Slightly earlier than
the Anglo-Saxon manuscript, the Irish Book of Kells shows
a warrior with spear displaying his virility - but as a vignette,
without any evident censure.
detail of folio 200r
from Ireland, though carved in the 12th century is a remarkable
grotesque from a Round Tower, showing
a contorted figure with huge and very Norse-Irish head displaying
buttocks and what can be interpreted either as dangling labia
or scrotum - most likely the latter.
Two monsters bite its outstretched arms - which issue from its
Berrymount (Cavan), Ireland
with a corbel at Grey Abbey
this remarkable sculpture is a window-top and not a corbel somewhat
discredits the idea that corbel-carvings are 'marginal'
art, being neither 'high'/'official' nor 'popular'.
The fact that just one or two of the corbel-motifs (buttock-barers
especially) migrate to misericords and roof-bosses does not
detract from the Christian seriousness of the original motifs.
Carving on roof-beam, Queniborough,
compare with an even more amazing beam-carving at Claybrooke
Parva in the same county.
There is no shortage of exhibitionist and related subjects on
internal capitals and on doorways. And there is no end to the
variety and variations of the male exhibitionist motif. As we
have seen in two of the four Romanesque/Gothic churches in Poitiers,
they are not necessarily grotesque
. This Czech figure would almost qualify
for inclusion in a gay magazine.
Chapel-Palatine, Cheb (Bohemia), Czech Republic.
Devils, of course, are often depicted with huge genitals - propaganda
which might occasionally have been counter-productive.
click for detail
Two views of a high frieze
at Villers-Saint-Paul (Oise), France:
the devil at the bottom is carrying a phallic money-bag.
The couple to the left are probably homosexual,
like some at Cervatos in Northern Spain (see below).
to see another French church with corbels and frieze
More human than devilish:
One iconographic source for megaphallic devils
might be images of Mithraic, Celtic or Romano-Celtic deities
- such as a teddybearish figure, now in a museum in Durham,
found at a 2nd-4th century Roman fort at Bremenium (High Rochester)
small horns (or rabbit-ears), carefully-delineated nipples,
and a large, thick penis.
the other hand, a 12th century 'Christian' capital at
Porcheresse (Charente) is far more surprising. It features a
phallusless Cernunnos (celebrated by place-names beginning with
Bel- in SW France) and a tongue-sticking female exhibitionist.
What is one to make of it ?
Another source for megaphallism is the Feast
of Fools, deriving from the Roman Saturnalia and Kalends of
January, and widely celebrated until the puritanical imperative
of protestantism. This was the period when the established order
was reversed, Roman slaves dressed as their masters and (ritually)
ordered them about. Festivities included raucus fancy-dress
parades (rather like some Carnival or Gay Pride parades today)
which included huge penises strapped onto dwarves and so on.
in this scene the man (on the right) seems to be carrying a
while the crudely-exhibitionist woman is holding something up,
possibly a mask or an animal head.
It is thus a kind of moralistic lampoon.
appearances, the corbel belows illustrates no carnal sin, but
a clothed couple embracing, each with a halo,
and the woman's left hand holding the man's thigh (not his
could refer to St Augustine's only justification for the
sexual union and marriage of Christians: in order for two saved
souls to create another soul that is likely to be saved -thus
an encouragement of sexual unions of the pure, as with the following
Compare the above with the fornicating couple on a rustic French
Monbos (Dordogne), France
frankly obscene couple at Santillana
del Mar near Santander in Northern Spain.
In the picture below, the male has been smashed, probably by
post-mediæval re-roofers: during modern re-roofing the
corbel-table was cleaned):
Sometimes one or both of a pair is an acrobat.
Some embracing couples are almost certainly male.
Vérac (Gironde), France
are more ambiguous.
huggers may well be based on one or other of the several Roman
sculptures of the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian, who ruled
the Western and Eastern empires respectively, and who may have
been mistaken for male lovers by fanatics ignorant of the subject.
other huggers see the pages on Saint-Contest
the other hand, there is the strange ecstatic description by
the Benedictine theologian, Rupert of Deutz (c.1075-1129), of
his VISION OF JESUS ON THE CROSS:
I wanted to touch him with my hands, embrace him,
I sensed that he wanted me to hold him, embrace him, kiss him
for a long time.
