The Bray Sheela Na Gig
The Bray Sheela Na Gig

This figure can be found at the Church of St Michael in Bray in Berkshire. This gets a mention in The Witch On The Wall in the gazetteer section where it is described as “raising it’s garment so as to exhibit it’s sagging genitalia”. As you can see the figure is too weathered to be certain what it originally was. You could as easily make a case for it being a miser figure holding a sack. It’s position next to the main door of the church is a possible indication of it being a sheela but that is hardly conclusive evidence.This figure has to go in to the “too weathered” file.

John Harding

Figure on the column
Figure on the column
The location of the figure
The location of the figure
Horse figure outside the church
Horse figure outside the church




Possible Female Figure


Possible Male Figure

The church of St Andrews at Bishopstone Sussex has Anglo Saxon origins as can be seen in the sundial above the main door of the church which bears the name Eadric.The church houses a number of Norman and pre Norman features and is thought to date from the 8th century. The church also bears on the corbel table of the tower two very worn figures which may be male and female exhibitionists. The female is the more convincing of the two with the remains of a shallow oval on the underside. The legs are practically worn away but it was likely that they were bent and  the feet faced towards the wall. You can also still faintly make out the arms gesturing the groin possibly in a “hands in lap” pose. The face is faint but can still be made out in the picture above. The jaw is fairly square unlike its companion two corbels to the right who’s head is much rounder in comparison. The “male” figure, if male it be, is somewhat less convincing than its female companion. It has a similar pose with the legs arranged in the same way and what appears to be the remains of a scrotal sack. This is however open to interpretation. There does appears to be a large bulge between the legs and small worn protruberance emantes from this bulge The arms of the figure seem to be laid across the chest rather than pointing to the groin.
It’s hard to tell if both these figures were once exhibitionist due to weathering, which has probably been accelerated by the coastal location of the church. The CRSBI site mentions both figures as a “sheilanagig” sic  but puts a question mark against both.
The context of these corbels i.e. on a Romanesque corbel table counts in favour of these orginally being exhibitionist but while likely it’s impossible to be sure due to the weathering. (For an example of a worn figure which has all the attributes, but is unlikely to be exhibitionist, see the Gloucester Annus Figure)


The church tower. The arrows indicate the two possible exhibitionist figures. The rest of the corbels include many common Romanesque motifs such as double heads and beasts. The main porch lies to the right of the picture.

End View of Church

End view of the church. Notice that the decorated tower corbels go right round the tower.

Main door with sundial and inscription

The main door of the church bears a Romanesque archway. The sundial above the door is thought be Saxon and bears the inscription ‘Eadric’ preceded by an equal armed cross.

John Harding




The Figure

The Rochester figure is quite difficult to find if you don’t know exactly where to look (see below). It can be found high on the western facade of Rochester Cathedral. To the left of the main door look up until you can see two small thin windows one above the other. Look down until you come to three arches. The figure lies in the middle arch.

The genital area has been probably been chipped away, this damage is unlikely to be due to erosion because of the positioning of area at the bottom of the carving. The figure is cracked as well lending further weight to the theory.. During the civil war the two main figures on the ornately carved chapter door inside were decapitated by Cromwell’s soldiers. So if the figure was originally exhibitionist it would undoubtedly have been be a target for puritan attention as well. Unusually the figure holds two fishes, this feature may well have parallels in the carvings of double tailed mermaids found elsewhere. which hold their tails in their hands. While we can not be sure that the Rochester figure was originally exhibitionist it seems likely due to the positioning of the damage. It is also worth noting that the figures either side of this one are also damaged and appear to be of birds. The lunette on the left holds what appears to be two birds eating what may be a fish while the other holds a single bird attacking or eating a snake like object.

In addition to the carvings outside the church there are also many “green men” on the roof bosses inside the church. I was informed that there were up to 23 of them in total.

There is a older black and white picture of the figure on Anthony Weir’s website here. It’s interesting to note that the damage underneath the figure appears to be fairly recent when you compare the pictures above to the one on Anthony’s website.


