FOR THE DAY that’s in it, we should take a moment to appreciate these absolutely bonkers carvings that adorn many an ancient church in Ireland.
Yes, that’s right. Weird gargoyles holding their vulvas adorn churches all across Ireland.
I can imagine you’re squinting at the screen right now and mouthing ‘WTF’ as you try to understand what your Irish ancestors were smoking back then to design this work of art.
Well, firstly it’s not just Ireland that has them. These carvings are found right across Europe, but Ireland just happens to have the highest surviving number.
We have 101 of them to be exact.
Cool, so at least our ancestors weren’t alone.
The gargoyles are called ‘Sheela Na Gig’ or ‘Síle Na Gig’, with scholars divided over the meaning of the names and over the meaning of the carvings. The name is thought by one scholar to mean be ‘Sighle na gCíoch’ meaning “the old hag of the breasts”.
The scholar’s alternative is ‘Síle ina Giob’, meaning “Sheila on her hunkers”.
Bit better I suppose.
Of course, worth noting that the first time the name was recorded as this was by John O’Donovan in 1840, so he could have just been trolling and made up his own version.
Síle was once a hugely important name and figure in Ireland. In pre-famine times, before the Catholic Church took its strong grip on Irish society, the day after St. Patrick’s day was celebrated with as much enthusiasm as it was another festival day called Síle’s day, named after St. Patrick’s wife (yeah you never hear about her, do ya?)
She’s airbrushed from history, like most of the stories of strong Irish women like St. Brigid, who performed abortions and had a female partner.
After the Church started to police Irish sexuality, particularly female sexuality, as a way of controlling the population of Ireland after the horrors of the famine, many of the carvings were deliberately vandalised:
There are signs of deliberate hammering below the waist. Thus the legs and genital area are only barely traceable. It has a bony head with a grim face; the arms flexed and both hands are indicating or touching the vulva. The legs are splayed’
We have the name ‘Síle Na Gig’ to thank for the slang word of ‘gee’ for your vagina, as ‘gig’ is actually pronounced as ‘gee’.
Some believe they’re a representation of a pagan goddess who could bless women with fertility, and that the figure was associated with ‘birthing stones‘ that were used to break luck to women in childbirth.
Others think it was used by the church to keep evil spirits out as they were often placed above doors and windows. Or that it was used to warn people of the dangers of sex. Truth is, nobody really knows what they were meant to symbolise.
But the truth is that we’ll never really know images of naked women holding giant version of their genitals symbolizes. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
But on this day, choose to believe that it’s a symbol of luck that women will be able to take back control of their body.
If you’re really loving them and in the market for some wall art, you can buy this version above for the bargain price of $25 on ebay.
VIVA LA VULVA, we say!
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