Colsterworth

The Colsterworth Figure
The Colsterworth Figure. Photo Copyright Tina Negus.

 

The Church

Herringbone masonry is still visible in the church indicating that a stone structure was here in Saxon times.
Fairly plain Romanesque arches survived a Victorian restoration the eastern arch holds some lightly incised zigzag decoration.The church has gone through a lot alteration during its lifetime with work ranging from the 11th and 12th centuries to the 19th century.
was the parish church of Isaac Newton, who was also baptised here in 1643. It is also the burial place of both his parents. It lies less than a mile away from his family home of Woolsthorpe Manor.

The Figure

This figure is obviously damaged but there are number of features that suggest it was once a female exhibitionist. Firstly the figure is part of one of the Norman arches in the church which suggests a 12th century (possibly earlier) date. Secondly the figure has one remaining triangular left breast visible with the suggestion of the right still apparent despite the damage. Both arms are pointing downwards towards the centre of the figure and a remaining knee and foot can bee seen on the right hand side. The bottom of the figure is missing with a reasonably clean break across the body while the left hand arm and part of the shoulder are missing with a somewhat rougher break. The head is much too large for the body  and has some damage on the right hand side. The remaining left eye is lentoid (a Romanesque feature), the nose is missing and the mouth is just visible. There is a line inscribed on the back of the head either indicating a headress or possibly hair. Facially the figure has something of a grim expression. While there is quite an amount of damage to the figure the remaining features and context seem to suggest that this was once a female exhibitionist.

The figure face on
The figure face on. Photo Copyright Tina Negus.

Other Exhibitionist Figures

There are also a number of other later exhibitionist figures on the church. Two anus showers one complete with modest testicles and penis and a monstrous ithyphallic figure. Two of these can be found on the tower of the church with the smaller anus shower residing on the North West wall.

 

The figure on the romanesque/Norman arch in the church.

The figure on the romanesque/Norman arch in the church. Photo Copyright Tina Negus.

The Figure On the Arch
The Figure On the Arch. Image copyright Richard White. http://www.walknowtracks.co.uk
Monstrous ithyphallic figure on the church tower
Monstrous ithyphallic figure on the church tower. Photo Copyright Tina Negus.
Colsterworth church NW windstop anus shower
Colsterworth church NW windstop anus shower. Photo Copyright Tina Negus.
Tower Anus Shower
Tower Anus Shower. Photo Copyright Tina Negus.

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Directions

Wroxham

Wroxham Church Doorway Captials
On the lower right there is a splayed legged figure which either an acrobat or possibly a Melusine figure.
The main door to the church with twin figures either side.
The main door to the church with twin figures either side.

The Figures

The main door to St Mary’s church Wroxham, Norfolk holds two, blue stained figures which while splay legged are not exhibitionist figures. They serve as good example of figures which should be exhibitionist but in fact aren’t (compare to the splayed legged figure at Lower Swell). There is however another explanation of the figure which is related to the Sheela Na Gig phenomenon. Their feet appear to be somewhat fin like which may mean that the figures depict Melusine.

Melusine or the Double Tailed Mermaid

The double tailed mermaid is another religious sculptural motif which can be found all over Europe. Unlike the Sheela Na Gig which is more or less a 12th century phenomenon this motif persists into later periods as well. In fact it is still is use today with it’s most widespread, somewhat sanitized, incarnation being the Starbucks logo.  Are the Wroxham figures actually mermaids? The fin like feet do tend to lend weight to this argument.

 

All images By Charlesdrakew (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Directions

Kirkwall

The Kirkwall Sheela Na Gig
The Kirkwall Sheela Na Gig. By Wordandsilence1979 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

St Magnus Cathedral Kirkwall Orkney

Work on St Magnus cathedral started in 1137. The Cathedral’s founder was Earl Rognvald who supervised the earliest stages of the building during the bishopric of William the Old of Orkney (1102 – 1168). Between 1154 and 1472, Orkney was ecclesiastically under the Norwegian archbishop of Nidaros (Trondheim). Interestingly Nidaros cathedral also has a sheela na gig figure.

