Torksey

 

The Torksey Figure
The Torksey Figure

The Figure

It was Margaret Murray (1934) who first thought the figure located in St Peter’s Torksey was a Sheela na Gig, as a result, Andersen accepted this on her authority. In her account ‘Female Fertility Figures’ Murray writes:

‘At Torksey, in Lincolnshire, the figure is so worn and battered, although it is inside the church, that it is impossible to say whether the breasts were originally represented; the pose of the arms, however, leaves no doubt that this also is a Sheila-na-gig, though possibly of a late type’.

From Roman to medieval times Torksey was a very busy port set on a canal 80 miles from the sea, and much larger than Nottingham was at the time. But by the late 14th century the area started to decline but not before a small Cistercian Nunnery, and a Priory were set up. It seems St Peters was one of three churches, and served as a chapel to the Priory just to the east of the present church. Of these constructions nothing now remains, but it seems reasonable to assume the figure was formally located in the Priory buildings, and later moved inside the present church. St Peter’s Church was rebuilt during 1821-22 when the figure was probably painted with whitewash. According to Mr Burgess the Church Warden with was done by Victorian attitudes towards Pagan subjects. But it was during the restorations the vicar of the day insisted on putting the figure on display in the nave.

The figure is located inside the church, about 3 to 4 meters up on the west corner of the south wall, and measures roughly 60cm high by 22cm wide, and is framed in an arch. The whitewash is so thick, a lot of the original features are difficult to make out. However she seems to have two ‘pecked’ eyes, a gaping mouth, with a short stubby nose, and from the shape of her head may indicate some hair. The arms which seem to gesture towards her lower abdomen are mis-shaped, and her upper left arm seems to be missing. She is standing, although you may be forgiven for thinking she is seated. Although not clearly represented the genitals, or rather lack of them suggest she is female. Although the genitals of the figure are not evident, Andersen claims:

‘Like a few figures Torksey, for instance this Sheela is a standing figure with arms and hands down the sides of the body. There is no gesture towards the genitals, but these are very clearly marked, and sagging belly and genitals repeat an ugly feature of many Irish Sheelas.’

Photographs and Text by Keith Jones

Torksey Church
Torksey Church

 

 

Location

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Tickhill

The Tickhill Female Figure
The Tickhill Female Figure

In her book ‘Explore Green Men’, published in 2003, Mercia MacDermot reported the presence of a ‘Sheela’ and a phallic male on the gatehouse of Tickhill Castle, just a few kilometers west of Austerfield. The castle located 9km south of Doncaster, is on private land which is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster who have refused access to the public for a number of years. Although blocked by a large wooden gate the medieval gatehouse and its carvings can be clearly seen from Castlegate Road. Viewing is difficult during the summer months due to dense tree foliage.

The castle at Tickhill was built by Roger de Busli (alternate spellings abound and include Busili, Buslim,Buslin, Buesli and more commonly Bully) from the land given to him by William I for his assistance in the invasion of 1066. Roger de Busli was a major landholder in the Domesday book holding 174 estates in Nottinghamshire. His seat of power was at Blythe but Tickhill was his main castle. Originally, a Motte and Bailey the castle was added to throughout the years, culminating in the 17th century Manor House. The curtain wall, and gatehouse was constructed during early 12th century (1129-30?), and the barbican added in the 13th century.

The gatehouse is decorated with four pediments inlaid with small crude statuettes and slabs. The carvings are considered of late 11th or early 12th century ornamentation. There are five human figures amongst the decorations but of the two are of particular interest.

To the right is a rather squat figure which could be MacDermot’s suggested Sheela, where both arms held down the trunk, come to rest at the lower abdominal area. Two short legs are held straight, and at an angle of the body. Although an outline of a head is just evident, no features can be seen.

The figure to the left is more complex, and could be male or female. It has a long slender body, its large head contains a broad nose, and the position of the two nares is evident, as are two small eyes. Two arms are held close two the body and come to rest, cupping the genital area, where fingers are clearly discernible. If a female, the pudenda consists of a circular hole, and like the Church Stretton figure seems to contain a stone. The rather large pelvic area, which may suggest the figure is female, is supported by two short legs. If the figure is male, the large pelvic area becomes the figure’s hands (a little too large when compared to the size of the figures arms however). In effect the large hands are holding the base of the penis. The hole may be a socket where a penis was inserted. Both figures are rather worn, and it is difficult to be certain.

