These figures were discovered by Dr Theresa Oakley and Dr Alex Woodcock who published their findings in the paper “The Romanesque Corbel Table at St John’s, Devizes and its Sheela na gig” (The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Volume 99 2006). The Sheela na gig of the title is one of a pair of exhibitionist figures on a corbel. This makes this corbel the third exhibitionist pair discovered so far in the UK, the other two being at Kirknewton and the window lintel at Whittlesford. There is some argument for the figures at Bredwardine being an exhibitionist pair as well, but the figures are damaged or worn and it is impossible now to tell for certain. This also applies to two figures recently discovered in Norfolk which also may have been exhibitionist.
Both of the Devizes figures are worn and damaged but a lot of detail still remains. The female’s lower right arm is missing and there is recent damage to the left arm which may have originally gestured towards the mouth or cheek (This gesture is similar to the Bredwardine figure and can be seen in many other Romanesque carvings.) The vulva is clearly visible and slightly exaggerated. Interestingly both the pudenda and the inner lips seem to be represented which is unusual.
The male figure is holding his damaged penis in his right hand and angles it away from the female figure, a small pair of testicles can just be determined between the legs. Both figures are angled slightly away from each. One can read too much into this but the male figures on both the Kirknewton and Whittlesford carvings seem to be very much interested in the female figure.
In addition to the exhibitionist pair the corbel table also holds an acrobatic monstrous anus shower. This has a bestial face and holds its legs in the exposing a deeply carved anus. Intriguingly in the photo below there appears to be a suggestion of a possible vulva above the anus making the figure female. Again we should be careful of reading to much into this.
There are many other monstrous corbels including one with a monster devouring a human figure head first with only the legs visible and a pair of human figures hugging each other inside a monsters mouth.
Given that a lot of newly discovered figures are equivocal it’s good to see a new discovery that are unambiguous exhibitionists. For those interested Dr Oakley’s Phd. thesis on Sheela na gigs will be published soon as a British Archaeological Report and Dr Woodcock’s paper “Liminal Images. Aspects of Medieval Architectural Sculpture in the South of England from the Eleventh to the Sixteenth centuries” is already available.
There is another exhibitionist figure which is widely regarded as a fake held at the museum in Devizes
The underside view of the exhibitionist pair. Both the pudenda and inner lips are depicted which is unusual.