The Cleckheaton Sheela Na Gig
The Cleckheaton Sheela Na Gig

The Figure

This figure is also reported as being in Scholes. The figure is unique in the UK and Ireland due to it’s location on a font. The font is thought to be Norman and while the carving borders on crude the motifs are similar to those found in othe Romanesque sculpture. The round headed blind arcading would seem to suggest the Romanesque although this is open to interpretation. The exhibitionist figure is one of a series of human and abstract/foliate carvings contained within the round headed blind arcading. The figures appear in the intersection of the arches giving the heads their pointed appearance. The other figures on the font include a round headed figure and a bearded figure with a pointed head.The sheela na gig figure is different from the rest in that its legs with its in-turned feet escape the confines of the arcading and are carved on the base of the font. While the execution is fairly crude the deeply carved cleft between the legs, as well as both hands gesturing towards the cleft make this an unequivocal exhibitionist or “sheela na gig”.

You can see more pictures of the font at the Ye Olde Whitechapel in the North website. If you want to find out more about the Chapel a booklet is available from the website. Anthony Weir also has a commentary on this figure at Beyond the Pale.

This font appears in Medieval Churches of West Yorkshire published by the West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service.

The font is still being used for baptisms today.

Another sheela na gig figure has been found close by at Woodkirk church some ten miles from Cleckheaton