Sheela (Sheelagh) Na Gigs

Yithian

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#1


Sheela na Gigs (or Sheela-na-Gigs) are figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated vulva. They are found on churches, castles and other buildings in Ireland and Britain, sometimes together with male figures. A well-known example can be seen at Kilpeck in Herefordshire, England. In The Sheela-na-Gigs of Ireland and Britain: The Divine Hag of the Christian Celts – An Illustrated Guide Joanne McMahon and Jack Roberts cite 101 examples in Ireland against 45 in Britain...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheela_Na_Gig
Sheela Na Gigs are quasi-erotic stone carvings of a female figure usually found on Norman churches. They consist of an old woman squatting and pulling apart her vulva, a fairly strange thing to find on a church. The
carvings are very old and often do not seem to be part of the church but have been taken from a previous older building.

* Even though the image is overtly sexual the representation is always grotesque, sometimes even comical. They are usually associated with "hags" or "old women". The carvings often incorporate ribs showing on the torso and sometimes facial scaring as well, although this feature seems to be more common in Ireland than in mainland Britain.

* The carvings are normally found on Churches usually of Norman origin and of Romanesque design, but they can also be found on Secular buildings (e.g. above a stable door in Haddon Hall Derbyshire, they can also be found on many castles in Ireland )

* Sheela na gigs can be found all over Britain, Ireland and even France and Spain.

* While the most common interpretation of a sheela na gig is "a pagan idol" there is little evidence for a pagan connection. The prevalence of sheelas in Ireland (far more so than anywhere else) suggests that even if the image originates on the continent the image has meaning for the Irish. However the pagan interpretation of sheelas is by far the most popular and generates most of the debate on the figures.

http://www.sheelanagig.org/
New information to me, and i found nothing on the board... Some local examples/photos may be nice if anyone's near a Sheela...
:idea:
 

stu neville

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#2
Re: Sheela na Gigs

theyithian said:
New information to me, and i found nothing on the board...
The multifarious spellings of sheela wouldn't help. If you search on the term "sheelagh*", it'll turn up a fair few posts within the Green Man thread.

Personally I think they deserve their own thread, so have left this seperate - the ones incorporated into the Green Man thread have to stay there however as they're discussed in the wider context of the Green Man and church architecture. Any new sheelagh stuff can go here (and I've amended the thread title to make searches easier.)
 

Yithian

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#3
Thanks Stu. I confess, i was a little disappointed by the Green Man thread. I know hard evidence is somewhat lacking on the subject...

Is there not another thread that discusses such thing... i recall posting something lengthy (a few years ago) about my thoughts on pagan-esque church adornment.
 

stu neville

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Kondoru

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#5
I was going to start a thread on this

Theres one in Burford Church, but its so high up in the dark interior its hard to make out
 

rynner2

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#7
stuneville said:
theyithian said:
..Is there not another thread that discusses such thing... i recall posting something lengthy (a few years ago) about my thoughts on pagan-esque church adornment.
I think that would be Gargoyles on churches.

Yep, that's the bugger. Wasn't where I remembered it to be...
Another example for 'Forgetfulness':

forteantimes.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=28431
Link is obsolete. The current link is:

https://forums.forteana.org/index.php?threads/forgetfulness.28431/
 
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johnnyboy1968

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#8
I used to have a copy of this book, which had a useful map showing the locations of surviving sheelaghs in the UK and Ireland. Not many left now, largely thanks to the prudishness of various Victorian vicars and church restorers. The one other example I can remember apart from Kilpeck, is one above the West door at Rochester Cathedral, though she's had her naughty bits chiselled off at some point in the past.

There's a lot of other good stuff in the book (which annoyingly, was amongst several items lost by a certain removal firm beginning with the letter P when I moved down here) - some of them were surprising, such as the 'exhibitionists' found in France and Spain; grotesquely priapic male carvings, often to be found pointing their erections in the direction of rival churches or monastaries!
 

Mal_Adjusted

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#9
there's an article on a sile and green man in romsey abbey in 3rd stone magazine #41 pp60-61

(back issues of 3rd stone are well worth getting. excellent mag - only wish I'd found it before it packed up a couple of years ago - try ebay.)
 

myf13

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#10
I've got a copy of "An Illustrated Map of the Sheela Na Gigs of Britain and Ireland" by Jack Roberts and Joanne McMahon. Think I bought it at Avebury a few years ago. I'll try to dig it out, and maybe post a brief list of where they are.
The map is included in a list of books about Sheela Na Gigs that I found here, with a link to order from the author by email (just in case anyone's interested).
 

tilly50

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#11
There is a Sheelagh on the outside of Church Stretton church. One thing I notice about the figures is that most of them have little or no breast and are bald. Is this a common way of denoting that they are old? Apart from the obvious display of their genitals they could be male. Most of them were disfigured during the Victorian age apparently, why were they left alone by the puritanical parlimentarians during the commonwealth?
 

stonedog2

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#12
tilly50 said:
.....why were they left alone by the puritanical parlimentarians during the commonwealth?
They objected to certain images, not representational art per se. So in some places you get say, a painted rood screen with the faces scratched off all the saints, with undamaged centaurs, mermaids and green men littering the place up.

The Journal of William Dowsing is cracking primary evidence if you can get hold of a copy.

