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.