Pennington

The Pennington Sheela Na Gig now in Kendal Museum. Image copyright Clare Heron.

The Pennington Sheela na Gig now resides in Kendal Museum 1 and that time of writing (Sept 2017) is not on display.

The figure was found during a refurbishment of the church at Pennington in 1925. The current building dates from the 1826-27 after the earlier church was pulled down. There is a surviving Romanesque tympanum from the original church which is set into a wall. This has the unusual feature that it in inscribed with runes which name the founder and mason who built the church. The inscription has been said to read “Gamal built this church. Hubert the mason carved.” but this is open to debate and is not helped by the fact that the tympanum is badly weathered 2.

The Figure

The figure is fairly crudely carved in shallow relief. The left arm gestures to the deeply incised vulva while the right is mostly missing, but there is evidence that it to is gesturing in a similar manner. The remaining left hand has three carved fingers on it and there is a ghostly outline of a right had also gesturing to the vulva.  It also has two crudely carved hanging breasts high on the chest. The head again crudely carved has jug ears, a long simplistic nose, two circles for eyes and appears to be smiling. One of the more primitive examples of a sheela na gig.

Freya

Richard N. Bailey in 1979 recorded this name for the figure after a conversation with a local resident. It was then published a number of years later in his article “Apotropaic Figures in Milan and North-West England” (Folklore vol 94;i 1983). This makes this one of the newer names for a figure and is probably associated with the runic inscriptions on the church tympanum.

Thanks go to Clare Heron for the use of her photographs of this figure.

The complete figure. Image copyright Clare Heron
A close up of the face. Image copyright Clare Heron

 

 

  1. Kendal Museum’s page on the figure http://www.kendalmuseum.org.uk/about-us/the-collections/curators-choice/sheela-na-gig
  2. Page 186 Runes and Runic inscriptions. Raymond Ian Page Author, David Parsons Editor.

Ashbourne

The Ashbourne Sheela Na Gig

 

The Ashbourne Sheela Na Gig. Used with permission of Ashley Throw

This figure was found by a builder while working on a path in Church St in the town of Ashbourne Derbyshire.  It was originally put into a skip with the rest of the rubble from the path but was fortunately rescued. It was then later sold to Mr Ashley Throw of Ashbourne who realised this was both old and interesting and bought the figure with a view to conserving it.

Location of the find

The figure was dug up approximately 200 yards from the Church of St Oswald on Church St. St Oswald’s was started in 1240 by Hugh de Pateshull and replaced an earlier Saxon and possibly Norman church. A Norman crypt was discovered in 1913 and the earliest existing parts of the church are thought to date from 1160. It would seems a likely source for the figure.

The Figure

The figure is just over a foot wide and 28 inches tall. It is free standing and falls into the monstrous category of Sheela Na Gigs. The head is the most striking aspect with a skull like face and round protruding eyes. The right side of the jawline is pronounced while the left is missing, the mouth is indicated by a thick raised line. On the chest ribs are evident even to the point of representing a skeleton. The legs are wide apart bent at the knee with the hands resting on the thighs. An oval hangs between the legs with a deep deliberate incision. There is no way that this could be mistaken for a penis and definitely represents a vulva.

A Monstrous figure

Ireland holds a number of Sheela Na Gig figures which have a monstrous aspect. In the UK the figures generally are less so. This one is a definite exception with obvious cadaver like features.

 

The figure has been reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/838915

Location

This figure is in private possession and is not visible to the public. This figure lies less than 8 miles away from the also recently discovered Alstonefield figure

Directions

Colsterworth

The Colsterworth Figure
The Colsterworth Figure. Photo Copyright Tina Negus.

 

The Church

Herringbone masonry is still visible in the church indicating that a stone structure was here in Saxon times.
Fairly plain Romanesque arches survived a Victorian restoration the eastern arch holds some lightly incised zigzag decoration.The church has gone through a lot alteration during its lifetime with work ranging from the 11th and 12th centuries to the 19th century.
was the parish church of Isaac Newton, who was also baptised here in 1643. It is also the burial place of both his parents. It lies less than a mile away from his family home of Woolsthorpe Manor.

The Figure

This figure is obviously damaged but there are number of features that suggest it was once a female exhibitionist. Firstly the figure is part of one of the Norman arches in the church which suggests a 12th century (possibly earlier) date. Secondly the figure has one remaining triangular left breast visible with the suggestion of the right still apparent despite the damage. Both arms are pointing downwards towards the centre of the figure and a remaining knee and foot can bee seen on the right hand side. The bottom of the figure is missing with a reasonably clean break across the body while the left hand arm and part of the shoulder are missing with a somewhat rougher break. The head is much too large for the body  and has some damage on the right hand side. The remaining left eye is lentoid (a Romanesque feature), the nose is missing and the mouth is just visible. There is a line inscribed on the back of the head either indicating a headress or possibly hair. Facially the figure has something of a grim expression. While there is quite an amount of damage to the figure the remaining features and context seem to suggest that this was once a female exhibitionist.

The figure face on
The figure face on. Photo Copyright Tina Negus.

Other Exhibitionist Figures

There are also a number of other later exhibitionist figures on the church. Two anus showers one complete with modest testicles and penis and a monstrous ithyphallic figure. Two of these can be found on the tower of the church with the smaller anus shower residing on the North West wall.

