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The Church of St Mary and St David at Kilpeck in the English county of Herefordshire is famous for its Norman carvings of writhing snakes and mysterious beasts. But the most extraordinary of all is that of a sheela-na-gig.

Sheela-na-gigs are medieval stone figures of a naked woman spreading her legs. She is shown using her hands to pull open and proudly display her exaggerated genitals. What makes these figures so puzzling is the fact that they occur predominantly in medieval religious buildings, such as churches and monastic sites. They are not something you would expect to see in a church. But a sizable number of them have also been found in castles, holy wells, bridges, culverts, and pillars. These figures usually occur in isolation, unattached and freed from any background that could establish their provenance. Their origin and significance remain a mystery.

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A sheela-na-gig at the Church of St Mary and St David at Kilpeck. Photo credit: Poliphilo/Wikimedia

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