The figure consists of a human somewhat grim looking head with a pill box style hat or hair, a pair of splayed legs with what appear to be three lobes in the crotch.A cat’s/beast head peeks out from between the legs with what could be cloven feet or paws beneath. Usually this figure is photographed directly from the front and the decoration on either side of the head has been described as an elaborate hair style. As you can see from the photos below the “hair” is in fact another two heads, skull on the left and what appears to be a less stern looking woman complete with clothed breasts on the right. The female has a similar style pill box hairdo/hat. The carved lines on both hats may indicate that they are meant to be crowns.
This figure has been referred to as a “sheela na gig” but as you can see from the photos is not obviously female or male for that matter. The three lobes could be an indication of a penis and testicles but if they are the execution is very modest. There is not anything that could safely be described as a vulva. Nevertheless the imagery in the carving in complex and obviously symbolic, though with male, female, death,beast and possible royal imagery it’s a little hard to interpret it’s exact meaning. Thanks go to Clare Heron for the use of her detailed photographs of the figure.
The figure is one of a number of carvings which adorn the lower part of the tomb of Prior of the Abbey from 1480 to 1491, Rowland Leschman.
The left hand side showing a skull with clasped hands
The right hand head appears to be a less stern looking female.