I sensed how seriously he accepted these love-kisses when, while
he himself opened his mouth so that I might kiss him more deeply.
the extreme interpretation of the sin of Sodomy (embracing,
in any full survey of mediæval contexts, not only sexual
love between men but inhospitality to strangers, intercourse
with animals, ordinary masturbation, sex between men and women
when they do not mean to make a baby, even sex between men and
women with the woman on top - but now usually taken to be anal
penetration) is a rare subject in Romanesque (and any other)
sculpture: I know of only a few examples - all male-in-male,
a rare practice (though a common calumny) until recently. There
is at least one at the collegiate church of Cervatos - where
two corbels resemble exotic illustrations to the Kama Sutra.
These illustrations of Buggery perhaps represent a slur - on
the Bougres (Bulgars) or Cathars, part of whose origins
were in what is now known as Bulgaria.
click for more
is on the celebrated Last Judgement tympanum of the Pilgrimage
church of Conques, where a devil with a club sodomises a sodomite
(or, more precisely, buggers a bugger) into the beastly jaws
of Hell. (The Jaws
of Hell are yet another Christian borrowing from Classical mythology:
Virgil's "Jaws of Tænarus", the "High
Portals of Dis" which are echoed - and challenged - by
the high portals of salvation which are the churches of stone.)
Conques (Aveyron), France
for a high-resolution enlargement
of Lincoln cathedral the two sodomites are are attacked by fantastic
snakes while a devil pulls them by the hair. To their left a
naked Avaritia and another pair of sinning males are
similarly attacked by demons and snakes.
with a Mithraic altar in Bordeaux
In another example, the sodomy is portrayed as occurring in
the daily lives of travelling entertainers, anathematised by
the mediæval Church. The penetrator is a monkey, as also
perhaps the acrobat.
At Sémelay (Nièvre) both males are human, while
a remarkable capital at Vézelay
portrays the rape of a clothed and un-erotic Ganymede by Zeus
(in the form of an eagle astride a wolf) as described by Virgil
- except that a typically toothy Romanesque demon pulls his
mouth and sticks out his tongue 'off-stage' to indicate
a serious carnal sin to the viewers below. This capital has
been much discussed, and an excellent article on it, and the
relations between older and younger monks, by V.A. Kolve can
be read here.
the most remarkable illustration of male anal penetration is
on a doorway capital of the rural Rouergat church of Verlac.
One devil sodomises another whose scrotum is in the jaws of
a wolf. This represents
not the earthly deed, but the goings-on in Hell
- which, no doubt, many might secretly look forward to.
photo by Jacques
Verlac (Aveyron), France
A capital at Conzac (Charente) more discreetly and decoratively
suggests mutual fellatio in its use of rinceaux
(abstract tendrils of foliage), emanating from mouths and passing
between legs (or vice versa) in a manner redolent of a rite
of Spring. In the Penitentials and later ecclesiastical legislation,
Sodomy is a fluid and wide-ranging sin (or a portmanteau of
sins) comprising a varying number of non-reproductive 'erotic
acts' and tender behaviour performed (usually by men), alone,
in couples and in groups, and in varying degrees of iniquity.
Slightly less rare - and with no ambiguity at
all - is the motif of disembodied male organs,which were carved
to show the source of carnal sin, rather than any celebration
of sexuality - though
of course the sculptors might well have enjoyed the execution
of the motif, and the illiterate peasantry might well have enjoyed
the results of their craft.
Corbel, Sainte-Colombe (Charente),
for a post-Romanesque Irish example...
for another Western French example at Loupiac
is surely no coincidence that the biggest concentration of Romanesque
carvings of wealth/luxury/sin motifs occurs in Western France
- mainly Aquitaine. This is precisely the area where the Romantic-Chivalric
Troubadour fantasies of 'Courtly' Love were fostered and purveyed.
It seems to me that the Benedictines and Augustinians were pointing
out that the Romances were perversions as much as were homosexual
acts, deceptions by Satan : Sex is Sex, but Love belongs
survival of such corbels to the present day is remarkable, given
their vulnerability to puritan attack. Figures whose genitals
have been smashed are surprisingly uncommon, given their accessibility,
religious wars, and the violence of iconoclasts and misguided
prudes. A dramatic French example can be seen on an internal
capital of the parish church at Bommiers
a recent book,
Pierre-Louis Giannerini has tried to show that many 'erotic'
Romanesque carvings were commissioned to encourage sex and procreation
in depopulated areas such as Northern Spain, devastated by the
Christian holocaust-cum-landgrab known as the Reconquistà.
