbed from another larger building. The stone on which the alleged sheela resides is very large for a building of this size with an even larger stone directly below it. It seems unlikely that the stones were cut to such a large size for a building as small as this chapel. There is a cemetery to the left of the chapel.

The Chapel

The chapel itself is mostly made up of a red sandstone with inserts of a much lighter grey stone There are a number of carved items set in a line into the front wall These are :
A malevolent looking stone head,
A decorated shield,
A foliate pattern
a plain protruding stone
Flanking the main door there are two worn heads both of which appear to be wearing hats
All of these items seem to be carved from a darker stone than the stone which the chapel is made of.
The main door to the chapel is surmounted by a decorated lintel which appears to be 16th century.
 

Is this a sheela na gig?

The carving is very weathered and and it is hard to determine whether it is a sheela or not. There is a cleft at the bottom of the carving and there seem to be hunched up knees and folded arms. The face is very weathered but you can still make out eyes and a mouth. The mouth seems similar to the Holdgate Sheela in that the lips are joined but again this is hard to know for certain due to the weathering. The date of the chapel would count against this being a sheela as it is far later than the usual Romanesque period. However if the stones of the chapel are taken from an earlier building then we may be able to discount this. Saying that I have yet to find any records of a Norman church or chapel at this site. The position of the figure on a quoin stone is similar to figures found in Ireland but is fairly unusual for a British sheela. The alleged sheela figure is by far and away the most worn of the carvings on chapel but this may be down to the faster weathering of the sandstone from which it is carved. It is worth noting that the only other sandstone carving on the chapel appears to be 16th century and is also worn although not to the same extent as the alleged sheela. All in all the figure is too weathered to be certain whether it is a classic sheela na gig or other type of exhibitionist figure.

John Harding

The malevolent stone head
The malevolent stone head. Note the different type of stone used for this piece.
A side view of the figure
A side view of the sculpture on the chapel. It’s worth noting that the alleged sheela is carved from the same stone as the chapel and it not made the same type of stone as the other fragements.
The coat of arms on the hall
The coat of arms on the hall
A view of the hall
A view of the hall. Note the darker pieces of sculpture on the left hand side of the building. These appear to be re-used fragments and are of a different stone from the red sandstone from which the building is made. The alleged sheela figure is on the far left corner of the building.

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Elkstone

The Elkstone Figure
The Elkstone Figure

Updated 2004-08-28

Elkstone is a richly carved parish church which is in the centre of a cluster of ancient churches in the Cotswolds. 

This carving (right) is mentioned in Images of Lust by James Jerman as being a damaged carving very similar in appearance to the Kilpeck sheela. I think from the picture above you will agree that there is a passing similarity but no more than that. The execution of the carving is less defined than the Kilpeck sheela and the figure has a head of hair or some sort of head dress. Another point to notice is that figure looks quite morose unlike the happy grin of the Kilpeckcarving.

The figure does not appear to be damaged apart from the obvious curving cut on the left and slight rough patch at the bottom of the figure. It has been described by James Jerman as being the Kilpeck sheela  with the bottom half chopped away. This does not seem to be the case. The underside of the figure is quite smooth  the paler discolouration you can see is not big enough to indicate the removal of a large part of the carving. The figure seems to be a head, shoulders and torso protruding from the wall. I have to admit I don’t quite understand why this figure has been classified as a possible sheela at all. At first I thought there might have been another candidate for an exhibitionist figure which appears to be lifting its skirts. However the figure itself is very confusing (see photo below). Having now seen other musician figures its more likely that this figure is a rote or Harp player as the composition of the figure fits in with other less worn musician figures.

The church has obvious connections to the Herefordshire school of sculpture. The heads at the top of the rib vaulting are very similar to those found at Kilpeck. The corbels on the church are Romanesque in style and probably originate from the 12thC. There are many motifs on the corbels including astrological, animal and abstract figures. There are also some later (15thC?) gargoyles on the tower. The tower also sports some well preserved minstrel figures on it’s corners. One plays a shawm while another plays a wind instrument of some type. There are many fine carvings on the church including a fine tympanum. It’s well worth a visit if you are in the the area.

Musician at Elkstone
Musician at Elkstone
Centaur at Elkstone
Centaur at Elkstone
Elkstone Church
Elkstone Church
The Tymapnum at Elkstone
The Tymapnum at Elkstone
Elkstone Gargoyle
15th Century Gargoyle at Elkstone

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Wells

 

The Figures

Updated 16-04-2006. These figures are mentioned in Cave’s Roof Bosses of the Churches of England. Rather surprisingly they can be found in the cafe and near the Gift shop in Wells cathedral. The figure to the right can be found in the foyer between the gift shop and cafe. Look up as you enter the foyer and you should see the figure in front of you on the ceiling. The second figure can be found inside the cafe about half way down. This figure is not so distinct as the first and is badly weathered.

SheelaWells01

The Foyer figure. I recently revisited this figure and came away with better photographs. As you can seen from the above picture the figure seems to be fully clothed without any overt display of genitalia. There is a small lump in the groin area which may indicate that the figure is meant to male. Either way this figure is definitely not sheela na gig or a male exhibitionist.

SheelaWells02

The second alleged sheela na gig in the cloisters (now a cafe). As you can see from the photos above and below this figure appears to be a splay legged possible angel rather than an exhibitionist. You can make out two wings either side of the head and the groin is most definitely covered by a loin cloth.

SheelaWells03

The loin cloth covering the groin area.

Are these sheelas?

Cave mentions the figures in passing “as two sheela na gigs of an unusual type”. He does not give an exact position other than the cloister area. These two figures seem to fit his description. When Keith and myself the first visited the figures we both came away thinking that foyer figure was an exhibitionist, however on closer inspection this does not seem to be the case. We were more doubtful about the second figure and as it turns out with good cause. Neither of the figures is Romanesque and the carving appears later in style which further counts against them.
As can be seen with the Bristol figure and to a lesser extent the figure at South Tawton, Cave’s definition of a sheela na gig is idiosyncratic to say the least. With the better photographs above I think it is safe to say that both of the Wells figures are definitely not sheela na gigs or exhibitionists of any type, if of course these are the figures that Cave was referring to. If any knows of any better candidates for Cave’s figures then please let us know.

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