Although fairly common in Ireland, secular/castle Sheelas are very scarce on the British mainland. The only known other known example can be found in Haddon Hall. However while sheelas on castles may be rare in Britain sheelas associated with castles are more common. Kilpeck, Devizes, Holdgate and the possible sheela figure at Bredwardine are all castle churches and are intimately connected with their accompanying castles often forming part of the castle complex.

The Tickhill Male Figure
The Tickhill Male Figure


Interestingly a definite sheela na gig lies around 5 miles to west in the village of Austerfield in church built by another member of the Bully family, John de Bully. This figure, dating from around the same period as the gatehouse, adds weight to the likelyhood of these worn figures being exhibitionist with local sculptors being familiar with the exhibitionist motif. Like Kilpeck and Holdgate these castles were the main castles for their lords and all are connected with sheela na gig carvings. Tickhill is another example where we have (possible) exhibitionist figures associated with the main castle of a powerful local Norman lord. It seems that sheelas and status are connected in some way (this idea is currently being explored by Dr Theresa Oakley).

Text John Harding and Keith Jones

Photographs copyright Keith Jones

SheelaTickhill05
Two Figures
SheelaTickhill03
Remnants of a figure

SheelaTickhill04

Other worn figures on the castle the last with some facial features still evident

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Stoke Sub Hamdon

 

The Stoke Sub Hamdon Sheela Na Gig
The Stoke Sub Hamdon Sheela Na Gig

The Church

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

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 head.
Once again we are faced with the question of the definition of a Sheela na gig. This figure lacks the overt exhibitionism of the Kilpeck and Oaksey figures in much the same way as the earlier Romanesque corbel on the other side of the church. Nevertheless it is displaying it’s vulva (if not in an immediately shocking way) This and the fact that stylistically it appears to much later than the usual Romanesque period, makes it one of the latest vulva displaying figures in the UK.

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.

Abstract Corbels
Abstract Corbels
Whats does this carving mean?
Whats does this carving mean?
The location of the figure
The location of the figure
Later waterspout
Later waterspout
The Saggitarius and Leo Tympanum
The Saggitarius and Leo Tympanum

Tympanum over the main door to the church containing the astrological symbols of Saggitarius and Leo.
Interestingly the Sagitarius/Leo motif is duplicated on the font at Hook Norton including the explicit naming of the figures with inscriptions.

 

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Raglan – The Carving

The Raglan Carving
The Raglan Carving

The Figure

Mr. Martin Stevens found this carving in the garden of his house. It combines both male and female organs in the same carving. I’ve not seen anything else like this but would be happy to hear from anyone who knows of a similar figure. Unfortunately there is absolutely no indication of how old the figure is or where it originated. No other remains were found in the garden and  while the building is old it there is no history that would give any clue to it’s origin. Mr Stevens has taken it to various museums and while they have expressed a mild interest there has not been much information forthcoming. When Mr Stevens found the carving it was fairly clean the patination you see is a result of it being stored in his garage.

The Raglan Vulvar Phallus
The Raglan Vulvar Phallus
A view of the male side
A view of the male side

Location

This figure is in private possession and is not viewable.

Kilvickeon

The Kilvickeon Figure side view
The Kilvickeon Figure side view

The Figure

The ruined chapel at Kilvickeon, dedicated to Ernan, son of Eoghan nephew of St. Columba, near Scoor on the Ross of Mull  is thought to date from the late 12th or early 13th centuries. This places it just in the time period when most UK mainland sheelas seem to have been carved. If this figure is a sheela then it would be a fairly late example. The figure is embedded eight-feet above the ground on the east wall of the church  The figure is about 16 inches high and around 4 inches wide at the bottom. The remains of the head extend forward several inches giving the figure a feeling of depth. The right side of the head appears to be missing. What appear to be the weathered remains of arms reach forward to a hold an shallow oval depression on the front of the figure.

Is this a sheela na gig?
Once again we have a very worn figure which is very hard to interpret due to the weathering. However the oval depression held open by the vestigial arms and the  seemingly hunched shoulders do indicate that the figure may have once been an exhibitionist. However in it’s current state it is impossible to state with any certainty that it was orginally a sheela na gig but it does have more going for it than a lot of other worn figures.

My thanks go to Marc Calhoun for supplying the above information and the pictures of this less well known and remote figure.