The carvings of disembodied phalluses and enthusiastically-coupling
couples might lend credence to this theory (first advanced by
del Olmo García in 1999) if it were not that the
highest concentration of exhibitionist carvings is in Aquitaine,
and that they so often occur with images of drunkenness, usury,
other forms of sinfulness, and buffoonery. Giannerini cites
Cervatos frequently in his book, without once mentioning that
it is a collegiate church for the instruction of novice monks,
few of whom were likely to go out and re-populate Northern Spain
with Good Christian sperm! But it is certainly possible that
some of these carvings - like some sheela-na-gigs - were
resorted to at a later date as magical aids to fertility, and
that the motif might have been adapted in parts of Northern
Spain in a striking example of Jungian enantiodromia
to encourage reconquistadores and even seminarians to inseminate
as many hapless women as possible.
less rare than the phallus-motif is the variant of the very
common 'tonguesticker' whose tongue is long enough to
reach his genitals; this motif is not quite the same as the
genital-licker or -sucker illustrated on the previous page.
The example at Mere in England combines several sinful motifs:
the acrobat, the anal exhibitionist,
the monster - and possibly even the vagina dentata, a
feature of some Irish female exhibitionists.
Interior corbel at Mere (Wiltshire)
photo by John Harding
rare again is the ithyphallic spinarius or thornpuller,
attempting to extract St Paul's "thorn in the flesh"
generally thought to be sexual desire. These are inspired by
(but bear little resemblance to) a Roman
bronze of a naked boy-athlete notorious in mediæval
for a high-resolution enlargement
here are three clay vessels from Roman times which are completely
different both in function and message...
...and Roman images
in stone which proclaim a piety
which monotheisms have never tolerated...
Stone at Chesters Roman Fort
photographed by Tina Negus
Vulvular phallus recently
found at Raglan (Monmouthshire)
photographed by John Harding
...and one of many phallic
statues which were widespread in pre-Christian Europe - this
one from a once-remote island in a remote lake in Ireland.
Male side of back-to back
double figure, Caldragh graveyard,
county Fermanagh - compared with a Gallo-Roman herm.
photo by Mark Gredler
A tiny bronze Roman amulet
of a kind which could well have been carried
by stonemasons of the 11th and 12th centuries.
From Roman times also ex voto
statuettes in clay, bronze etc. (the doubtless far more common
wooden and waxen ones have inevitably disappeared) were offered
at healing-shrines to cure sexual malformation or dysfunction.
These, like Baubo
figurines must have been produced in large numbers. In the 15th
century, Thomas More reported that at the shrine of St Valéry
in Picardy the walls were hung about with "none other thynge
but mennes gere and womens gere made in waxe" (i.e wax
models of penises and vulvas).
more grand, and erected at the end of the 14th century to commemorate
the diuretic qualities of the local water of the wild crags
of the Monts de Lacaune since Roman times, this fountain - La
Fount dels Pissaïres - at Lacaune-les-Bains (Tarn)
is a remarkable testimony to mediæval attitudes - with
an antique flavour.
photo from the Lacaune-les-Bains website
A more Romanesque fountain, though from the 16th
century, much farther East at Forcalquier (Alpes de Haute-Provence),
is, however, richer in symbolism, more ambiguous - and enigmatic.
for more pictures
small figure in lead from late-mediæval times
showing a woman riding a Roman phallic tintinnabulum.
click to see a Roman
centre of the mosaic floor of Milan's prestigious Galleria
shopping-arcade is a white bull rampant representing the city
of Turin. It is still a ritual observed by many to tread deliberately
on the bull's genitals - in order to avert the Evil Eye.
Thus the mosaic is badly defaced.
For a book-length discussion on the survival of Roman antiquities
see Michael Greenhalgh's
SURVIVAL OF ROMAN ANTIQUITIES IN THE MIDDLE AGES".
Professor Greenhalgh has expressed the view that this website
(and, presumably, Romanesquecorbel-tables,
etc.) is mere "smut"!
A hairy (and of course bearded)
Greek Satyr with fantastic cock and balls.
