Archaeology, Christianity, Churches, Femininity, Gender, Sculpture, Sex, Sheela-Na-Gig, Stone-Work
Okay, now I know what you are thinking; “Dan is posting porn again! Will someone please keep him away from that damned erotic heritage place!?!” But no. I tell you I didn’t find this in a red light district, smut shop, or even a kinky museum. This naughty little lady was found at a church. Her name is Sheela, or at least that’s what folks call her and a vast array of figures like her. She and her sisters go by the full name of ‘Sheela-na-Gigs’, and you can find them on churches throughout the United Kingdom. Yes, that’s right, it appears that one can find images of grotesque women spreading their labia can be found at old churches throughout the United Kingdom.
Why, you may ask. Well it’s a fair question, but the answer appears to be difficult to nail down. There are a couple theories as to the origins of the term, Sheela-Na-gig, just as there are a few theories as to the reason such images could be found in old churches. Is she a relic of past paganism, an omen about the temptations of sin, or possibly just an erotic gargoyle of sorts. It really depends on who you ask. As I recall, an archaeologist once suggested that she was a symbol of Jesus himself, but I can’t find a written source on that. Presumably, that theory didn’t get very far. Anyway, the whole thing is a little too far outside my own areas for me to weigh in on the controversies with confidence, but I think we can safely draw one conclusion from it; the history of Christianity is far more complex and interesting than you would gather from your local neighborhood church (unless perhaps you are in England).
Of course most history is more complex than folks would gather from the world as it is now, but it doesn’t hurt to remind people of the full range of human possibility from time to time.
That’s what Sheela is here for.
The image above is on Kilpeck Church. I have included a few others below, most of which I drew from a website called The SheelaNaGig Project. Also included are images from Chloran, Moulton, Fiddington, Binstead, Oxford, and Llandrindod. You may click to embiggen (if you dare), but a visit to the almighty wiki or the SheelanaGig Project is well worth the time it takes to read about these figures.