Trondheim Norway

The Trondheim Sheela Na Gig
The Trondheim Sheela Na Gig

The Figure

This figure used to reside on the external corner of the South transept of the Nidarosdomen Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway. It was replaced in 1992 with a modern copy and the original is now on display in the Archbishops Palace Museum attached to the cathedral. The sheela was published by Jørgen Andersen in the artcle  “Konsollernes verden” in Kunst og Kultur Nr. 1 in 1996. This figure is one of three alleged sheela na gigs in Norway, The other carvings are at Stiklestad and Sakshaug although the Sakshaug carving is somewhat suspect as it appears to be more of a pine cone than sheela na gig. This sheela was in all likelihood carved by an English sculptor as we shall see below.

The History of the Cathedral

King Olaf Haraldsson (also known as Olav) now St Olaf was killed at the battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Tradition has it that the high altar of the cathedral marks the spot where he was buried.  In 1031 the King was declared a saint and pilgrims started to visit his grave. Work started on building the first stone church at the site around 1070. This building was commissioned by King Olav the Gentle the nephew of St Olav and it is thought that English craftsmen were employed in its construction. Parts of the cathedral are in the Early English style.
For more information on English influence in the area see the page on Stiklestad.

English and French Influence

The cathedral bears some striking similarities to Lincoln cathedral which it strongly resembles. The romanesque corbels on the church also seem to be English in origin as can be seen below. A broken dragon head hood terminal now housed in the Archbishops museum is very similar to those found England. It also thought that English masons and artists had a hand in building most of the 20 or so Romanesque churches in the Trondelag area.

The Sheela na gig

As you can see from this angle the figure is unequivocally exhibitionist with one finger seemingly insterted into the vulva. However when viewed from the front which is the angle the corbel is most likely to be seen from it would seem that the vulva would be hidden in shadow. Kjartan Hauglid who supplied the pictures for this page assures me that the exhibitionist nature of the carving is visible from the ground. Nevertheless this figure is definitely one of the more modest sheelas unlike the “megavulvic” examples at Kilpeck and Oaksey.
Being “only visible from below” is a feature of some other sheelas, for instance the ones at Stoke Sub Hamdon and on St John’s at Devizes can only be seen to be exhibitionist from directly below. This begs the question that if figure is not overtly exhibitionist then why are the sexual features present at all? From the photograph below it seems that even when it was newly carved the height of the sculpture and the butress below it would have prevented its exhibitionist nature from being seen. Non overt or overly highly placed sheela na gigs would seem to be detract from the “warning against lust” theory put forward by Anthony Weir and James Jerman. If the figure cannot be seen to be exhibitionist then how does serve as a method of instruction? Conversely these non overt sheelas may be being used in an apotropaic way to avert evil in somewhat more quiet and non obtrusive manner than their more blatant sisters. The figures at Oxford and Stanton St Quintin were and are high up and barely visible from below.

Thanks go to Kjartan Hauglid for supplying the photographs and much of the information about the sheela. 

All photos copyright Kjartan Hauglid 1996

The sheela from below
The sheela from below
The modern replacement
The modern replacement
SheelaTrondheimSouthTransept
The position of the Sheela. This photo was taken by Emanuel Vigeland sometime during the 19th centry. The position of the sheela is indicated by the arrow. The interesting thing about this photo is that the sheela is directly above a butress. This would mean that it would be nigh impossible to view the carving from directly below. It’s exhibitionist nature would not be obvious.
SheelaTrondheimCorbels
Corbels at the Cathedral
The Kilpeck Head
The Kilpeck Head
The head similar to the one at Kilpeck
The head similar to the one at Kilpeck

Location

Directions

Woodkirk

The Woodkirk Sheela Na Gig
The Woodkirk Sheela Na Gig

My thanks go to Peter Connor and Malcolm Haigh for bringing this figure to light.

The Figure

The figure is located in the church of St Mary at Woodkirk Yorkshire.
The church has a number of Romanesque features but the main body of the church is thought to date to the Early English period. Anthony Weir author of Images of Lust is of the opinion that the figure dates from the Early English period.
The figure is unusual in that it does not appear to be corbel or appear to server some
other architectural function. At the time of writing (21 Nov 2009) the figure is in storage.

It is quite plump with a pronounced vulva with the left hand reaching down
to pull it apart. The right hand is held to the side of the neck possibly indicating that it
is holding its hair though the top of the figures head appears to be bald. The hand
gesture is not dissimilar to that found in Roman depictions of the goddess Venus (see below) who is usually depicted with the right hand holding the hair.  Given that a Romanesque carving
incorporates many classical motifs this comparison may not be without merit. Another carving
from Kirknewton  also has a hand to head gesture but in this case the hand is that of an accompanying male figure.

This figure is approximately nine miles away from another unusual sheela na gig
figure at Cleckheaton which would seem to indicate that there was a local tradition
of carving these figures.