 

The figure on the romanesque/Norman arch in the church.

The figure on the romanesque/Norman arch in the church. Photo Copyright Tina Negus.

The Figure On the Arch
The Figure On the Arch. Image copyright Richard White. http://www.walknowtracks.co.uk
Monstrous ithyphallic figure on the church tower
Monstrous ithyphallic figure on the church tower. Photo Copyright Tina Negus.
Colsterworth church NW windstop anus shower
Colsterworth church NW windstop anus shower. Photo Copyright Tina Negus.
Tower Anus Shower
Tower Anus Shower. Photo Copyright Tina Negus.

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Wroxham

Wroxham Church Doorway Captials
On the lower right there is a splayed legged figure which either an acrobat or possibly a Melusine figure.
The main door to the church with twin figures either side.
The main door to the church with twin figures either side.

The Figures

The main door to St Mary’s church Wroxham, Norfolk holds two, blue stained figures which while splay legged are not exhibitionist figures. They serve as good example of figures which should be exhibitionist but in fact aren’t (compare to the splayed legged figure at Lower Swell). There is however another explanation of the figure which is related to the Sheela Na Gig phenomenon. Their feet appear to be somewhat fin like which may mean that the figures depict Melusine.

Melusine or the Double Tailed Mermaid

The double tailed mermaid is another religious sculptural motif which can be found all over Europe. Unlike the Sheela Na Gig which is more or less a 12th century phenomenon this motif persists into later periods as well. In fact it is still is use today with it’s most widespread, somewhat sanitized, incarnation being the Starbucks logo.  Are the Wroxham figures actually mermaids? The fin like feet do tend to lend weight to this argument.

 

All images By Charlesdrakew (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Kirkwall

The Kirkwall Sheela Na Gig
The Kirkwall Sheela Na Gig. By Wordandsilence1979 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

St Magnus Cathedral Kirkwall Orkney

Work on St Magnus cathedral started in 1137. The Cathedral’s founder was Earl Rognvald who supervised the earliest stages of the building during the bishopric of William the Old of Orkney (1102 – 1168). Between 1154 and 1472, Orkney was ecclesiastically under the Norwegian archbishop of Nidaros (Trondheim). Interestingly Nidaros cathedral also has a sheela na gig figure.

The Figure

The figure is situated on the  on the south west pillar of the presbytery. It is quite worn but originally would have been quite grotesque with a gaping toothless oblong mouth and what may have been a pointed head. The remains of the eyes suggest that they would have orginally been wide and staring. The remains of the right arm gesture towards the vulva. The figure’s hand is damaged but may have obscured the upper part of the vulva. The right hand gestures towards the head in a gesture not dissimilar to that of Roman depictions of the goddess Venus. Unlike the Venus figure however the sheela does not appear to have hair.

Pipe Clay Venus Caerwent
Roman Pipe Clay Venus Caerwent

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Ely

The Figures

A sheela na gig at Ely Cathedral has been recorded for sometime. It gets a mention in Images of Lust after the work of professor George Zarnecki. However it turns out that there are two very similar female exhibitionist figures on the cathedral. This discovery came about from members of the Sheela na gig mailinglist visiting the cathedral to photograph the figure and comparing their results. The first members to visit the cathedral informed the list that sheela was extremely difficult to photograph as you needed to be in the Bishops private garden to get the best view. Other members of the list were puzzled at this as all you had to do was hop over a small wall and photograph the figure from a public green. Photographs of the figures were of low quality mainly due to the height of the figures on the cathedral’s clerestory. When they were compared they seemed to be of the same figure taking into account differing angles of view. However when the surrounding masonry and neighbouring corbels were compared it became obvious that the photographs were in fact of two different figures. Further research showed that the figures were in fact on opposite sides of the cathedral one being on the North clerestory while the other is on the South clerestory. The fact that the cathedral has two very similar female exhibitionist figures does not seem to be a well known fact. This is further borne out by the entries for the Ely corbels at the Courtauld institute’s CRSBI site where the North figure is not listed as being exhibitionist. As you can see from the picture on the left it most definitely is. Further discussions on the sheela na gig mailing list showed that some members had visited the north figure while others had visited the south figure. Both groups coming away having seen the Ely sheela na gig. 

The French Connection

It’s thought French sculptors had a hand in the creation of Ely cathedral. This influence can be seen by comparing these figures to another exhibitionist in Vaux sur Aure France. The original picture can be found here on the Hortus Deliciarum site in France (French text. The website is dedicated to exhibitionist figures in France)

Ely France Figure

A similarly styled figure in Vaux sur Aure in France. Photograph used by persmission of Guillaume Lelièvre.

 

SheelaElyCRSBI

The South side exhibitionist figure (right) this picture from the CRSBI site clearly shows its exhibitionist nature. The south side figure is only viewable from the Bishop’s private residence which is obviously not open to the public.

Ely Priors Door

Photo courtesy of Anthony Weir

SheelaElyPosition

The black arrow indicates the approximate position of the sheela na gig on the North side of the cathedral
1. Clerestory. The upper part of the nave, transepts, and choir of a church, containing windows… or …An upper portion of a wall containing windows for supplying natural light to a building

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