The hairy pelt suggests a link with bear-totemism, once widespread
Until 2007 I had thought that there were no post-Romanesque
exhibitionists in France apart from a female at Cleyrac
(which might even be Romanesque, though it doesn't look
it), and a pair at Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val
on a 16th century window. However, my colleague Jacques Martin
sent me a photograph of a very fine male exhibitionist apparently
contemporaneous with the early 14th-century House of the Master
of Venery at Cordes-sur-Ciel
(Tarn) not far from Saint-Antonin.
Not far away,
at Bruniquel there is a splendid
male exhibitionist gargoyle, which may be a post-Romanesque
remnant of the abbey of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. There may well
be more in high places in France: it is simply a matter of continuing
the assiduous search which Jørgen Andersen initiated
on the European mainland in the 1970s.
Not far away, at Bruniquel
there is a splendid male exhibitionist gargoyle, which may be
a post-Romanesque remnant of the abbey of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val.
There may well be more in high places in France: it is simply
a matter of continuing the assiduous search which Jørgen
Andersen initiated on the European mainland in the 1970s.
In England, high
post-Romanesque male exhibitionists have been identified at
Ewerby in Lincolnshire
Anal and scrotal erxhibitionists (as well as mouth-pullers)
are also found on misericords.
(probably) from the 15th century is this remarkably-well preserved
carving in wood, on the Tourist Office in Sainte-Foy-La-Grande
(Gironde), which accurately imitates Romanesque beard-touching
Old Testament book of Habakkuk, chapter II, verse 4:
Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a
proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his
desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied,
but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto
him all people...
11: For the stone
shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber
shall answer it.
11: Woe to him that buildeth a town with
blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity.
15: Woe unto him
that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle
to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest
look on their nakedness.
Thou art filled with shame for glory, drink thou also,
and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the Lord's
right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing
shall be on thy glory...
What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof
hath graven it; the molten image, and the teacher of
lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to
make dumb idols ?
Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb
stone, Arise, it shall teach...
Serious and justified worries about the loose morals of the
rich account for the scenes of lasciviousness and concupiscence
amongst other sins on capitals and tympana. Modern minds, however,
find it difficult to understand why the highly-exaggerated corbel-carvings
were put up on churches - pieces of sculpture sometimes far
more graphic than was doctrinally necessary. A likely
less fanciful than it might seem at first, and able to account
for both the Romanesque and most post-Romanesque corbel-figures,
is an anthropological one. The carving of an exhibitionist (male
or female) or any daring or dodgy motif on a corbel-table might
well have been the culmination of the apprenticeship of a sculptor,
literally a licence granted to him by his fellow-sculptors who
certainly were the inspiration of the Freemasons in their confraternity.
Masons' marks occur on churches all over Europe, and especially
in Spain where monks and clerics trailed in the wake of the
bloody Christian war-lord land-grab sanitised under the name
Reconquistà, and built churches with the guilt-money
given them by knightly versions of Milosević and Karadzić
- and Franco.
today, masons and sculptors form exclusive teams and (like many
co-operative tradesmen who feel undervalued) perform scabrous
rites. In Romanesque times, to be a sculptor was as prestigious
as being an international architect today. It is possible that
sculptors were more powerful than priests on the ground, because
they could simply take off from a site and find employment elsewhere
without difficulty. So the carving at Girona (below)
might have a different meaning than that which I advanced earlier
in Images of Lust. The bishop may well not be overseeing
the sculptors like some kind of art commissar, but merely skulking.
The sculptors or masons take prominence in the scene, which
might be telling us not that nothing went up on a church without
ecclesiastical approval, but that what was sculpted went up
on a church despite ecclesiastical qualms.
in this theory, sculptors who met with the artistic approval
of their fellows, had the privilege of carving one or more startling
corbel - a kind of satire on the exhibition-piece which is required
of skilled craftsmen in wood and stone even today, which then
was either slipped past ecclesiastical approval or was placed
defiantly or by right and rite. Some (very few) might have had
to be placed very high or out of sight to avoid local trouble.
But it is pertinent to this theory that many churches in Spain
were not properly finished: unfilled scaffolding-holes abound,
so teams of masons could up and off with an impunity very similar
to the propensity for strike action enjoyed by trades unionists
in post-War France and Britain.
drawback of the theory of initiation-, prentice- or master-pieces
of sculptors fully received into their teams, guilds or
confraternities is that a few of the Romanesque males are extremely
crude efforts. These exceptions might well be simple imitations
on churches whose sculptors were not master-craftsmen..