Pictures copyright Marc Calhoun 2006

The Kilvickeon Figure
The Kilvickeon Figure
The church wall
The church wall

Location

Directions

Kildonan

The Kildonan Figure
The Kildonan Figure

The Kildonan Figure

This figure is located in the ruined church at Kildonan on the Isle of Eigg (pronounced Egg) in Scotland. The church is named after St Donan a contemporary of St Columba. St Donan was martyred in his monastery on Eigg either by Viking raiders or the local queen in 617 or  618. His death was either by beheading or fire depening on which account you read. The church which currently houses the alleged sheela sculpture is thought to be a 16th century construction but there is evidence of earlier religious settlement in four cross slabs which date from the early medieval period. Records also list a religous settlement here in 725 so it would seem that the monastery continued after St Donan’s death.

Is this a sheela na gig?

According to the plaque on the wall of the ruined church it is a sheela and also according to the book “Eigg The Story of an Island” by Camille Dressler (Polygon, Edinburgh 1998) where Ms Dressler titles it a “Carving of the sheela na gig, an aspect of the Celtic mother goddess”. Unfortunately as you can see on the exceptionally clear photograph by Sarah Price on the right, there is little evidence of a vulva on display. In fact the sculpture seems more to be “hands in lap” than exhibitionist. The raised area either side of the head seems to suggest wings or possibly a pillow. In fact if you take the head on its own then the figure becomes more like the winged angels heads you see on 18th century tombstones. The overall shape of the sculpture is also suggestive of a tombstone. The lower part of the slab is damaged and while there is a depression it is distinctly un-vulva like and seems to be more case of damage due to weathering. In its favour the site of the church seems to have been in use throughout the period when most sheelas were carved and there are also the figures on Rodel and Iona which also would lend weight to this figure possibly being a sheela. However like this figure on Eigg neither of these figures is unequivocally a sheela na gig. So taking into account all the evidence it would seem the definition contains a fair amount of wishful thinking.
Thanks go to Sarah Price for the photograph and the information on the plaque.

The ruins of  Kildonan church
The ruins of Kildonan church

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Bugthorpe

The Bugthorpe Sheela Na Gig
The Bugthorpe Sheela Na Gig

Photo by Keith Jones.

The Figure

This figure is reported in Images of Lust as being a possible Beakhead sheela unfortunately it is covered in a thick layer of whitewash which makes identification and study of the figure difficult. When Keith visited the church the vicar informed him that the whitewash was due to be removed at some time in the near future. It would be interesting to see what type of figure would be revealed. I hope to have more information on this figure when I visit it in person.

History and other figures

Although this figure is covered we can make some inferences about it’s likelihood of of being a sheela na gig. The carving the rest of the church appears to be Romanesque so we are at least in the right period for an exhibitionist figure.

Other whitewashed figures in the church.

Romanesque Head
Romanesque Head
Another Head
Another Head
Biting Monster part of a voussoir?
Biting Monster part of a voussoir?
Bugthorpe Church
Bugthorpe Church

There are some very good pictures of the carvings at this website below

Bugthorpe, Yorkshire – St Andrew

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Bilton in Ainsty

The Bilton in Ainsty Sheela Na Gig
The Bilton in Ainsty Sheela Na Gig

The Figures

The church of St Helen’s, Bilton in Ainsty is situated on the B1224 York to Wetherby road. Although the church dates from Saxon times, it was considerably altered under Norman influence.

As you enter to church through the porch walk over to the vestry in the top right hand corner. The twin sheelas are situated corbel table, near the eastern wall. Formerly both corbel tables in the vestry, and Lady Chapel. were on the outside wall prior to the extension of the church in 1869.

The sheela nearest to the east wall has very broad shoulders, and haunches. Although it is claimed by Roberts ‘with her arms held on her abdomen’, her hands holds the lower part of the genitalia, which broadly occupy her trunk up to her neck.. The other is said to be ‘badly damaged hacked at, presumably because, the right arm and the hand held beneath it suggest a very patient posture.’ Although the head and shoulders are reasonably well defined, the damage to the lower half of the sculpture is so bad, it is difficult to determine any features. There are several very interesting carvings found inside the church including a Saxon Cross, various corbels including monsters, and a mermaid stresses puller.

The church is kept locked, although a key is available from the Old Vicarage, Bilton.