The church of St Mary Woodkirk has its own website here http://www.stmarywoodkirk.org/

Pipe Clay Venus Caerwent
Pipe Clay Venus Caerwent

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Directions

Wolston

The Wolston Sheela Na Gig
The Wolston Sheela Na Gig

The Figures

These figures lie in the church of St Margaret in Wolston near Coventry. The figures in question are carved on a capital on the west side of the crossing arch (the arch facing the congregation). The figures consist of a female splay legged figure with a deep wide cleft in the groin area. The cleft also seems to contain the remains of a smaller oval within it. Its arm is being pulled by a less defined figure on the right. When viewing the figure in the church the splay legged figure appears to have a massively oversized head with the eyes at the top. As we can see from the photographs this is not the case. Directly above the female’s head is a monstrous corner mask which appears to be eating the the figure below. The right hand figure (sexless but vaguely male) touches this mask with its right hand. The female figure appears to have a head of hair and the right hand is placed on top of the head seemingly in the mouth of the mask. There seem to be the faint remains of a face on the figure. The female figure’s left arm appears to be holding the groin of the right hand figure or at least is resting its hand on the top of the leg. The left hand side of the capital holds the upper torso of a figure with lower half consisting of some fairly crude knotwork or vegetation. The sheela’s leg disappears into this knotwork.
The left hand capital opposite is damaged but consists of two figures either side of a cross possibly depicting the crucifixion.

A damaged sheela?

As can be seen from the photograph on the right, the cleft between the legs is wide and uneven. The smaller oval shadow is a result of the lighting but there does seem be a slightly deeper more regular oval within the wider cleft. Given the quality of the carving it may be simply that this wide cleft is the sculptor’s execution of a vulva. However it is equally as likely that at some point the figure has been damaged and the cleft widened. The damage however may not be intentional. Church records show that the tower collapsed in the 1700s so the damage to this and the other capital may be a result of this collapse. The church history also mentions that the arches may have been reconstructed at this time.1

Brandon Castle

Visible from the church yard are the remains of a Norman motte known as Brandon Castle. Brandon being the neighboring village. Hubert Baldran granted the church to the abbey of St. Pierre-sur-Dives between 1086 and 10941 and the Verdon family held Wolston during the 12th century. The castle is known to have been garrisoned in 1195. Excavations done in the 1940s suggest that the keep was rectangular. There is no evidence to suggest what the keep looked like but it is thought to be similar in design to Hopton Castle in Shropshire, much of which stands today. Once again we have an exhibitionist in a church which is intimately connected with a stronghold of the local lord. i.e. the church would have been the personal chapel of the local lord. This is similar to Kilpeck, Holdgate, Devizes and possibly Bredwardine in Shropshire.

1 CRSBI page on Wolston accessed 21/10/2006 http://www.crsbi.ac.uk

Close up of the sheela's head and corner mask. Note the faint suggestion of eyes on the sheela's head and what appears to be hair on the left hand side.
Close up of the sheela’s head and corner mask.
Note the faint suggestion of eyes on the sheela’s head and what appears to be hair on the left hand side.

 

Side view of the figure
Side view of the figure

 

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Directions

Twywell

The Twywell Sheela Na gig
The Twywell Sheela Na gig

The Figure

This little known sheela na gig resides on the tower of the Parish church of Twywell near Kettering. You can see it as you walk through the main gate of the churchyard to the left of the clock on the main tower. This sheela has not been published in any of the major books on Sheelas and came to light on the CRSBI site1.

The sheela is of the acrobatic variety with legs held to the head, with the feet facing forward in an almost impossible position. The torso of the carving is made up entirely of the vulva with the legs directly emanating from it. Unusually the figure has a small but deeply drilled anus as well. Conversely we could say that the torso has been slit, but the presence of the anus would seem to suggest that the torso slit is meant to represent the vulva. Again we have an overly large head in comparison to the body.

Other sculpture
It is interesting to note that Professor Zarnecki thinks that the kings head on the South doorof the church is similar to those found on Monks Doorway and north transept doorway of Ely cathedral. As we know Ely Cathedral  also holds two sheela na gig carvings2. It is also worth noting however that these differ in style to the Twywell sheela.

A few corbels over to the right from the sheela we have an example of a Romanesque mouth puller.

Is interesting that this sheela has escaped notice for such a long time especially when the church has received the attentions of Professor Zarnecki.


http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/site/1321/ The Romanesque sculpture at Twywell on www.crsbi.ac.uk

1. Corpus of Romanesque sculpture in British and Ireland. http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/site/1321/
2. G. Zarnecki, The Early Sculpture of Ely Cathedral. London 1958, 22, 45, pl.18. from CRSBI Site above

SheelaTwywell05
Mouth Puller Twywell
Church Door
Church Door
Head Above Door
Head Above Door

Close up of the kings head. Prof. George Zarnecki makes a comparison between this head and the head on the Priors Door at Ely Cathedral 45 miles to the East.

