This figure lies in the churchyard of All Saints church in Braunston, Rutland and is commonly referred to as “The Goddess”. The church website1 refers to the carving as a “Shelagh”. The stone on which the carving resides was used as a doorstep until the 1920’s when it was uprooted and the carving found on the underside. (for another carving found face down see Llandrindod Wells) The church has been much altered over the years but still retains a romanesque doorway
The figure consists of head with two eyes with a pronounced eyebrow ridge. The only remaining eye has a drilled pupil and it would seem reasonable to assume the other also did. There is considerable damage to the left side of the head but the remnants of the other eye remain and more unusually a second “nose” is also present. Below the eyes is a large open mouth with what appears to be a tongue. Deeply carved striations appear on both sides of sides of the figure with an almost “concertina” effect. Underneath these striations appear to be fairly pert breasts, however the right one is damaged is damaged. Whereas the figure is quite unusual it would not look out-of-place with other sculpture from the medieval period. The striations, large rubbery mouth and drilled eyes can all be found on other pieces of sculpture. While the nature of the carving is very much different the striations and rubbery mouth with tongue can be found on a corbel at Kilpeck. Striations are also a fairly common feature in later monstrous church sculpture. The double nose is somewhat more unusual though. According to the book Public Sculpture of Leicestershire by Terry Cavanagh the damage to the left nipple happened in 1999.
Is this a sheela na gig?
Due to the lack of genitalia though we would have to discount this as a sheela na gig. Saying that it does appear to be medieval in style IMHO. There is a tradition of the figure being refered to as a sheela though. It is also mentioned in the Victoria County History for Rutland.
1 http://www.acny.org.uk/venue.php?V=10834 Accessed 18 November 2007
All photographs courtesy Robert Miller, copyright Robert Miller
This is an artist’s impression of what the carving may have looked like originally. The remnants of the left eye and double nose can still be seen on the original figure.