Edinburgh, National Museum of Scotland, Kirknewton voussoir (see also: Old Parish Church, Kirknewton)

Feature Sets (2)


The church at Kirknewton was united with that of East Calder in 1750 and a new church built elsewhere.  In about 1780, the majority of the old church appears to have been taken down. The following year, a voussoir with chevron and erotic figures was given to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.


See: Kirknewton, Church


Loose Sculpture


One voussoir survives from the church, now in the collection of the Royal Museum of Scotland. It appears to have been given to the museum in 1781 listed as a ‘stone truss, with two figures carved on it, which supported the sounding board over the pulpit in the old church of Kirknewton’ (Cat. p. 121 no. 76). Carved of sandstone, the voussoir formed part of an arch of two orders, the lower section having been decorated with chevron consisting of alternating rolls and arrises. The vertical centre of these chevrons is carved with a much smaller series of chevrons. The upper section of the voussoir is carved with a naked male and a naked female in a vulgar erotic pose, each grasping each other’s genitals. Two leaves within a triangular space are carved on the bottom face, along with a section of chevron.


Depth 0.41 m
Height 0.32 m
Width at bottom 0.13 m
Width at top 0.17 m


There are no early records of the church and the voussoir is of a very unusual form, with no direct parallel found elsewhere in Scotland. The use of a fairly sophisticated chevron makes it unlikely that the voussoir dates from before the 2nd quarter of the 12thc, with a later date entirely possible.


  • Catalogue of Antiquities in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh 1876, 121 no. 76.

  • National Museum of Scotland, Angels, Nobles and Unicorns, exhib. cat., Edinburgh 1982, 16 no. B13.

  • R. Rhodes, ‘Decoding the Sheela-na-gig’, Feminist Formations 22 no. 2 (Summer 2010), 167-94.


Site Location
Edinburgh, National Museum of Scotland, Kirknewton voussoir (see also: Old Parish Church, Kirknewton)
National Grid Reference
NT 257 732 
now: City of Edinburgh
pre-1975 traditional (Scotland): Midlothian
Type of building/monument
Report authors
James King, Neil Cameron 
Visit Date
7 Feb 2012