The Elkstone Figure


Updated 2004-08-28

Elkstone is a richly carved parish church which is in the centre of a cluster of ancient churches in the Cotswolds. 

This carving (right) is mentioned in Images of Lust by James Jerman as being a damaged carving very similar in appearance to the Kilpeck sheela. I think from the picture above you will agree that there is a passing similarity but no more than that. The execution of the carving is less defined than the Kilpeck sheela and the figure has a head of hair or some sort of head dress. Another point to notice is that figure looks quite morose unlike the happy grin of the Kilpeck carving.

The figure does not appear to be damaged apart from the obvious curving cut on the left and slight rough patch at the bottom of the figure. It has been described by James Jerman as being the Kilpeck sheela  with the bottom half chopped away. This does not seem to be the case. The underside of the figure is quite smooth  the paler discolouration you can see is not big enough to indicate the removal of a large part of the carving. The figure seems to be a head, shoulders and torso protruding from the wall. I have to admit I don't quite understand why this figure has been classified as a possible sheela at all. At first I thought there might have been another candidate for an exhibitionist figure which appears to be lifting its skirts. However the figure itself is very confusing (see photo below). Having now seen other musician figures its more likely that this figure is a rote or Harp player as the composition of the figure fits in with other less worn musician figures.

The church has obvious connections to the Herefordshire school of sculpture. The heads at the top of the rib vaulting are very similar to those found at Kilpeck. The corbels on the church are Romanesque in style and probably originate from the 12thC. There are many motifs on the corbels including astrological, animal and abstract figures. There are also some later (15thC?) gargoyles on the tower. The tower also sports some well preserved minstrel figures on it's corners. One plays a shawm while another plays a wind instrument of some type. There are many fine carvings on the church including a fine tympanum. It's well worth a visit if you are in the arin his paper on Studland churchea. 

The Elkstone figure
Possible harp player

At first I thought that this figure was unfinished and lifiting its skirt. It seems more likely however that this is a worn harp or rote playing figure. A sculpture at Oakham castle shows an ass playing a rote, the instrument is grasped between the lower legs in a similar manner to this human figure. The rote is also represented in a smilar blocky manner2. It's worth comparing this figure to the one adjacent to the sheela at Studland which may also represent a rote player or harpist.

Column swallower heads at the junction of the chancel ribs. For more information on swallower figures visit Anthony Weir's site here. C.J.P. Cave classifies these figures as roof bosses in his book Roof Bosses in Medieval Churches. These are also very similar to the chancel ribs at Kilpeck

Centaur corbel

The church itself

The church tower

Later medieval gargoyle on tower


12thC Tympanum with beakhead decoration on moulding. Note the two human heads at the 5 to 12 position on the arch these are though to be the portraits of the churches founder Richard of Cormeilles and his wife 1. There is also a figure at the 10 to 12 position which holds the beaks of the neighbouring figures. There a similar figure at Siddington which is not inverted like this figure.

1. Information is from board in the church. The name of the founder is suffixed with a question mark.
2. Art and Patronage in the English Romanesque. Sarah Macready Ed. and F.H. Thompson Ed. page 103

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