This acrobatic figure lies inside St Botolph’s Church, Shepshed, Leicestershire. The church was founded in the 11th century. The oldest part of the church, the west tower and spire, dates from the 13th century The nave, with clerestory and aisles, and chancel date from the 15th-century. The style of the figure is hard to date but would seem to come from one of these later dates. It appears to be female but there is some damage evident that may indicate the figure was originally male.
This figure resides on St. Michaels church Laxton, Nottinghamshire. It combines the exhibitionist motif with the devoured sinner.
Sr Michaels in Laxton dates back to the 12th century with the nave and the pillars being given a date of around 1190. The figure above however does not date to this period. It consists of a hellish monster devouring a man with only the legs buttocks and genitals being visible. This motif can be seen elsewhere in the UK two examples on this site can be found at Devizes with only the legs and shooed feet visible and a female example at Alstonefield in Derbyshire. Both of these examples date from the 12th century unlike this figure.
This figure can found on the underside of the font in All Saints Church, Ballidon near Ashbourne in Derbyshire. It is unequivocally a female exhibitionist which has its legs raised high in the air exposing a deeply carved vulva and also an anus. As the Friends of Friendless churches website says the building is “a church of puzzles” being a mixture of styles with the font being the most puzzling feature of all. It has been described as Tudor in style but has mixture of motifs including a muzzled beast head and the female exhibitionist figure which are Romanesque motifs from the earlier 12th century. In addition to this some of the carving is upside down and its quality is “rustic” to say the least. It has been suggested that the carving may hay the work of an apprentice trying out different styles. Thanks go to John Vigar https://www.johnevigar.com/ for the information and pictures on this figure.
Ballidon lies around 6 miles north from Ashbourne with its controversial exhibitionist figure, Alstonefield with its Romanesque monster eating a female exhibitionist also 6 miles or so distant to the West, the Haddon Hall sheela na gig lies 11 miles to the north along with the nearby Darley Dale anus shower . There definitely seems to be a tradition of carving exhibitonist figures in this area.
The figure consists of a human somewhat grim looking head with a pill box style hat or hair, a pair of splayed legs with what appear to be three lobes in the crotch.A cat’s/beast head peeks out from between the legs with what could be cloven feet or paws beneath. Usually this figure is photographed directly from the front and the decoration on either side of the head has been described as an elaborate hair style. As you can see from the photos below the “hair” is in fact another two heads, skull on the left and what appears to be a less stern looking woman complete with clothed breasts on the right. The female has a similar style pill box hairdo/hat. The carved lines on both hats may indicate that they are meant to be crowns.
This figure has been referred to as a “sheela na gig” but as you can see from the photos is not obviously female or male for that matter. The three lobes could be an indication of a penis and testicles but if they are the execution is very modest. There is not anything that could safely be described as a vulva. Nevertheless the imagery in the carving in complex and obviously symbolic, though with male, female, death,beast and possible royal imagery it’s a little hard to interpret it’s exact meaning. Thanks go to Clare Heron for the use of her detailed photographs of the figure.
The figure is one of a number of carvings which adorn the lower part of the tomb of Prior of the Abbey from 1480 to 1491, Rowland Leschman.
The left hand side showing a skull with clasped hands
The right hand head appears to be a less stern looking female.
The Pennington Sheela na Gig now resides in Kendal Museum 1 .
The figure was found during a refurbishment of the church at Pennington in 1925. The current building dates from the 1826-27 after the earlier church was pulled down. There is a surviving Romanesque tympanum from the original church which is set into a wall. This has the unusual feature that it in inscribed with runes which name the founder and mason who built the church. The inscription has been said to read “Gamal built this church. Hubert the mason carved.” but this is open to debate and is not helped by the fact that the tympanum is badly weathered 2.
The figure is fairly crudely carved in shallow relief. The left arm gestures to the deeply incised vulva while the right is mostly missing, but there is evidence that it to is gesturing in a similar manner. The remaining left hand has three carved fingers on it and there is a ghostly outline of a right had also gesturing to the vulva. It also has two crudely carved hanging breasts high on the chest. The head again crudely carved has jug ears, a long simplistic nose, two circles for eyes and appears to be smiling. One of the more primitive examples of a sheela na gig.
Richard N. Bailey in 1979 recorded this name for the figure after a conversation with a local resident. It was then published a number of years later in his article “Apotropaic Figures in Milan and North-West England” (Folklore vol 94;i 1983). This makes this one of the newer names for a figure and is probably associated with the runic inscriptions on the church tympanum.
Thanks go to Clare Heron for the use of her photographs of this figure.
This roof boss in Sheffield Cathedral is often reported as a Sheela Na Gig.Due to is abstract nature and lack of genitals this would not seem to be the case. It could be a representation of an acrobat figure but again is very abstract. Local tradition holds that it is a representation of the river Don.
This figure was found by a builder while working on a path in Church St in the town of Ashbourne Derbyshire. It was originally put into a skip with the rest of the rubble from the path but was fortunately rescued. It was then later sold to Mr Ashley Throw of Ashbourne who realised this was both old and interesting and bought the figure with a view to conserving it.
Location of the find
The figure was dug up approximately 200 yards from the Church of St Oswald on Church St. St Oswald’s was started in 1240 by Hugh de Pateshull and replaced an earlier Saxon and possibly Norman church. A Norman crypt was discovered in 1913 and the earliest existing parts of the church are thought to date from 1160. If the figure is genuine it would seem to be a likely source for the figure.
The figure is just over a foot wide and 28 inches tall. It is free standing and falls into the monstrous category of Sheela Na Gigs. The head is the most striking aspect with a skull like face and round protruding eyes. The right side of the jawline is pronounced while the left is missing, the mouth is indicated by a thick raised line. On the chest ribs are evident even to the point of representing a skeleton. The legs are wide apart bent at the knee with the hands resting on the thighs. An oval hangs between the legs with a deep deliberate incision. There is no way that this could be mistaken for a penis and definitely represents a vulva.
There has been much argument as to whether the figure is a genuine Sheela na Gig i.e. one dating from the 12th century or an old/modern interpretation of one. There are nearby sites which have genuine figures namely Alstonefield with its female exhibitionist being devoured by a monster. Alstonefield also has a number of unfinished (non exhibitionist) sculptures that seem to indicate that there were sculptors working in the area in the 12th century. There is then a tradition of carving female exhibitionist figures in the area. Unfortunately due to the context figure was found in and the style of the head, it is hard to make a definite decision one way or the other as to it’s absolute authenticity.
A Monstrous figure
Ireland holds a number of Sheela Na Gig figures which have a monstrous aspect. In the UK the figures generally are less so. This one is a definite exception with obvious cadaver like features.
Nunburnholme is a small village near Pocklington in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
The church of St James was founded by the family of Roger de Morely. The church holds a Norman arch with at least one other Norman fragment of a peg toothed face embedded in an outside wall. The face also includes a fragment of zig zag carving which would seem to suggest a Norman origin.
Thanks go to C.B. Newham of www.digiatlas.org for the use of the pictures and information about the carving. Pictures copright C.B. Newham
My thanks go to Peter Connor and Malcolm 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.
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.’