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Donyatt, Somerset

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Feature Sets (2)

Description

Donyatt is a string of houses and farms extending for approximately a mile along the A358, alongside the river Isle, 1½ miles SW of Ilminster in the district of South Somerset. The church is in the centre of the village, near the river. The sculpture discussed here is set into a fieldwall in the parish, in private hands and not open to public view. It is generally assumed to be associated with the parish church (although not necessarily the present building).

History

Donyatt was held by Adulf, Saewine and Dunstan as three manors before the Conquest, when it paid geld for 5 hides. In 1086 it was held by Drogo from Count Robert of Mortain. In addition to the ploughland there were recorded 20 acres of meadow, 50 acres of meadow (sic. presumably one of these is pasture) and a park, as well as a mill without rent.

Features

Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration

Miscellaneous

Sheila-na-gig

On a slab set into the wall is a relief of a sheila-na-gig. The top is cut off at the level of the woman’s eyes. The L side is cut away straight down from inside her R ear. Although the front is considerably worn at the top, so that facial features are not clear, the lower part is not worn, so that the broad waistband is apparently intact. Being underneath, the genitals are in very good condition. This area, together with those on the L of her torso, shows how deeply cut this relief is. This dramatises her form & gives space, as it were, to her iconographic function as symbol of fertility. (It is odd that the sculptor neglected an important aspect of a woman’s fertility: she appears always to have been flat-chested.) A charming detail, not much damaged, is the remnant of hair on the L, sharply trimmed well above the neck in a rather severe style. There may also be a tiny fragment of a hat.

Dimensions
Height of block 0.290m
Width of block 0.255m

Comments/Opinions

The stone was recovered from the manorial chapel of the former manor house of William Montacute, second earl of Salisbury, which was within 500m of the stone’s present location. Aston & Hall (2004) described the figure as, 'wearing a hat, smooth tunic and a very wide belt, below which are carefully carved genitals. There are no signs of a face, nor that one has been hacked off. The right side of the figure has been removed when the block was squared for re-use'. They attempted to source the sheila-na-gig at the parish church, but it may be connected with an older church attached to the manor. This representation is much more static than that at Fiddington, but in compensation for an absence of liveliness it has a robust confrontational power. She is not easily ignored. Perhaps we should imagine her straining to escape the restraint of the waistband by pushing against the slab.

Bibliography

  • M. Aston and T. Hall, 'Donyatt Park House', Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeology & Natural History Society, 146 (2004), 206-08.

  • The Sheela-Na-Gig Project: The Donyatt Figure, (www.sheelanagig.org/)

  • Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 16719.

Location

Site Location
Donyatt
National Grid Reference
ST 342 142 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Somerset
now: Somerset
Diocese
now: Bath & Wells
medieval: Sherborne (to 909), Wells (to 1090), Bath (to 1245), Bath & Wells (from 1245)
Dedication
medieval:
now:
Type of building/monument
Field wall  
Report authors
Robin Downes 
Visit Date
30 June 2005