Abstract corbels, an astrological tympanum, St Michael slaying the dragon and host of other architectural features make Stoke Sub Hamdon a veritable feast of medieval carving.
The church has been added to many time over the centuries resulting in a many different features from different times. The church is thought to have been originally built in 1100 the first version of the church not having a tower. This figure and a later nude figure on the church is discussed in the paper Two Sheila-na-gigs at Stoke Sub Hamdon by Paul Ashdown in Somerset Archaeology and Natural History 1993.
The figure can be found on the left side of the church as you enter from the main gate. Walk past the tower and you should find a series of Romanesque corbels. The picture below indicates the exact position.
At first glance the figure is unremarkable just a face staring out from a squatting body. However when you go directly beneath the figure you can clearly see a cleft indicating either buttocks or a vagina. Unfortunately it is hard to from the carving which it is meant to be. There also seems to be some indication of hands pulling a the cleft apart but this not clear. While the figure is undoubtedly exhibitionist is it a sheela? Well it has all the characteristics of a sheela except for the fact that it's exhibitionist nature is not immediately obvious. It is not as "in your face" as the Kilpeck or Oaksey sheelas and has less of an impact. In fact you have to go out of your way to discover that the figure is indeed exhibitionist at all. The same goes for the later figure on the rear of the church (see below) mentioned in Paul Ashdown's paper
This later figure (right) can
be found on the rear of the church high up on the back wall. It consists
of a nude figure with it's mouth wide open which is blocked by a piece
of rubble. The figure is missing the right hand limbs but gestures to
the vulva with it's left hand. The vulva is not immediately obvious and
it was only due to the fact that we had read John Ashdown's paper that
we noticed it. In fact both myself and Keith Jones missed this figure on
several separate visits despite the fact we were looking for figures of
this type. The figure appears to have been moved from elsewhere and
looks like the type of gargoyle figure you see adorning later medieval
church towers. If this is the case then the figure would have faced head
outwards with the feet on the tower while a channel would have been set
to make waste water emerge from the mouth. If this description holds
true then the vulva would have been facing the church and would not have
been immediately obvious. There is also some indication that the vulva
may have been carved at a later date than the main figure as it appears
to be out of line with the main body. If you look at the photograph
above you can see that if you draw a vertical line through the vulva it
points to beyond the figure's left shoulder rather than straight up to
The later figure on the rear of the church
The rest of the church is very interesting with many different carvings dotted around it. There are some corbels which very abstract in design and would not look out of place in an Escher drawing. In addition to these some carvings (see below) are very odd defying a simple explanation of what they are meant to represent.
Some of the abstract corbels on the church
St Michael slaying the dragon. Frieze over side window
Gargoyle on an extension to the rear of the church
Tympanum over the main door to the church containing the astrological
symbols of Saggitarius and Leo.
The red arrow indicates the position of the figure
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