The following text is by Keith Jones
John Harding was informed of two figures in the Parish Church of St Pol de Leon. This church is found in the village of Paul, 3 miles south of Penzance. Although the foundation of the church is 12 century, most of the church dates to 16th – 17th century. The oldest part of the existing church is the early 15th century tower. The informant reported:
‘The genital area of these figures being large in relative size of the rest of this figure
A child who looked at the figure with binoculars delightfully described it ‘A lady with pasties in her hand.’
Both the figures are isolated, and positioned like a gargoyle, on top of the 86 foot tower, on the southeast corner, and north east corner. The height of the south east figure combined with the narrow road at this point presented difficulties in observing the figure. Although the figure is weathered, and covered in lichen most of the features are discernible, but some subjective interpretation is inevitable. The head is large, with big ears, a hooked nose, sunken eyes, and a broad smile. The narrow arms come to rest at the lower abdominal area, and the figure has no legs. There is a rather bold circular raised circle on the abdomen, rising to just below the chin of the figure, which may suggest the genitals. The lower middle of the circle has a hole which may indicate the vagina. Although the hands are small, it appears as if the right hand has very long and disjointed fingers, with one digit pointing to the middle of the circle. The fingers of the left hand seem smaller but they cover the lower part of the genital circle.
The other figure is found high on the north east corner of the tower. Overall this figure is very faded, but seems to have very broad fore arms which come to rest on the lower abdominal area but no genitals are evident. In comparison, the upper arms of this figure are much narrower, suggesting the cartoon character Popeye. It appears as if the spindly legs are straddling a quoin stone on which the figure sits. Although the facial features are faded, it has a good head of hair.
There is no mention of these figures in the church literature. Anthony Weir who have seen the photographs is of the opinion:
‘I think the Paul figure comes under the category of “grotesques”; it is quite possible that – like a lot of gargoyles and roof-level carvings – it is a sort of jeu d’esprit carved in a flamboyant and ambiguous style which allows the distant viewer’s imagination to roam.’
‘Certainly not what could with any conviction be called a Sheela’.
Text and Photographs by Keith Jones