Some Fishy Conjecture

The most striking and puzzling aspect of this carving are the two fish in the figure’s hands. One fish is scaly and one is smooth, the right hand fish may be smooth due to weathering however this scaly fish/smooth fish motif can be found elsewhere. One of the corbels at Kilpeck represents two fish, one scaly one smooth both pointing in the same direction. Interestingly the fishes are not thought to represent Pisces as this was more usually represented as two fish swimming in opposite directions sometimes joined at the mouth by a line. The church at Cunault-sur-Loire in France has a carving of a mermaid or Siren holding two similar fishes one scaly one smooth, the scaly one being presented to a man in a boat (see left). The author of Animal Symbolism in Ecclesiastical Architecture (1896) Edward Payson Evans interprets the fish as “the soul being held in the grip of a libidinous passion”. This description would seem to be further evidence that the Rochester figure was once exhibitionist especially with the figures rudely protruding tongue further signifying sinfulness. However we must be careful not interpret the figure to favour our own interests. There are two other carvings on a capital in the crypt at nearby Canterbury Cathedral which also hold fish and are thought to date from the roughly the same period (around 1120 for the Canterbury figures while the West door of Rochester Cathedral dates from around 1150). One side of the capital has a pair of “jugglers”, one man holds the other above his head while the man being held has his legs in a splayed position and holds a fish and a bowl. On the other side of the capital there is a monstrous chimera of figure which has the winged body of lion and two heads one of which is human while the other atop a human torso is horned and tusked. The horned figure also holds a fish and bowl like the juggler figures. Stylistically there are similarities which seem to suggest they are from the same school of sculpture as the Rochester figure. The bearded head of the splayed juggler has a similar oblong appearance to the Rochester figure, both figures have over large hands and the feet are treated in a similar way.  If the Rochester figure is from the same school of sculpture as Canterbury then this may be a pointer away from the figure being overtly exhibitionist. Despite there being a number of splay legged figures in the crypt none of them are explicitly exhibitionist. Even if the figure was not originally explicitly exhibitionist then the overall symbolism does seem to suggest a sexual meaning anyway.

So is this a Sheela Na Gig?

This page used to be titled The Rochester Sheela Na Gig in fact it is listed as such in Images of Lust and a number of other books. The Romanesque context is correct for a shela but it’s similarities to the crypt figures at Canterbury may mean that it was non exhibitionist. The relevant portion of the figure which would settle the argument is now missing so ultimately we are unable to decide either way. However it is interesting that only that portion of the figure is damaged rather than worn.


The position of the figure




The Eastry Figure
The Eastry Figure

The Figure

This figure has been recorded as a sheela na gig on the ADS archaeological search site here.
The photos and a lot of the information about this figure have been kindly supplied by Dr Stephen Bax of Canterbury Christ Church University.
The current church is Early English in style and was built in 1230 by the monks of Christ Church Abbey. It has a large tower, the top of which holds an extensive corbel table of mainly abstract designs.  There are a number of loose pieces of sculpture cemented into the buttresses on the church including the alleged sheela na gig (left). The church is also  famous as the location of a alleged picture of a ghost.

The figure is very worn but appears to be a bust with a cleft at the bottom. The cleft may simply be damage but Dr Bax who has seen the figure is of the opinion that it may have been carved. There may also be the remnants of an arm which reaches down one side but the figure is so worn it is very hard to be sure what exactly the “arm” is meant to be. The figure has a headdress or hood which is unusual for a sheela and a band around the neck possibly indicating clothing. The face has a rather glum expression and looks down. The head is large and seems disproportionate to the body. Even though the figure is worn it gives the impression of being female. It’s very hard to say that this figure is a proper Sheela Na Gig. There are no obvious genitals and the cleft, whether resulting from damage or being deliberately carved its only vaguely reminiscent of a vulva. The figure also appears to be clothed which further counts against it being a sheela, doubly so given the proximity of the neckline to the cleft. The church is Early English in design, not Romanesque. However we can’t read too much into this as another Early English church at Etton holds a far more convincing exhibitionist figure. All in all while the figure is interesting I would have to say I doubt this is a sheela na gig.

Thanks go to Dr Bax and Frances Hopkins for supplying these photographs of the figure and the church.
John Harding



The figure from below




Eastry Church



A worn human head possibly with a lop sided mouth. This motif can be seen on quite a few romanesque and later churches.



A worn carving possibly meant to be a lion (notice the worn mane like carving at the back of the figure)




SheelaPenmon SheelaPenmon01

Location: ///punt.hoped.highways


The present church of St Seiriol at Penmon on the Isle of Anglesy (Ynys Môn) in North Wales, was built between 1120 to 1123 and was once a major monastic site. St Seiriol lived in his cell just behind the church in the 6th century. The foundations of his cell, and the well are other interesting features of the area. The church also includes a wealth of carvings including a rather fine tympanum above the south door, the 11th century font, Celtic Crosses, arcading, a bearded man carrying an axe which is thought to represent Gofannon the Pagan god of blacksmiths, and the Sheela. The Sheela was thought to have originated on the west outside wall of the south transept, but is now fixed to the wall inside the south transept of the church.
The Penmon figure is badly weathered and the head has little of the facial features left although her ears can be made out. Both arms are held at the side of the body, the slit of the vulva is deeply carved between the legs which are held straight. Andersen suggests its similarity to the Oxford Sheela.

