The Silent Orgy
"...and all but Lust will turn to dust in Humanity's Machine." - Oscar Wilde: The Ballad of Reading Gaol=


exhibitionist carvings
on mediæval churches

male figures: part II




female exhibitionists:
the sheela-na-gig conundrum




the column-swallower


in the silent orgy




images of Luxuria


& the phallic continuum


field guide
to megalithic ireland


irish sweathouses


the earth-mother's

"images of lust"


beasts and monsters of the mediæval bestiaries









South Doorway, Lincoln Cathedral



Romanesque 'mouth-puller' from Drakestown (county Meath), Ireland.


Click to see the carved front of a Romanesque church in Saintonge
(Western France)






Rots, Calvados

If wealth was always represented by a moneybag, often weighing the carrier down, sins of the flesh were variously represented by grotesque figures, usually naked and displaying or indicating their long hair or beards, symbolic of rampant sexuality.

Many of these are exhibitionists, both male (displaying and sometimes licking oversized apparatus of masculinity) and female (often showing huge vulvas). Some exhibitionists have since had their important messages hacked by uncomprehending prudes.

Others remain as they were first carved, as this semi-robed and richly head-dressed vulva-pulling female inside one of the six Romanesque churches in Poitiers,

Church of Sainte-Radegonde, Poitiers (Vienne)

and this Spanish portrait-pair worthy almost of Goya.

click to see the earliest known pair of exhibitionists

San Pedro de Tejada (Burgos)

Damnation was vividly represented, most frequently by monsters grabbing or swallowing human figures (often naked, and/or acrobatic, and/or exhibitionist) - representing Satan's Realm claiming and swallowing up the souls of sinners.
(For more on monsters click here.)

click to enlarge

Figeac (Lot) interior corbel of abbey church.

click for more

Maillezais (Vendée), France

click for larger pictures

(Toothy and/or horned devils also occur in 12th century Persian illustrations of Hell,
where sinners are also attacked by snakes and scorpions.)

In this manuscript illustration hairy devils practise sexual sadism on a concupiscent sinner.

click to view the entire scene

A toothy devil squeezing the genitals of a concupiscent sinner,
from the Manerius Bible (c.1185-1195), Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, 0010, detail of folio 128v.

The head-to-ears acrobatic position(the form of the figure 6 which is the number associated with sin in the book of Revelations) is also echoed by another symbol of luxurious carnality - the mermaid, later depicted gazing into a mirror to illustrate 'unnatural' vanity in the modern sense. It is a very ancient motif, and the mermaid holding her double tail occurs, with other variations, in Coptic art (e.g. Ahnas in Egypt). This Catalan mermaid is suckling snakes forever in Hell - a little like Prometheus on his rock.

click for more

Seu d'Urgell (Lleida), Spain

The sin of Luxuria (the depravity of the rich) was typically punished by Hellish snakes, tortoises, or toads attacking the breasts of long-tressed naked and thus lascivious and licentious women - while Concupiscentia (lust, lechery and lubriciousness) in men was punished by serpents biting their balls or beards or moustaches, or otherwise threatening them.

Click for a high-resolution enlargement.

Saint-Front-sur-Nizonne (Dordogne), France
click for a larger picture

Huge, bicorporeal, demonic beasts commonly symbolised the fate of sinners, though the combination of this motif with an ithyphallic male is extremely rare, if not unique.

Click for a high-resolution enlargement.

Puypéroux (Charente), France
click for a larger picture

One of the remarkable capitals at Beverley Minster in Yorkshire shows a non-ithyphallic exhibitionist being restrained by two angels or cherubim.

click for a larger picture

Sometimes the accompanying beast(s) are more ambiguous - as in the case of the centaur beside a male groping a female at Burford in Oxfordshire, and two centaurs in an enigmatic but probably sexual scene at Berrioplano (Navarra). The centaur could sometimes represent Christ, but more often the beastly man, as at Burford. At Stavanger (Norway) he is being tormented by an ornithomorph.

The blowing of horns into the ears of the unambiguously-megaphallic damned suggests both the Last Trump of Judgement and the presence of evil.

click for more click for more hornblowers hornblowers

Passirac (Charente), France

At Saint-Morillon (Gironde) a male with a huge scrotum blows his own trumpet.

It is by now obvious that musical instruments can be either godly (the trump of doom) or ungodly (the music of necessarily-secular entertainers). The perception of the licentiousness of actors or mummers may owe something to the classical tradition - for example this terracotta statuette of an actor wearing phallic headgear...