The Figure

The figure is situated on the  on the south west pillar of the presbytery. It is quite worn but originally would have been quite grotesque with a gaping toothless oblong mouth and what may have been a pointed head. The remains of the eyes suggest that they would have orginally been wide and staring. The remains of the right arm gesture towards the vulva. The figure’s hand is damaged but may have obscured the upper part of the vulva. The right hand gestures towards the head in a gesture not dissimilar to that of Roman depictions of the goddess Venus. Unlike the Venus figure however the sheela does not appear to have hair.

Pipe Clay Venus Caerwent
Roman Pipe Clay Venus Caerwent

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Ely

The Figures

A sheela na gig at Ely Cathedral has been recorded for sometime. It gets a mention in Images of Lust after the work of professor George Zarnecki. However it turns out that there are two very similar female exhibitionist figures on the cathedral. This discovery came about from members of the Sheela na gig mailinglist visiting the cathedral to photograph the figure and comparing their results. The first members to visit the cathedral informed the list that sheela was extremely difficult to photograph as you needed to be in the Bishops private garden to get the best view. Other members of the list were puzzled at this as all you had to do was hop over a small wall and photograph the figure from a public green. Photographs of the figures were of low quality mainly due to the height of the figures on the cathedral’s clerestory. When they were compared they seemed to be of the same figure taking into account differing angles of view. However when the surrounding masonry and neighbouring corbels were compared it became obvious that the photographs were in fact of two different figures. Further research showed that the figures were in fact on opposite sides of the cathedral one being on the North clerestory while the other is on the South clerestory. The fact that the cathedral has two very similar female exhibitionist figures does not seem to be a well known fact. This is further borne out by the entries for the Ely corbels at the Courtauld institute’s CRSBI site where the North figure is not listed as being exhibitionist. As you can see from the picture on the left it most definitely is. Further discussions on the sheela na gig mailing list showed that some members had visited the north figure while others had visited the south figure. Both groups coming away having seen the Ely sheela na gig. 

The French Connection

It’s thought French sculptors had a hand in the creation of Ely cathedral. This influence can be seen by comparing these figures to another exhibitionist in Vaux sur Aure France. The original picture can be found here on the Hortus Deliciarum site in France (French text. The website is dedicated to exhibitionist figures in France)

Ely France Figure

A similarly styled figure in Vaux sur Aure in France. Photograph used by persmission of Guillaume Lelièvre.

 

SheelaElyCRSBI

The South side exhibitionist figure (right) this picture from the CRSBI site clearly shows its exhibitionist nature. The south side figure is only viewable from the Bishop’s private residence which is obviously not open to the public.

Ely Priors Door

Photo courtesy of Anthony Weir

SheelaElyPosition

The black arrow indicates the approximate position of the sheela na gig on the North side of the cathedral
1. Clerestory. The upper part of the nave, transepts, and choir of a church, containing windows… or …An upper portion of a wall containing windows for supplying natural light to a building

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Trondheim Norway

The Trondheim Sheela Na Gig
The Trondheim Sheela Na Gig

The Figure

This figure used to reside on the external corner of the South transept of the Nidarosdomen Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway. It was replaced in 1992 with a modern copy and the original is now on display in the Archbishops Palace Museum attached to the cathedral. The sheela was published by Jørgen Andersen in the artcle  “Konsollernes verden” in Kunst og Kultur Nr. 1 in 1996. This figure is one of three alleged sheela na gigs in Norway, The other carvings are at Stiklestad and Sakshaug although the Sakshaug carving is somewhat suspect as it appears to be more of a pine cone than sheela na gig. This sheela was in all likelihood carved by an English sculptor as we shall see below.

