Tuesday, October 04, 2005

SHEELA-NA-GIG

I've become obsessed with Sheela-Na-Gigs!!! I ran across an article about them, started doing a few Google searches and now I can't quit! I love a good mystery, I've dreamed of being an archeologist since I was a child, and theology intrigues me so this is right up my alley. These figures are fascinating not just because of the subject matter, but especially because of their locations and the question of just what the heck do they represent?

"Sheelahs" or "Sheela-na-gigs" are stone carvings of that always show an old woman (sometimes described as a hag or crone), often with her legs open and exposing her gaping vagina and are always on ancient Christian churches and abbeys (for some reason most commonly found on the South wall ) located in Ireland, Wales, England and throughout the British Isles.

To quote from Tara's Sheela Na Gig Website (go visit, she's got loads of info and great pictures),

"Sheela-na-gigs are female exhibitionist carvings found on walls, abbeys, convents, churches, pillars and other structures in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, as well as in other parts of Europe. They come in many different shapes and sizes, but all share the same characteristic of a prominent and often enlarged genitals, often held open by the figure's hands. Most date from the middle ages."

The Sheela Na Gig Project website goes into even more detail. It's attempting to gather and print information about Sheela Na Gigs in the UK claiming that they are often overlooked. They describe a Sheila Na Gig as


"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."

In Ireland, the day following St Patrick's Day is dedicated to Sheelah-Na-Gig, Goddess of Fertility. Some say she was Patrick's wife (but the Catholic Church would surely not allow this), some say his mother.
Sheelah is an old Irish term for a slovenly or muddling woman, particularly an old one. In Australia, with its very Irish background, the term "sheila" is still common (though culturally self-conscious, ie, rarely used these days except jocularly and somewhat mockingly of old Aussie manners) slang for "woman". Perhaps the day after St Patrick's obtained the name without any reference to the calendar of saints.

Maybe one day I'll go overseas and do a "Sheela Na Gig" tour. I'd love to but it would take a lot of time and no small amount of money. The number of "Sheelas" is growing every day with more and more being found. Ireland's Síle na Gigh.org site looks like a good one to base the first leg of the tour on. Ah,one of these days!!

Do a little research of your own. See what you think.

2 comments:

Mary Godwin said...

Junebugg, I don't know if you'd be interested in anything along this line, but there's an organization called "Association for Research on Mothering" (ARM) that does a lot with research reporting the kind of work you've done here. You might want to "stay with it" on this project, expand it to a paper, and present your "findings" at one of their conferences. Might be fun. Anyway, I enjoyed the read. -mg

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