Girona (Spain) click
some extremely well-carved male
and other figures can now be seen high up on church towers,
out of sight except to the keenest eyes (which were not so common
in mediæval times) - for example Ewerby
(Norfolk) - and even on
secular buildings, as at Bruniquel
(all mentioned above). The beam-carving at Claybrooke
Parva is tucked away high above the western end of the nave
and is quite small to the unaided eye. Without modern binoculars
and a powerful torch it would be easy to overlook.
exhibitionists are not magical. Nor are they simply ancient
survivals from an imagined, invented "Celtic" or Classical-pagan
past, but sculptures which fitted into their Christian context
by dint of - on the one hand - widespread and uncontrollable
concupiscence amongst the peasantry and to an extent amongs
the lowliest clergy who were drawn from that peasantry. On the
other hand, they might very well have been not only exhibitionists
but exhibition pieces, proudly and lewdly displayed by
master-craftsmen as quasi-pious jeux d'esprit.
Phallic and male-exhibitionist
images, just like their female counterparts are surely intended
to be attractive/protective or repulsive - depending
on the attitude of the viewer.
be instructive to note the similarities between the 14th century
Libro de Buen Amor (Book of Good Love/Loving) by Juán
Ruiz and the iconography of Romanesque churches, particularly
corbel-tables. Both mix the 'sacred' with the 'profane' - a
very variable and sometimes ambiguous dichotomy. Both are sometimes
scatological. Both display irony and humour. And both are frequently
enigmatic, ambivalent. While two centuries separate the Libro
and the execution of the explicitly sexual Romanesque corbels
and capitals, mediæval life was very similar for those
living in Spain and Catholic (non-Cathar) France and beyond
during those times, when the rôle of the Catholic church
Similarly, and closer to the 12th century is Carmina Burana,
which, according to Wikipedia, is "a manuscript of 254
poems and dramatic texts mostly from the 11th or 12th century,
although some are from the 13th century. The pieces are mostly
bawdy, irreverent, and satirical. They were written principally
in Mediæval Latin; a few in Middle High German, and some
with traces of Old French or Provençal. Some are macaronic,
a mixture of Latin and German or French vernacular, written
by students and clergy when the Latin idiom was the lingua
franca across Italy and western Europe for travelling scholars,
universities and theologians. Most of the poems and songs appear
to be the work of Goliards: minor clergy (mostly students) who
satirised the Catholic Church. The collection preserves the
works of a number of poets, including Peter of Blois, Walter
of Châtillon, and an anonymous poet..."
In the same spirit of joie-de-vivre - in opposition to the Christian
use of the exhibitionist motif - is a remarkable pair of gateposts
in county Donegal in north-west Ireland. These are covered by
cement rendering, into which were incised - when wet, sometime
near the end of the twentieth century - a male and a female
exhibitionist figure facing each other.
to read about this syncretic piece of 'folk-art'
Anthony Weir, 2007-2019
Late 14th century anal exhibitionist from the Gorleston
This is a direct (if anatomically incorrect) lampoon on sexual
practices in monasteries.
The brown habit is worn by the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor
and Friars Minor Capuchin.
An antique (probably Roman) brothel-token.
Male, female or hermaphrodite ?
Part of a frieze on Nîmes cathedral (Gard).
But not all naked figures are sinners.
Adam (?) Lord
of Beasts (in Eden ?) on a 5th century ivory in the Bargello
This detail of the archivolt of the South front of Modena
seems not to represent concupiscence or sexual desire.
click to read more
Masculinity and Law in Medieval Literature: France and England,
(Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature)
by William E. Burgwinkle, 2009.
and Conclusion can be read online.
Here are a few lines from the Conclusion.
Anselm defended his reluctance to prosecute sodomy in 1102 with
the argument that it was already so commonly practised that
people would have difficulty recognising it or themselves within
the category. Such a statement could not have been made by the
end of the century, when 'sodomy' had become a matter
of discourse and persecution. In the intervening years, increased
attention to celibacy, monastic rules, marriage practices, and
the status of knighthood had the effect of calling attention
to the performative nature of masculinity, to its ritualisation
and theatricalisation. Institutions responded by setting up
ever more rigorous criteria by which men earned, or failed to
earn, their masculine status; and accusations of sodomy began
to feature in these attempts to discipline masculine subjects
by controlling and patrolling gender barriers."