The History of the Cathedral

King Olaf Haraldsson (also known as Olav) now St Olaf was killed at the battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Tradition has it that the high altar of the cathedral marks the spot where he was buried.  In 1031 the King was declared a saint and pilgrims started to visit his grave. Work started on building the first stone church at the site around 1070. This building was commissioned by King Olav the Gentle the nephew of St Olav and it is thought that English craftsmen were employed in its construction. Parts of the cathedral are in the Early English style.
For more information on English influence in the area see the page on Stiklestad.

English and French Influence

The cathedral bears some striking similarities to Lincoln cathedral which it strongly resembles. The romanesque corbels on the church also seem to be English in origin as can be seen below. A broken dragon head hood terminal now housed in the Archbishops museum is very similar to those found England. It also thought that English masons and artists had a hand in building most of the 20 or so Romanesque churches in the Trondelag area.

The Sheela na gig

As you can see from this angle the figure is unequivocally exhibitionist with one finger seemingly insterted into the vulva. However when viewed from the front which is the angle the corbel is most likely to be seen from it would seem that the vulva would be hidden in shadow. Kjartan Hauglid who supplied the pictures for this page assures me that the exhibitionist nature of the carving is visible from the ground. Nevertheless this figure is definitely one of the more modest sheelas unlike the “megavulvic” examples at Kilpeck and Oaksey.
Being “only visible from below” is a feature of some other sheelas, for instance the ones at Stoke Sub Hamdon and on St John’s at Devizes can only be seen to be exhibitionist from directly below. This begs the question that if figure is not overtly exhibitionist then why are the sexual features present at all? From the photograph below it seems that even when it was newly carved the height of the sculpture and the butress below it would have prevented its exhibitionist nature from being seen. Non overt or overly highly placed sheela na gigs would seem to be detract from the “warning against lust” theory put forward by Anthony Weir and James Jerman. If the figure cannot be seen to be exhibitionist then how does serve as a method of instruction? Conversely these non overt sheelas may be being used in an apotropaic way to avert evil in somewhat more quiet and non obtrusive manner than their more blatant sisters. The figures at Oxford and Stanton St Quintin were and are high up and barely visible from below.

Thanks go to Kjartan Hauglid for supplying the photographs and much of the information about the sheela. 

All photos copyright Kjartan Hauglid 1996

The sheela from below
The sheela from below
The modern replacement
The modern replacement
SheelaTrondheimSouthTransept
The position of the Sheela. This photo was taken by Emanuel Vigeland sometime during the 19th centry. The position of the sheela is indicated by the arrow. The interesting thing about this photo is that the sheela is directly above a butress. This would mean that it would be nigh impossible to view the carving from directly below. It’s exhibitionist nature would not be obvious.
SheelaTrondheimCorbels
Corbels at the Cathedral
The Kilpeck Head
The Kilpeck Head
The head similar to the one at Kilpeck
The head similar to the one at Kilpeck

Location

Directions

Woodkirk

The Woodkirk Sheela Na Gig
The Woodkirk Sheela Na Gig

My thanks go to Peter Connor and Malcolm Haigh for bringing this figure to light.

The Figure

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 Caerwent
Pipe Clay Venus Caerwent

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Directions

Wolston

The Wolston Sheela Na Gig
The Wolston Sheela Na Gig

The Figures

These figures lie in the church of St Margaret in Wolston near Coventry. The figures in question are carved on a capital on the west side of the crossing arch (the arch facing the congregation). The figures consist of a female splay legged figure with a deep wide cleft in the groin area. The cleft also seems to contain the remains of a smaller oval within it. Its arm is being pulled by a less defined figure on the right. When viewing the figure in the church the splay legged figure appears to have a massively oversized head with the eyes at the top. As we can see from the photographs this is not the case. Directly above the female’s head is a monstrous corner mask which appears to be eating the the figure below. The right hand figure (sexless but vaguely male) touches this mask with its right hand. The female figure appears to have a head of hair and the right hand is placed on top of the head seemingly in the mouth of the mask. There seem to be the faint remains of a face on the figure. The female figure’s left arm appears to be holding the groin of the right hand figure or at least is resting its hand on the top of the leg. The left hand side of the capital holds the upper torso of a figure with lower half consisting of some fairly crude knotwork or vegetation. The sheela’s leg disappears into this knotwork.
The left hand capital opposite is damaged but consists of two figures either side of a cross possibly depicting the crucifixion.

