I have been fascinated by the images of Sheela-Na-Gig for as long as I can remember. She is an enigma! Her image can be found on churches, castles and old buildings through Ireland and Britain. In my research I found that the first mention of the Sheela-Na-Gig in church documents is the early 12th century. The most common notion is that the Sheela-Na-Gig is a fertility and sex goddess, even though none of the figures have ever depicted a child birth. It is also of the mind that she represents a warning against lust as well as protection against evil. So as you can see there isn’t really any concrete evidence as to what the Sheela-Na-Gig’s purpose truly is.
It was on my first trip to Wales that I had a chance to get up close and personal with the Her. I was visiting my husband who at the time was living in Llandrindod Wells in Wales. He took me to the old parish church which sits above the lake, and he told me about the Sheela-Na-Gig that was found.
Old Parish Church – Llandrindod Wells
Even though the church is fairly modern, the first mention of it is in the Church documents dated 1291. According to local lore, the Sheela-Na-Gig was found buried face down under the entrance of the church. The Llandindod Wells Sheela is said to be the one of the most well preserved Sheela’s in the UK . After it’s discovery it sat in the window of the church up until 1990 where it was moved to the Radnorshire museum. Because this Sheela is a loose piece of carving, it is very hard to date. However there is some evidence which suggests that it was carved in the 12th century, for it bears an similarities to the Sheela found at St. Pafarn atLlanbadarn Fawr. This suggests that it may have been carved by the same person.
For as much research as I have done in my search for understand the Sheela-na-gig, I was not prepared for what I experienced in seeing her first hand or the excitement that over took me. First we explored the Old Parish Church which sits on an Old Celtic site a natural mound of sorts. Standing in the doorway you have a beautiful view of the soft rolling hills and a 360 degree view if the church was moved. It is quite breathtaking and so beautiful. I can understand why they picked this spot to build a church, for it felt sacred as we walked the grounds.
Entrance to the Old Parish Church
Next stop was the Radnorshire museum where I was going to get to see Her in person. It may seem silly, but I was nervous, excited for I was just about to see the REAL Sheela-na-gig. Something that I thought would never happen. I was amazed at the detail of this Sheela and how fierce she looked compared to the Kilpeck image that we are so used to seeing. One of the most noticeable differences is that she had teeth, and that her ribs were visible as if she were starved. I stood in silence for some time just taking in the all her detail and feeling a huge sense of gratefulness that I have been able had this experience. For now when working with the Sheela-na-gig, I have real life images and memories to pull from and nothing gets better than that.
So in hindsight I was gifted with the experience and a brief glimpse into the minds of locals. In my own humble opinion I can only see the burial of the Sheela-na-gig in the entrance way as a sign of people who believed deeply in their traditions and heritage. So much so that they buried her deep, knowing that each time they crossed the threshold into the church that they were honoring the old gods, even if they had to “pretend” to honor the new.
A special note of thanks to Will Adams the Curator of the Radnorshire Museum who granted me permission to use the Sheela-na-gig photo. I enjoyed my visit to the Museum and I recommend it to anyone who is traveling in Powys.
For more information on the Radnorshire Museum please visit : http://www.powys.gov.uk
For more information on the Sheela-na-gig please visit : http://www.sheelanagig.org
~ The Wild Priestess