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Directions

Tugford

The Right Tugford Sheela Na Gig
The Right Tugford Sheela Na Gig
The Left Tugford Sheela Na Gig
The Left Tugford Sheela Na Gig

The Figures

These two figures can be found inside St Catherines church Tugford either side of the main door. The sheela on the right is in a better state than the one on the left. It bears a passing familiarity to the Sheela at Kilpeck

The right sheela (see right) is squatting in an upright position it’s tongue protrudes and both hands are gesturing to the vagina. The right arm is beneath the right knee while the left arm appears to be in front of the left leg. Due to damage on the figure this hard to make out there also appears to be damage to the left knee. 

The one on the left is recumbent (see below), lying on it’s left side. The left sheela is badly weathered and it is difficult to make out details on the carving. This figure has always been referred to as a sheela but it is very hard to make out any details from the photograph on the right there appears to be faint facial features and the figure appears to be hugging something with it’s left shoulder hunched up against the left cheek. Its very hard to determine any features on this figure let alone a definitive sex so the sheela epithet may not be justified.

Both of the sheelas are above head height on wall making close examination difficult.

The Tugford, Holdgate and Church Stretton Sheelas are all in the same vicinity. Holdgate and Tugford being a mile distant from each while Church Stretton is about 10 miles away. The Diddlebury figures are approximately 2 miles away.

There is more information on the Shropshire group of sheelas at the Shropshire Promotions website 

The Location of the figures
The Location of the figures

 

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Directions

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

Directions

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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Directions

Taynuilt

The Taynuilt Figure
The Taynuilt Figure

The following information and photographs were kindly supplied by Marc Calhoun.

“This figure is located 10 feet above the ground on the west end of the south wall of Muckairn Church in the village of Taynuilt (NN 005 310). The figure is roughly 2 feet high, and 1 foot across. The arms are missing, the eyes are closed, and its mouth appears to be open. The stumpy legs make it appear to be squatting, and there is a hole at the base that may mean it is an anus shower.

Referred to as a Sheela in The Sheela-Na-Gigs of Ireland & Britain (item 45 in the Scotland section of the catalogue), where the figure is described as a ‘plump and undemonstrative goddess figure.’

Referred to as a Sheela in Argyll and the Islands; An Illustrated Architectural Guide, (item 115). This source dates it to 13th century and says it was removed from the late medieval church of Killespickerill which once stood on the site.”

Marc Calhoun

This figure though damaged and worn does have some evidence to indicate that it was originally an exhibitionist of some sort. A hole presumably indicating the anus is very much in evidence and there is some damage around the groin area. The figure has the remains of two fairly thick legs and is quite rotund. The face is still evident and the head appears to be round and hairless. It is hard to say whether or not this was once a sheela na gig or a male exhibitionist but its reasonable to assume that it was an anus shower of some type. If we surmise that this figure is a survival from the earliest church “Killespickerill” dating from around 1228 then it would put the figure just outside the correct period for a sheela na gig yet not so far outside to make it impossible.

John Harding

Location on the wall of the church
Location on the wall of the church
The church
The church

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Directions

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.

 

Location

Directions

Southwell

The Southwell Minster Sheela Na Gig
The Southwell Minster Sheela Na Gig. Image has been adjusted to show the detail

The Figure

This figure lies on the right hand tower of Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire and was discovered by Norwegian Art Historian Kjartan Hauglid.

The minster goes back to the Saxon period and is believed to have been founded in 687 by Paulinus the first archbishop of York.
King Eadwing gifted land at Southwell to the church in 956 and it is on this land that the minister was built.
Construction of the minster started in 1108 replacing the earlier Saxon church from which a tesselated floor and a tympanum still exist.
The building was completed in 1150 which would seem to place the carving of the sheela na gig some time in the first half of the 12th century.
The carving itself is of a doward facing figure with hunched shoulders with both hands reaching below the legs to pull open an exaggerated
vulva (see above). Like a number of other figures e.g Stoke Sub Hamdon the exhibitionist nature of the carving can only really be seen from below
the figure. People viewing from further away simply see a hunched over figure in almost an Atlas like pose. This begs the question of the nature of
the figure if the exhibitionism cannot be seen easily then it would seem to argue against a didactic explanation of the figure and may
possibly lend weight to the argument that it is there as an apotropaic symbol warding off evil.

My thanks go to Kjartan Hauglid for permission to use these excellent photographs of the Southwell sheela na gig

The sculpture as  looks in reality
The sculpture as looks in reality
The location of the figure
The location of the figure
The sheela na gig can be seen second from the right. This photograph clearly shows the Romanesque context of the sheela na gig with a number of other romanesque motifs such as the bridled animal head and the double human heads.
The sheela na gig can be seen second from the right. This photograph clearly shows the Romanesque context of the sheela na gig with a
number of other romanesque motifs such as the bridled animal head and the double human heads.

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Directions