No One Knows Why These Medieval Statues Are Pulling Their Vaginas Open
John Harding, an IT director from Shropshire, England, was on a day trip to the quaint English market town of Church Stretton when he encountered his first Sheela-na-Gig carved in stone above the door of its 14th century church. "My first impression was, 'What the hell's that?'" he says. "It was an odd thing to find on a church."
"Odd" is an understatement. Sheela-na-Gigs are medieval stone figures—often found on the walls of churches or castles—of women caught mid-squat, thighs spread, using their hands to yank open their vulva and display their vaginas. Some of them have cheeky grins; others are wizened hags; one is depicted wiggling out of a demon's mouth. What they all have in common is the fact that they are proudly exposing their chiseled vags to anyone walking past.
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The Church Stretton carving is one of hundreds of Sheela-na-Gigs found in England, Ireland, France, and Spain. Some anonymous prude had attempted to censor the image, obscuring her open genitalia with a stone, but Harding could still tell what it was covering up. "I got fascinated, basically. I started recording them, because there are quite a few in the area."
That was in 1998. Harding's database, the Sheela-Na-Gig Project, has been going ever since. Now people send him logs of suspected Sheelas; some come from as far away as Norway and Milan.