Text and photographs by Keith Jones

SheelaBilton02
Another exhibitionist
Romanesque Mermaid or Melusine figure
Romanesque Mermaid or Melusine figure
Bilton In Ainsty Church
Bilton In Ainsty Church

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Alderwasley

The Alderwasley Figure
The Alderwasley Figure

This carving gets a passing mention in the book Ghosts and Legends of the Peak District being listed as one of the sheelas in Derbyshire. It is situated on the old chapel in the village of Alderwasley near Wirksworth. The chapel is a small building next to a church yard and is now being used as the village hall after a number of years lying derelict. The chapel is small, distinctly un-church like and dates from 16th century. It used to be the personal chapel of the Hurt family whose old alabaster coat of arms can still been on the front of the building where it hangs above the main door. The building is supposed to be haunted and some of the carvings on the building are quite eerie. (see the head carving below).  David Clarke in his book Ghosts and Legends of the Peak District states that the carvings on the chapel are taken from an older building which used be at the site. However I can find no mention of a church or chapel on site the before this one (if anyone knows differently please get in touch). There is some evidence to suggest that the materials used to build the chapel have been robbed from another larger building. The stone on which the alleged sheela resides is very large for a building of this size with an even larger stone directly below it. It seems unlikely that the stones were cut to such a large size for a building as small as this chapel. There is a cemetery to the left of the chapel.

The Chapel

The chapel itself is mostly made up of a red sandstone with inserts of a much lighter grey stone There are a number of carved items set in a line into the front wall These are :
A malevolent looking stone head,
A decorated shield,
A foliate pattern
a plain protruding stone
Flanking the main door there are two worn heads both of which appear to be wearing hats
All of these items seem to be carved from a darker stone than the stone which the chapel is made of.
The main door to the chapel is surmounted by a decorated lintel which appears to be 16th century.
 
 

Is this a sheela na gig?

The carving is very weathered and and it is hard to determine whether it is a sheela or not. There is a cleft at the bottom of the carving and there seem to be hunched up knees and folded arms. The face is very weathered but you can still make out eyes and a mouth. The mouth seems similar to the Holdgate Sheela in that the lips are joined but again this is hard to know for certain due to the weathering. The date of the chapel would count against this being a sheela as it is far later than the usual Romanesque period. However if the stones of the chapel are taken from an earlier building then we may be able to discount this. Saying that I have yet to find any records of a Norman church or chapel at this site. The position of the figure on a quoin stone is similar to figures found in Ireland but is fairly unusual for a British sheela. The alleged sheela figure is by far and away the most worn of the carvings on chapel but this may be down to the faster weathering of the sandstone from which it is carved. It is worth noting that the only other sandstone carving on the chapel appears to be 16th century and is also worn although not to the same extent as the alleged sheela. All in all the figure is too weathered to be certain whether it is a classic sheela na gig or other type of exhibitionist figure.

The malevolent stone head
The malevolent stone head. Note the different type of stone used for this piece.
A side view of the figure
A side view of the sculpture on the chapel. It’s worth noting that the alleged sheela is carved from the same stone as the chapel and it not made the same type of stone as the other fragements.
The coat of arms on the hall
The coat of arms on the hall
A view of the hall
A view of the hall. Note the darker pieces of sculpture on the left hand side of the building. These appear to be re-used fragments and are of a different stone from the red sandstone from which the building is made. The alleged sheela figure is on the far left corner of the building.

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Braunston

The Braunston Figure
The Braunston Goddess

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

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
 

Monster head with concertina like striations and large rubbery mouth and tongue. Kilpeck Herefordshire.
Monster head with concertina like striations and large rubbery mouth and tongue. Kilpeck Herefordshire.
 The Braunston Figure - length view
The Braunston Figure – full length view
The Braunston Figure Repaired
The Braunston Figure Repaired – Artists impression.

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.

A side view of the figure. Note the striations on the side behind the damaged breast and the remains of the second "nose" and eye.
A side view of the figure. Note the striations on the side behind the damaged breast and the remains of the second “nose” and eye.

Wikipedia article on the figure
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braunston-in-Rutland

Braunston at British History on line
http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=66196
Mentions the figure as a sheela na gig

Bob Trubshaw’s article on the figure
http://www.indigogroup.co.uk/edge/braunstn.htm

The location of the figure. Photograph courtesy of Robert Miller
The location of the figure. Photograph courtesy of Robert Miller

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