According to Roberts and McMahon a second figure situated in the dark interior of the church may also be a Sheela na Gig but very little is known about it. This is situated on a capital at the top of the south pillar of the rather fine Norman arch at the back of the church. This is rather crude and somewhat comical, which Anthony Weir describes as splay-legged, sexless and probably an acrobat symbolising unnatural acts. Archaeologia Cambrensis describes the western arch as follows

”..the capitals very rudely sculptured, and representing (if anything can now be defined of them), sprawling monsters or fishes..’

Keith Jones

Addendum: A few hours after putting up this page some further information came in from the sheela na gig mailing list. Gay Cannon attended a lecture by Maureen Concannon. While speaking to someone in the audience who had visited Penmon he found out that coins had been left on the ledge below the figure. This was not immediately obvious though as the person had used a ladder to get a closer look. One more indication of the continuing respect that these figures are paid.

Site visit Nov 10 2006

I finally managed to get to Penmon to get some photographs of the figures. My first impression was of surprise at the size of the figure. It was much larger than I expected having only seen it in photographs.

John Harding


This figure has been suggested as a second, somewhat abstract, sheela na gig in a similar style to the Haddon Hall sheela. The piece is set high in the wall of the chancel above the larger tower arch. It is accompanied by a smaller enclosed head which appears to be part of a voussoir. This carving may also be part of a now missing arch. As you can see from the photograph the carving is very worn but does have a gap at the bottom of the figure. We could interpret the outer ridges of the carving as representing legs while the inner circle represents arms. This is however something of a reach. It’s equally as likely that the carving is merely an enclosed head like its neighbour. Unfortunately like the rest of the figurative carving in the church the quality is not terribly good with confusing details. All in all its hard to say exactly what the carving is supposed to represent.


At first glance this carving appears splay legged but on closer inspection turns out to be a lot more complex and ambiguous. The right “leg” of the figure terminates in what appears to be a head with and open mouth and the other “leg” trails off into a tail. The left “arm” of the figure is bent at 90 degrees while the right appears more winglike. The arms and body may be compeletely separate to the head making bottom half of the carving a inverted dragon/snake like figure surmounted by a corner mask. The snake motif also appears on the opposite capitals (below).


These two capitals like opposite the “splay legged” capital on the other side of the arch.
Whereas the former is confusing these two seem to be completely abstract. The left hand capital seems to be formed of two snake like bodies terminating in open “crab claws” or mouths while over the impression of the capital is of a thick lipped abstract face. The second capital is even more confusing with a headless half egg shaped torso holding down another snake like body. Two rudimentary hands are carved on the snakes body. There appears to be damage or an unfinished area where you would expect the head to be. The rest of the carving is a crude abstract pattern. All in all completely baffling imagery.


This beast head is also set into the wall above the tower arch. It represents a beast of some type holding its snout. This is a common Romanesque motif and is repeated at many sites such as St Peters at Northampton and Kilpeck.


The tower arch.
As you can see the quality of the workmanship on arch is not the best. What appears to be an inscription at the bottom of the arch on the right hand side of the picture is in fact just decoration. The “acrobatic” and head figures can be seen on the left hand side of the picture while the beast head can be seen on the right.





Picture copyright Marc Calhoun

The Figure

This figure lies six feet high on the south wall at the ruined nunnery on Iona. Reginald son of Somerled Lord of the Isles introduced Benedictine monks and Augustinian nuns around 1203. The nunnery is one of only two Augustinian sites in Scotland. Destroyed during the reformation the nunnery has not been restored and still lies in ruins. The building is noted for it’s pink walls (some of the pink stone can be seen in the above photograph). The abbey ruins consist of both Romanesque and later architectural features. Irish masons were employed in the building of Iona abbey so it seems likely that they also had a hand in building the Nunnery as well.

Is this a Sheela Na Gig?
The figure is very worn so it is very hard to tell whether or not it was once exhibitionist. However there does seem to be a small cleft at the bottom of the carving and a suggestion of splayed legs. In fact the figure seems to have a similar stance to the figure at Rodel which is connected to the nunnery. Despite the weathering we can still determine a number of features. The arms of the figure seem to folded acrosss or at least pointing inwards to body. The figure is also quite “fat” with the “belly” projecting outwards.

This can be interpreted a number of ways :
1.The figure was holding something (Similar to Rodel)
2.The figure was depicted as being fat (For another plump sheela see Whittlesford)
3.The figure was depicted as being pregnant. If this is the case then it is possibly unique.

The figure also has a flat head or appears to be wearing a headdress. The head is also much smaller in proportion to the rest of the body.
Strangely a number of sheelas have flat heads (Stanton St Quintin, Etton and the questionable figure at Donyatt)

So is this a sheela na gig? Unfortunately its too weathered to tell.

Thanks go to Marc Calhoun for supplying the picture.