In her recently published book Sheela-na-gigs Unravelling an Enigma Barbara Freitag gave details of a Sheela na Gig at Haverfordwest Priory in the county of Dyfed.
The Haverfordwest figure is placed in between two column capitals originating from the priory at Haverfordwest which is thought to have been founded in the early 13thC (1203) by Augustinian cannons. The annual income at the time of the Dissolution was assessed at £133 indicating a moderate wealth by the standards of Welsh monastic houses. Records and the state of ruins suggest the priory escaped the worst
damage due to fire, or war. The ruins were substantially robbed of their decorative stonework over the years, but fortunately, this figure was found during excavations of the site in 1994.
What remains of the capital is in a very good state of preservation, this may indicate that it was an indoor figure. It is thought the capital would have been part of the cloisters.
The figure which measures 84mm x 60mm is an inverted acrobat type. The genital area is damaged so its anyone’s guess as to whether it was exhibitionist once. As you can see from the photograph there is a very faint raised area on the groin which may indicate a vulva. There may also be a pointer to this figure being an exhibitionist due to the surround of the figure. At first, I thought it was vegetation surrounding the figure but Dr Rees mentioned that she thought it was a dress. On closer inspection, the vegetation bore a distinct impression of folds rather than vines or leaves. This is further borne out by the fact that there is a “bar” just below the breasts, which could indicate a fold of dress material.
This figure is now in the possession of CADW. Thanks go to Dr Sian Rees and Dr Richard Avent of CADW for allowing us to photograph this and the Raglan castle figure.
A Warning Against Lust?
Since this figure was located in the cloisters it would seem that this carving was meant for an ecclesiastic audience. Since we know with some certainty that sculpture was used as an educational tool could this figure have been used as reminder to the monks not to indulge in the sin of lust? It’s position on a cloister column does not seem to suggest an apotropaic function.
Please note this map indicates the original location of the figure only.
At the time of writing the figure is in the possession of CADW and is not only public display.