Of course yobs went around destroying everything in sight then as now, but the organised stuff was targetted.

As far as I know nobody has yet suggested that this shows that the commonwealth was catually a pagan revival..... ;)

Kath
 

myf13

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#13
There's supposed to be one at Bray, not too far from here. I'm dragging my parents off out tomorrow so I can go and try to find it. If I'm successful, I'll post any pictures I take.

Anyway, here's the list of the English ones (taken from the map mentioned above). Some of them seem to be where they were discovered, but I'm not sure they're still there.
Cumbria - Pennington: found in the old church, now in Kendall Museum
Egremont
Cross Canonby: now missing
Durham - Crofton on Tees: church
Yorkshire - Hellifield: in a private garden
Bridlington: church
Copgrove: originally in old church of St Michael & All Angels
Bilton: 2 in church dedicated to St Helen
Austerfield: St Helen's Church
Lincolnshire - Torksey: St Peters Church
Derbyshire - Haddon Hall: stables on Elizabethan estate
Shropshire - Tugford: St Catherine's Church
Holgate: church of the Holy Trinity
Church Stretton: St Lawrences Church
Herefordshire - Kilpeck: church
Huntingdonshire - St Ives: near site of priory
Essex - Easthorpe: originally in church, now in Colchester & Essex Museum
Cambridgeshire - Whittlesford: church of St Mary and St Michael
Hertfordshire - Royston: Royston Cave
Buckinghamshire - Buckland: Parish Church of All Saints
Oxfordshire - Oxford: St Michael's church
Berkshire - Bray: church of St Michael
Sussex - Buncton: church
Hampshire - Binstead: Holy Cross Parish Church
Romsey: Romsey Abbey
Gloucestershire - Ampney Saint Peter: church
Wiltshire - Oaksey: church
Avon - Bristol: church of St Mary Redcliffe
Somerset - Fiddington: St Martin's Church
Wells: cathedral
Dorset - Studland
Devon - South Tawton: church at Okehampton

These are the Scottish ones:
Taynuilt: thought to be from Killespickerill, now at Mukairn Parish Church
Iona: sanctuary
Kilvickowen: old church
Isle of Harris/Rodil: St Clements Church
Kirkwall: cathedral
Glasgow: cathedral

And the Welsh ones:
Powys/Radnorshire - Llandridnod Wells: church
Anglesey - Penmon: 2 or 3 in church next to priory
Margam

I can post the list of Irish ones over the weekend (there's lots more of them!)

EDIT- I went off to Bray this afternoon, but there was an orchestra practising and we weren't allowed in the church :( We're going to go back soon and try again.
 

myf13

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#14
We went back to Bray today, and managed to get into the church this time. Eventually found it by the west door (it took us a while, as it was dark in the church and we didn't know which side was west :oops: ). It's in a poor state so it's not much to look at, and my photos were rubbish. There are decent pictures on this site I've found, along with info on loads more.
 
A

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#15
Bray

The figuire at Bray is a bit dubious in my not so humble opinion.
Quite a lot of the published figures are open to interpretation.
 

myf13

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I initially overlooked it, as I couldn't make out what it was, and thought it was some kind of leafy decoration thing. There are several of them around the church, as well as various heads. In most of the pictures I took, it vaguely resembled a dried frog (I'm not sure if that's down to a poorly preserved figure, or lousy photography on my part :lol: ) There was a chap there who let us in (I assume he has some connection to the church, a warder or something), and we asked him if he knew where the figure was, but he had no knowledge of it at all.
All in all, it is a dubious specimen, and wouldn't be worth going out of your way to look at, but it's nearby and I've now taught several people such things exist when they'd never heard of them before, so it wasn't a totally wasted trip.
 

RealPaZZa

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#17
Lincolnshire - Torksey: St Peters Church

i pass through torksey 4 times a week, imho the pic on the site looks questionable, im going to try to find time to stop and get a better photograph (assuming church open and unlocked) in the new year. ill post the results.
 

gyrtrash

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#18
myf13 said:
Yorkshire - Copgrove: originally in old church of St Michael & All Angels
This was originally outside the church and was brought inside to stop the carving from deteriorating any more.

Anyways, it's worth a look. Also called the 'Devil stone' and believed to be of Romano-British origin... here's a pic we took last year (John Billingsley from the Northern Earth mag' highlights it with a mini torch)...



And Here's more info!
 

cokker

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#20
uair01 said:
The most obscene one I know is used a gargoyle on the cathedral of Freiburg. Someone must have hated women to make such a thing:

http://i39.photobucket.com/albums/e182/uair01/sheila.jpg

You see what happens when it starts raining ...
Thats pretty weird/crude!

Makes you wonder what is going though the heads of these people when their making them...

I wonder if theres any of these sheela things out my way *thinks*.
 

Frideswide

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#25
I don't think we've had Craigieavar on this thread yet.... Discovered when there was a proper survey of corbels at the castle. I like this because it indicates that distribution maps can change :)

This is the 2011 BBC notice of it, in a nice coy way.

And in much more detail, the CANMORE record. Can people look and see if they think it's actually a Sheela? I don't see why that is a vagina and not an anus. I see it as contortionist, exhibitionist and possibly scatalogical... but a Sheela?

This is the pencil record and interpretation.

Not showing actual pictures because of the CANMORE terms and conditions.
 
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