The possible sheela na gig at Ancaster
Ancaster is situated in SW Lincolnshire , on the Roman Road of Ermine Street . In Roman times, there was a walled town, with earthen defences. Much Roman material has been excavated, including a statue of the Three Mother Goddesses, a statue of Minerva, and two stones dedicated to Viridius. There was a Roman cemetery with entrance archway, and inhumation burials have been discovered: some of C4 may be Christian. There are Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon remains in the area also.
The church is located to the west of Ermine Street , just north of the cross-roads, and was in the SW corner of the ancient Roman settlement. It is dedicated to St. Martin , which appears to be a relatively common dedication of churches using a pre-Christian sacred sire, as St Martin was noted for his destruction of pre-Christian temples.
The earliest existing architecture is Norman : arches in the nave, remnants in the chancel (with possible evidence of an earlier Saxon window), and an attractive font with intersecting arcading. Most of the church is Early English (C13?) with a C 14 tower. The interior has an interesting range of corbels, including several musicians, a boozy nun, and a great Green Man.
All of the exhibitionist figures occur on the tower and are integral to the structure of it and thus are likely to be C14. Pevsner gives the location of the sheela as “on the west face of the tower”. It is actually tucked into the angle of the SW buttress and is echoed by a non-sexual figure on the other face of the same buttress. The figure is low down, well within reach, and shows signs of damage around the vulva. It is considerably eroded, and probably would not arouse interest unless one was familiar with the customary pose of the sheela motif. The figure is carved into a recessed rectangular block of stone (the local Ancaster limestone is good building stone, but perhaps not fine enough in texture for detailed work, and erodes quite badly). Only the head, arms and torso are shown clearly, the figure leaning out a little from the recess, and the hands holding open what must have been the thighs. The face is extremely eroded: there is a suggestion of hair, but no clear features. The vulva is relatively large.
High on the same face of the tower, leaning outwards like many of the grotesques and gargoyles on this church, is a grinning male figure. He is bearded, and holds a large erect penis in his left hand. The carving is quite clear, and in some detail, even the opening in the head of the penis is shown. Also on the west face of the tower, is a carving of a couple, whether male, female or both, it is difficult to say. They are clasping hands: the right hand of the right figure, and the left of the left-hand figure, are held together between them. The right-hand person’s arm is hooked around the partner’s head, the fingers clothing the cheek, towards the mouth. It is not easy to see the other arm, the left-hand arm of the right figure, but it does appear to descend between them, the hand located in the genital area: perhaps a visit in the evening with a lower westerly sun would reveal more detail.
Text and pictures copyright Tina Negus