Sheela-na-gig’s

At Gawsworth church in the county of Cheshire can be found something which one would not associate with a Christian church, the reason that these strange carvings appear on Christian churches throughout the United Kingdom still eludes the experts! These stone carvings are known to represent a woman exposing her genitalia, the carving at Gawsworth church can be found above its Southern door.

One explanation for these strange carvings are that they represent the survival of Pagan or Celtic beliefs which have been incorporated into many Christian churches by disobediant sculptors who were thought to be keeping alive their Old religion and beliefs.

Another explanation for the existence of Sheela-na-gig’s is that they represent the Goddess movement, however due to the sexual nature of the carvings it is thought to be connected to fertility, although non of the carvings is shown giving birth or with a child.

The Southern door at Gawsworth church in Cheshire where the Sheela-na-gig can be found.

Yet another explanation to explain these carvings is that they portray a medieval warning against lust. As most of the population in the 11th and 12th century would have been illiterate they would have been able to understand the underlying meaning of the carvings.

I found this weathered carving on St Stephen’s church in Macclesfield which is not far from Gawsworth. I think that this carving may also represent a Sheela-na-gig.

Lastly the final explanation is that these carvings were placed near doors and windows on churches to keep the Devil out and as a form of protection against evil. I think the only thing we know for sure is that these carvings exist and will always be surrounded by controversy.

I found this skull and crossbones on the gate post which leads into the graveyard at Gawsworth church, I’m not sure if it is meant to keep the spirits of the dead in or out!

The following story appeared in the Brighton Argus on the 30th of November 2004 and is as follows: A rare Sheela-na-gig in Buncton church, West Sussex has been smashed by a vandal. The Pagan carving of a female figure exposing her genitalia is one of about thirty surviving in the country, and the only one in Sussex. Sheela’s have been described as medieval morality figures and are believed to have served as warnings against lust, though originally they were probably pagan fertility symbols. The Norman church of All Saints in Bucton dates back between 1150 and 1180 and the Sheela was almost certainly an original feature. It was situated under a ledge on the left hand side of the chancel arch, and unusually it lays on its side. It was methodically hacked to pieces with a hammer and

chisel, more than 100 pieces were found scattered around.

Random vandalism was ruled out because nothing else was damaged. Although not uncommon in Ireland, Wales and Western England, Sheela’s are rare in the South East. “They are often quite grotesque carvings, although this one in Buncton was not an extreme example”, said Dr Mathew Pope, of the Institute of Archeology UCL. Experts who previously studied the carving noticed scratches around the genital area, indicating it may have been “carefully defaced” in the past to tone down its exhibitionism as opposed to having been rubbed for good luck or ferility reasons.

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2 Responses to “Sheela-na-gig’s”

  1. re the skull and crossbones seen at the gate post near the graveyard at Gawsworth Church, this symbol usually means that victims of the plague are buried in the grounds.
    Sometimes the symbol can be found on actual headstones, particularly in Scotland.

    • Thanks for the information Chris and clarifying the meaning of the skull and crossbones, I will be adding it to my website shortly. Regards Gary

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