Gargoyles, how rude!

Easton 1b

Yesterday Man and I went on a gargoyle hunt. More specifically, we went on a hunt for rude gargoyles.

I like gargoyles and in fact most types of stone carvings. Gargoyles are decorative water dispensers, used to channel excess rainwater off the roof of the church. Grotesques are carvings, they don’t serve any sort of practical purpose and often decorate roof lintels inside or out. Friezes are many grotesques purely for decorative purposes. Corbels are stones that help support the roof – again either internal or external – that can be decorated and many of these decorations are a corbel table. I went in search of a very specific type of grotesque and gargoyle yesterday and found both.

Ever since I first read about the Mooning Men on the Great English Churches website, I have wanted to see some. Now I think I have a pretty good collection of photos but, as always, there are plenty more to collect. The churches I visited are not Churches Conservation Trust churches, these are all in use, and they don’t feature in Simon Jenkins’ 1,000 Churches (but they really should).

We started our little journey at St John’s in Colsterworth in Lincolnshire where we came across a couple of lovely examples of what I was looking for.

Colsterworth 4b

Here we go. He is definitely displaying his bum to the outside world.

Colsterworth 7b

Here he is from another angle. And, if you look closely, he has his head between his legs (wait till you see what some of the others have stored there!!) … and you can see where the rainwater would have spouted from.


Colsterworth 6b

This one’s a grotesque (no water spouting from the orifice here) and there is distinct genitalia there. How rude :) This is on the door arch, visible to all the pious parishioners on their way to prayer.

Colsterworth 2b

And what on earth is this one doing! Most unsavoury for a place of worship.

Honestly, I think these are absolutely hilarious – and this was just church number one. I love the way it illustrates how sensibilities have changed over the years. Can you imagine someone building a church now and announcing they were going to decorate it with a man with his bum out and testicles and a (in some cases) penis on display. People would recoil in abject horror.

From Colsterworth we moved on to Ryhall jjst down the road but in the county of Rutland and another St John’s.

Ryhall has a really impressive frieze but that is going to have to wait for another post because this one is just about bums.

Ryhall 2b


And here we have the bottom scratcher. Quite brazen in his pose, he is looking directly out from the wall and quite clearly scratching his testicles! Also, despite the fact that he is clearly not used to get rid of water, the mason has put a strategically placed hole in his bum. What on earth is he trying to say with this?

Ryhall 1b

This one also has his bottom out, although it isn’t quite so brazen.

Now from Ryhall, we made our way to Easton on the Hill, which took use just over the border into Northamptonshire I believe, where we found the crudest  example yet.

This is All Saints Church in one of the prettiest little villages I’ve ever seen. And, as you approach the south porch of the church, above your head on the tower is this.

Easton 2b

Now there is a local legend that says he is pointing his bum in the direction of Peterborough Cathedral in protest at the stonemason not being paid. But other reports say there is no substance in that and suggest that, like other gargoyles, these Mooning Men were simply warding away sin and evil from the sanctity of the church.

He is certainly a good example though … and worth a look from a slightly different angle.

Easton 5b

Maybe the stonemasons just had a sense of humour? Or maybe, these weren’t thought funny at all but were designed to say ‘ya boo sucks’ to the devil.

From Easton to Oakham, county town of England’s smallest county, Rutland.

It has quite a majestic church – another All Saints.

But adorning the walls of this building, there are another couple of characters who aren’t being very saintly at all.

Oakham 2b

Yep, another mooning man with his head stuck between his legs and his testicles on show.

Oakham 1b

And another, only this one’s a little deformed … his genitalia is roughly the same size as his head!

Now there was me thinking that English church parishioners in the Middle Ages were a distinctly pious lot. Obviously I was wrong, or the notion of pious has changed slightly over the years, or there is some sort of sacred symbolism here that I’m just not aware of.

Whatever the answer, I had a pretty successful day yesterday as far as I am concerned. I certainly found what I set out to find.

Now the other thing I found, that I really wasn’t expecting and was a huge added bonus, is that every single one of these churches was open yesterday. So I also got to go inside and find out a bit more about them. And, in doing that, I learned about Isaac Newton, Anglo Saxon headstones and a woman called Tampon. So I think each church merits a little, slightly less tongue in cheek, post of its own at some point.

In the meantime, the guy responsible for the website mentioned at the top of this post, Lionel Wall, has written what I think is a very interesting document about the Mooning Men and a group that he calls the Demon Carvers of the East Midlands which, if you feel like it, you can read here.

Incidentally, apparently there are female versions of the Mooning Men … you know I am going to have to find some :)

  1. Brilliant!
    Okay, let’s be honest, this is either down to some rather dubious stonemasons or perhaps the peculiarity of people from that neck of the woods. ;)
    I’ve visited a few churches round here now, though in a pretty tight area, but have yet to see anything related to ‘toilet humour’. I will, of course, double my efforts to find examples.
    (Don’t you just love old churches for ‘stuff’.)

  2. Wonderful. It’s good to be shocked every now and again as it reminds you that what we consider proper nowadays is completely arbitrary. And if you can have a laugh at the same time then that’s a double benefit. Great piece Dory.

    • Thanks James, sometimes these little churches turn up the most random things :)

  3. Hello Dory, Have only been subscribed a short while to your blog but have been enjoying your posts. Although I have seen a couple like these rude fellows on other churches, never have I seen so many in one place! Are you referring to Shiela -na-gigs when you mentioned the female version~? They have a completely different meaning than these boys but several theories as to what they actually represented ~ fertility goddesses or just exactly what is difficult to say. The staid Victorians removed many of them but there are still quite a few excellent examples throughout Britain. I have seen quite as few ~ in one area there is a sort of trail of them ~ (about three or four within a few miles of each other) Looking forward to your adventures .Thank you for sharing and great photos!

    • Hi, thank you so much. Yes, that was what I was thinking of. I’m really going to have to track some down. I’ve read the fertility symbol theory too. I love the pagan/Christian crossover in these symbols. I am so glad you enjoy the posts :)

  4. A p.s. There is an extensive and great resource page about the Sheela- na- gigs if you are interested~ here is the link

  5. Ha! Now that was something different to read about first thing this morning before my coffee! I must look around here in Canada and see if there is anything comparable!

    • Haha, sorry :) didn’t mean to shock you over you’re breakfast :) – there might be something in Inuit art

  6. Ha ha… didn’t have to look too far…I have a gargoyle like ( all covered with worms and mushrooms green man with a long drooping nose… kind of thing ( candle holder) right here on my desk…a gift from my niece…but the figure is smiling through it’s green glassy eyes and wormy beard! One of my little writing tokens….oh, and there is quite a lovely dragon with his horde of treasure on the wall as well! (Celtic roots here!)

    • Fabulous :) that sounds a bit like a Green Man that we see here sometimes. I found a couple of those yesterday too

    • Thank you … it was a lot of fun tracking them down :)

      • I have got some, but…..well just never got round to doing them :)

    • Thank you Valerie, lovely to hear from you :)

  7. Anny said:

    The best read of the week Dory – fabulous! You’re right, these type of things really challenge how we think about the medieval mind. I’d love to have a couple of hours chatting to the stonemasons! Funny how Simon Jenkins missed these ‘little treasures’…

    • Thank you so much :) It was a fun day and, yes, I too would like to have a quick chat with those stonemasons to find out their thinking. They were a talented bunch :)

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