A damaged sheela?

As can be seen from the photograph on the right, the cleft between the legs is wide and uneven. The smaller oval shadow is a result of the lighting but there does seem be a slightly deeper more regular oval within the wider cleft. Given the quality of the carving it may be simply that this wide cleft is the sculptor’s execution of a vulva. However it is equally as likely that at some point the figure has been damaged and the cleft widened. The damage however may not be intentional. Church records show that the tower collapsed in the 1700s so the damage to this and the other capital may be a result of this collapse. The church history also mentions that the arches may have been reconstructed at this time.1

Brandon Castle

Visible from the church yard are the remains of a Norman motte known as Brandon Castle. Brandon being the neighboring village. Hubert Baldran granted the church to the abbey of St. Pierre-sur-Dives between 1086 and 10941 and the Verdon family held Wolston during the 12th century. The castle is known to have been garrisoned in 1195. Excavations done in the 1940s suggest that the keep was rectangular. There is no evidence to suggest what the keep looked like but it is thought to be similar in design to Hopton Castle in Shropshire, much of which stands today. Once again we have an exhibitionist in a church which is intimately connected with a stronghold of the local lord. i.e. the church would have been the personal chapel of the local lord. This is similar to Kilpeck, Holdgate, Devizes and possibly Bredwardine in Shropshire.

1 CRSBI page on Wolston accessed 21/10/2006 http://www.crsbi.ac.uk

Close up of the sheela's head and corner mask. Note the faint suggestion of eyes on the sheela's head and what appears to be hair on the left hand side.
Close up of the sheela’s head and corner mask.
Note the faint suggestion of eyes on the sheela’s head and what appears to be hair on the left hand side.

 

Side view of the figure
Side view of the figure

 

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Directions

Twywell

The Twywell Sheela Na gig
The Twywell Sheela Na gig

The Figure

This little known sheela na gig resides on the tower of the Parish church of Twywell near Kettering. You can see it as you walk through the main gate of the churchyard to the left of the clock on the main tower. This sheela has not been published in any of the major books on Sheelas and came to light on the CRSBI site1.

The sheela is of the acrobatic variety with legs held to the head, with the feet facing forward in an almost impossible position. The torso of the carving is made up entirely of the vulva with the legs directly emanating from it. Unusually the figure has a small but deeply drilled anus as well. Conversely we could say that the torso has been slit, but the presence of the anus would seem to suggest that the torso slit is meant to represent the vulva. Again we have an overly large head in comparison to the body.

Other sculpture
It is interesting to note that Professor Zarnecki thinks that the kings head on the South doorof the church is similar to those found on Monks Doorway and north transept doorway of Ely cathedral. As we know Ely Cathedral  also holds two sheela na gig carvings2. It is also worth noting however that these differ in style to the Twywell sheela.

A few corbels over to the right from the sheela we have an example of a Romanesque mouth puller.

Is interesting that this sheela has escaped notice for such a long time especially when the church has received the attentions of Professor Zarnecki.


http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/site/1321/ The Romanesque sculpture at Twywell on www.crsbi.ac.uk

1. Corpus of Romanesque sculpture in British and Ireland. http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/site/1321/
2. G. Zarnecki, The Early Sculpture of Ely Cathedral. London 1958, 22, 45, pl.18. from CRSBI Site above

SheelaTwywell05
Mouth Puller Twywell
Church Door
Church Door
Head Above Door
Head Above Door

Close up of the kings head. Prof. George Zarnecki makes a comparison between this head and the head on the Priors Door at Ely Cathedral 45 miles to the East.

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Directions

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

Location: ///officer.array.ruin

Directions

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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Directions

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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