The Rodel Sheela na Gig


The Rodel Sheela Na Gig
Picture copyright Undiscovered Scotland
Used with permission

This figure is located on Rodel Church at the southern tip of the Isle of Harris in the Western Isles of Scotland. The current church is thought to originate from the early 1500's but it is believed that it was built on the site of an older church of unknown date. The church is associated with the Augustinian nunnery at Iona  which also houses an alleged sheela na gig.
The Rodel figure is carved on a roughly square block on the east side of the tower, surrounded by a weathered string course.It is in a seated position with both legs bent and wide apart. The left leg is slightly more extended than the right. The vulva is represented by a small but definite cleft between the legs. The right hand holds a now worn object which has been described as a baby but looks more like an animal such as a dog or lamb. Intriguingly the left hand points to, or is holding a raised rectangular section stone which has a worn and rough surface. The face of the figure is turned towards this object. This rectangle is deliberately carved but it's function is not immediately apparent. It would appear that the face was originally fairly detailed and the head is covered in what appears to be styled hair. Even though the figure is worn the vulva is still apparent and the splay legged nature of carving would definitely seem to put this figure in the exhibitionist category. On the south side of the tower lies an almost modern jacketed male exhibitionist figure known as "The Lewd Man". This figure appears to be holding his penis in both hands.
Mairi Kidd writes about the figure on the Flickr Sheela na gig group
"According to Lesley Riddoch's Hebrides bike-tour programme, Countess Dunmore had her ghillie shoot off this poor wee mannie's wee mannie. Luckily he missed his clachan! Tradition has it that he is known as Seumas a' Bhuid, which would be James of the willy in English. Rhymes with ghillie; maybe there's a limerick in there. "

The Lewd Man of Rodel
The Lewd Man of Rodel
Thanks go Mairi Kidd for allowing the use of this image

For another picture of this figure visit Anthony Weir's Rodel web pages here

Medieval Carving
The majority of the carving in the church dates from the late middle ages at around the end of 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries. The church is the best example of a medieval building in the Western Isles. The tomb of Alexander MacLeod of Dunvegan and Harris dating from 1528 is richly carved with ships, stags, the Virgin Mary flanked by two bishops and various angels and saints.All of the carving on the tomb is done in bas-relief in panels unlike the two figures on the outside. There are a number of medieval "speech bubbles" or banners on the tomb. It seems unlikely that the rectangle on the carving is serving this same purpose as it is distinctly un-bannerlike. Unfortunately its nearly impossible to suggest a date for the sheela na gig due to weathering. However if it is contemporary with the rest of the carving in the church then it would make it one of the latest examples of exhibitionist carving in the UK.

For more information on the church check out the Undiscovered Scotland website.
The church of Rodel with the sheela indicated
The Church of Rodel
The sheela can be seen between the second and third windows bisecting the string course on the tower.
Picture copyright Undiscovered Scotland
Used with permission


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