This is, I think, my first posting to this list which I have been
enjoying as a lurker from an archaeological and art historical
background, with an interest in Celtic Studies - although I made an
appearance here this week courtesy of David Stifter ( a good idea, by
the way, to spread my enquiry about evil eyes further, so thanks David).
In response to Helen's interesting posting from Australia about
sheela-na-gigs, I am afraid that the dating of the Irish church in
question AD 550-700 is unlikely to be correct , because if it
incorporates a piece of sculpture it is presumably built of stone.
It was once common to date early Medieval Irish stone churches this
early. But recent research indicates that the earliest churches in
Ireland were made of wood, wattle or sods, and that stone churches are
a relatively late development. Corbelled dry-stone churches, like
those on Illaunloughan Skellig Michael and Gallarus (the ones shaped a
bit like boats turned upside down) seem, on the basis of radio carbon
dates at excavated sites, to be no earlier than AD 800. While
mortared stone churches only seem to have been built after
approximately AD 900. Those who wish to know more about all this
consult the wonderful new book by Tomás Ó Carragáin (of UCC),
Churches in Early Medieval Ireland (Yale University Press, New Haven
& London 2010).
Again there are pretty sound art-historical reasons for dating the
development of the Sheela-na-gigs to the Romanesque period, ie the
11th to 12th century AD, as noted in the article by Shae Clancy to
which we were given a link yesterday. The general view, which I
personally think must be correct, is that these are best seen in a
contemporary European context rather than an archaic Iron Age (ie
'Celtic') or indeed Pictish one.
We are all involved in fast moving fields and it is very hard to keep
abreast of developments in other disciplines, which is one reason why
interdisciplinary conferences, like the Irish Medievalists ones, are
On 9 Feb 2012, at 09:22, Helen McKay wrote:
> I have just seen a beautiful 'sheela-na-gig' up here at the top end of
> Australia (I'm currently staying with my son in Darwin). So the
> idea seems a pretty widespread one...
> However, what is interesting is that there appears to be two instances
> of what looks suspiciously like a sheela-na-gig - on pictish stones
> (which as per normal are completely ignored in any sort of
> Unfortunately I dont have my big books with me here so I cant right
> now send on the details. The dating is probably of the Irish Celtic
> church, possibly 550-700. And the two pictures appear to be 'angels'
> with wings, squatting on the cross-beam of the cross.
> Of course, it 'could' be a coincidence - but why make an angel squat
> that? seems right wierd. So, would it be off the planet to suggest
> the sheela-na-gig is some sort of fusion between a pagan goddess and
> the idea of a guardian angel? (yes yes I know, guardian angels these
> days dont go around doing this sort of thing, but ... the Irish are so
> fond of them, the only really good comfort that catholicism gave us
> when we were growing up :-)