...while that of musicians might well have been encouraged by ancient Mesopotamian portable objects such as this Elamite musician from ancient Iran,

click to enlarge

and this group of musicans from Susa in the same area, none of whom is blowing a horn,
which was never considered an instrument of entertainment.

click to enlarge

It is the (competing) entertainment element which was the problem for the Church.
Right up to our own times, musicians have been beyond the Pale, along with beggars (think of Schubert's Hurdy-Gurdy-Man) whores and actresses (who were often considered to be whores).
Devout Christians in the USA dubbed the Blues "Devil's Music", and at least one famous bluesman turned his back on his 'sinful' singing and finger-picking in order to play only Christian songs. The phrase sex, drugs & rock'n'roll is not unknown.
Puritan Muslims (e.g. the Taliban today) outlaw music altogether.

This hoofed satyr playing the pan-pipes is on an Etruscan lampadario
and could easily be a model for a Romanesque corbel...

as could this Greek bronze now in boston museum.

A visit to convincing re-creations of mediæval entertainments by the group Daughters of Elvin on YouTube will suggest to some degree the alarm (if not horror) clerics and monks would have felt.

The non-entertaining horn or oliphaunt theme is marvellously elaborated on the more important churches. At Brioude, the instruments are blown while two ?monks pull each other's beard, while at Agen it is the sinner which blows the horns, while ensnared by the reptilian tails of frightening birds which scream into his ears.

photo from a postcard!

Agen Cathedral (Lot-et-Garonne), France

Men flanked by beasts have, of course, other meanings, depending upon what the beasts are doing to the man (warning or punishing or swallowing), and what the man is doing to the beasts. A popular theme from the dawn of recorded history is the Master of Beasts, who, in a Christian context, can be Adam, Daniel, Samson or Christ. Adam (iconographically derived from Orpheus) might be portrayed naked, as indeed might Samson. This nakedness has nothing to do with exhibitionism or carnal sin, but, rather, emphasises Man's 'naked superiority' over other animals.

Saint-Aulaye (Dordogne), photographed by Tina Negus.
A naked Samson thrusts his hands down the throats of a pair of lions.
Click for
more photos by Tina Negus on the theme of Master of Beasts.

For hundreds of years neither sex nor marriage were endorsed by the Western Church. St Augustine had said that the only sex that was not a passage to Hell was the carnal union of two Saved Souls for the sole purpose of creating another soul to be saved. Thus most marriages were considered to be at least potentially sinful (unlike sacred marriages between holy men), and it was not until the the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 that the Church declared marriage to be a sacrament - with a prescribed ritual - and ensured its eventual demise by espousing the 'family values' so despised by Jesus and the first Christians. It is no coincidence that this came very shortly after the new cult of the Virgin Mary replaced the respect accorded to Mary Magdalene and Lazarus the Leper in the previous hundred years. The arrogant new Gothic churches were dedicated to Notre-Dame and not to La Madeleine or Saint-Lazare.

El Pla de Santa Maria (Tarragona), Spain

Female exhibitionists have been illustrated in various books, notably in Images of Lust ,
but few people are aware that there are at least as many male exhibitionist carvings on churches across the length and breadth of Europe - from Bohemia to Galicia, and Denmark to Sicily - an enticing selection of which is illustrated here.

Solignac (Haute-Vienne), France
click to see a later misericord inside the church

Saint-Ouen (Charente-Maritime), France
click for more

photo by John Harding

Avening (Gloucestershire), England

Click for a larger picture

Abson (Somerset), England
click for a larger picture


Some have, unsurprisingly, been hacked by puritans or revolutionaries,
like this Spanish one at Ujué (Navarra).

They appear also on castles and even stranger places in Britain and Ireland.

Click for a high-resolution photograph.

Post-mediæval gate-pillar, Ballycloghduff (Westmeath), Ireland
click for a larger picture



part 3 >

Limoges (Haute-Vienne), France




This web-page is dedicated to the late Martha Weir,
who was amazed but unfazed by these carvings,
and without whom "Images of Lust"
would never have been researched or written.


Click here for a related essay:



on this site

the nature of 'christianity'


Part of a typical Aquitainian corbel-table (on S side of nave) at Saint-Palais (Gironde):
from left to right: Sinner sideways in the Jaws of Hell; Woman whose ears are being penetrated
by snakes while she suckles tortoises; Exhibitionist male with hand to beard; Acrobatic anal exhibitionist or farter;
Female combing or arranging her hair;a fine beast-mask; a couple of kissing figures of indeterminate sex
(compare with the couple at Saint-Contest). Click the picture for details.

click for details

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