Thanks go to Mr George Wingfield for informing the project of this figure. Brent Knoll church in Somerset dates back to 11th century but the tower on which this carving resides dates from the 14th. The figure is most likely contemporary with this phase of building. The figure depicts a monster in an “acrobatic” pose with its feet held to its ears. A smaller monster head pokes out from its mouth and appears to be indulging in self fellatio with the shaft of the penis clearly entering its mouth. Definitely an unusual figure which predates the Alien movies by centuries but has a distinct similarity to the Xenopmorph’s projecting jaws.
The church also has a series of satirical bench end carvings depicting clergy as foxes.
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.
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.
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. Photo Copyright Tina Negus.
Thanks go to Paul Ellerton for sending me these pictures
Unfortunately there is not a lot of detail about this church. The information booklet in the church says that it was started in the 12th century and the carvings could originate from that period. The figure consists of two heads, the left has its eyes being pulled by a smaller figure while right is accompanied by an apparently ithyphallic male figure. This figure appears to have a hand holding a massively exaggerated penis. The fingers of the hand appear to be broken seemingly by weathering.
Nunburnholme is a small village near Pocklington in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
The church of St James was founded by the family of Roger de Morely. The church holds a Norman arch with at least one other Norman fragment of a peg toothed face embedded in an outside wall. The face also includes a fragment of zig zag carving which would seem to suggest a Norman origin.
Thanks go to C.B. Newham of www.digiatlas.org for the use of the pictures and information about the carving. Pictures copright C.B. Newham
‘A figure preserved in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral was noted in 1894’.
Glasgow Cathedral has a history going back over 1600 years, when the site was first blessed for burials by St Ninian around 397 AD. Later in the 6th century, Kentigern popularly known as Mungo was selected as bishop by the King, and the people. St Mungo was born on the shore of Fife near Culross. He trained for the priesthood at Culross by St Serf. Later St Mungo founded a monastic community, in Glasgow, and built a cathedral. St Mungo died in 603AD. St Mungo’s Cathedral was destroyed or severely damaged by fire, and the older building was rebuilt, and dedicated in 1136. The Lower Church, which houses the figure, was created during the 12th century by Bishop William de Bondington (1233 – 1258). Further developments to this part of the Cathedral occurred during the 13th and 15th century, when the Blacader aisle of the Lower Church was added by Archbishop Blacadere (1483 – 1508).
The figure is located in the crypt, or Lower Church. In the far left-hand (northeast) corner of the Lower Church, is the doorway to St Nicholas Chapel. The figure is located on the bottom left of the frieze, which surrounds the doorway. The arch of the doorway is richly carved and for some reason very worn despite it being in the crypt. This wear is at odds with most of the other carving in the crypt which could mean that the door was originally an external one.
The Glasgow figure is very odd indeed, and difficult to say what it originally represents. The large triangular shaped head with a central groove sits on Herculean shoulders. Two powerful arms come to rest on the lower abdominal area, and the broad ill-defined legs are held in an open manner. The figure has a central ridge on the torso, running up from the pelvic area to the chest and two lower ridges either side.
Speculatively, the two lower ridges could represent, the vulva, while the large central ridge, a penis. To conclude could this figure represent a Sheela na Gig, a male phallic figure, a penis sucking hermaphrodite, or even a very worn minstrel figure playing some type of pipes?
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.
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
Other worn figures on the castle the last with some facial features still evident
This figure is located on Rodel Church at the southern tip of the Isle of Harris in the Western Isles of Scotland. The current church is thought to originate from the early 1500’s but it is believed that it was built on the site of an older church of unknown date. The church is associated with the Augustinian nunnery at Iona which also houses an alleged sheela na gig.
The Rodel figure is carved on a roughly square block on the east side of the tower, surrounded by a weathered string course.It is in a seated position with both legs bent and wide apart. The left leg is slightly more extended than the right. The vulva is represented by a small but definite cleft between the legs. The right hand holds a now worn object which has been described as a baby but looks more like an animal such as a dog or lamb. Intriguingly the left hand points to, or is holding a raised rectangular section stone which has a worn and rough surface. The face of the figure is turned towards this object. This rectangle is deliberately carved but it’s function is not immediately apparent. It would appear that the face was originally fairly detailed and the head is covered in what appears to be styled hair. Even though the figure is worn the vulva is still apparent and the splay legged nature of carving would definitely seem to put this figure in the exhibitionist category. On the south side of the tower lies an almost modern jacketed male exhibitionist figure known as “The Lewd Man”. This figure appears to be holding his penis in both hands.
Mairi Kidd writes about the figure on the Flickr Sheela na gig group
“According to Lesley Riddoch’s Hebrides bike-tour programme, Countess Dunmore had her ghillie shoot off this poor wee mannie’s wee mannie. Luckily he missed his clachan! Tradition has it that he is known as Seumas a’ Bhuid, which would be James of the willy in English. Rhymes with ghillie; maybe there’s a limerick in there.
The Church of St Nicholas at North Grimston North Yorkshire (Also known as North Grimstone)
The Village of Grimston lies 4 miles SE. of Malton in North Yorkshire is recorded in the Domesday book as “Grimeston”. The village is also known for the iron age sword accidentally found there in 1902. The Church of St Nicholas, on which the figure resides, has a number features which date it back to the Norman period but the font is widely regarded to be Saxon which dates the building back even further.
The sheela is one of a number of Romanesque corbels some of which appear to be relocated voussoirs.The figure appears to be quite fat and unusually has a pair of pendulous breasts (see Oaksey for another example). There appears to be small cleft between the bent legs of the figure possibly indicating a vagina. The figure’s arms are held against the top of the chest. It’s quite modest in its exhibitionism, in some ways similar to the figure at Worth Matravers in Dorset. In fact a number of the figures bear a passing similarity to the carvings at Stoke Sub Hamdon and Studland far to the South. As well as the corbel table the church boasts a Romanesque chancel arch. This is another example of a figure which is not as unequivocally exhibitionist as say the Kilpeck or Oaksey sheelas yet still has sexual attributes (breasts in this case). It is interesting that this figure has a counterpart in masturbating male figure which seems to firmly put the carvings in the sexual sin category.
Pat O’Halloran’s site www.danu.co.uk has a number of photographs of the church, corbel table and its Saxon font. Thanks go to Pat for allowing the use of his images on this website.
Male figure at North Grimston
This figure while very worn can still just be recognised as a masturbating male figure with the remnants of a penis just visible. The motif can be seen at other Romanesque sites such as the Church of St John in Devizes and possibly at Tickhill Castle although the latter is very worn