Shop Signs of the Brothel-Keepers

Pimps and brothel-keepers left their shop signs all over Britain and Ireland. Mon 21 June 2021

Bright neon lights of the medieval sex scene. Source

In The Winchester Geese – medieval prostitution, BBC reporter Tony McMahon used neon signs against a medieval cityscape to illustrate medieval brothels.

No trace of neon lights has ever been found in medieval ruins. Yet medieval brothels must have advertised their locations. How did they do it?

Let's first see how modern brothels dress their shop-fronts. Then use our understanding of pimp retail to re-discover evidence of the medieval sex trade.

Pay attention to the signage: it is directed at passing traffic, clearly signals the product offer, and highlights the entrance door. From a distance:

Roadside brothel in Spain. Source: No longer online.

Above: Catch the eye of passing trade...

Product offer should be unambiguous. Source: No longer online.

Above: Signal the product offer as clearly as cultural norms permit.

In Spanish, 'club' rhymes with 'boob'. Source: No longer online.

Below: As the customer approaches the premises, showcase the product offer and identify the entrance:

Showcase the entrance. Make it unmissable. Source: No longer available.

Below: Reassure hesitant customers and close the sale:

Pimp that entrance door. And - like the Church - disassociate yourself from the daily grind. Source: No longer available.

Now let's look at sheela na gigs - those mysterious 'fertility symbols' found carved on old churches, priories and castles:

From a distance:

Stanton St Quintin, Wiltshire, England (copyright John Harding). Source: Sheela-Na-Gigs - Unravelling an Enigma

Above: Catch the eye of passing trade... many sheela na gigs are positioned high on exterior tower and nave walls.

Ballinaclogh, County Tipperary, Ireland (copyright Conleth Manning). Source: Sheela-Na-Gigs - Unravelling an Enigma

Above: Signal the product offer as clearly as cultural norms permit.

Below: Three wedge-shaped sheela na gigs - probably keystones from arched doorways:

Rahara, County Roscommon, Ireland (copyright Gay Cannon). Source: Sheela-Na-Gigs - Unravelling an Enigma

Scregg, County Roscommon, Ireland (copyright Barbara Freitag). Source: Sheela-Na-Gigs - Unravelling an Enigma

Kilmokea, County Wexford, Ireland. Source: Sheela-Na-Gigs - Unravelling an Enigma

As the customer approaches the premises, showcase the product offer and identify the entrance. Close the sale...

For raw data, we turn to Barbara Freitag's catalogue of 167 Irish and British sheela na gigs in Sheela-Na-Gigs - Unravelling an Enigma. There we find:

  • 67 of the known sheela na gig carvings are thought to have been repositioned at some time, leaving:
  • 100 possibly still in their original position.

Of these 100:

  • 33 are positioned inside
  • 67 are positioned outside

Of the 67 that are outside:

  • 26 were first found positioned high on an outside wall
  • 23 were first found positioned above an entrance door (including three that appear to have been keystones at the top of archways)
  • 16 were first found positioned on a gatepost

What follows are summaries of individual sheela na gig location reports taken from Sheela-Na-Gigs - Unravelling an Enigma. Feel free to skip over these two sets of reports - they're only here to evidence the point.

Sheela na gigs positioned above doors:
  • Figure formerly placed above gateway
  • Figure on key-stone of the arch over main doorway
  • Figure situated above main entrance door at considerable height
  • Above doorway on outer face of S wall
  • Figure... on E impost of N doorway of the larger of two churches
  • Very high up on wall in masonry E over doorway
  • On S respond of arch at entrance
  • Situated on N impost of chancel arch.
  • On outer wall above N door
  • Figure was placed above doorway
  • Placed high up above door
  • Keystone over archway
  • Originally from doorway of medieval church
Sheela na gigs positioned high on external walls:
  • Figure situated on... SW facing wall... some 10 m above ground level
  • Figure... at NW corner of nave facing road
  • Figure... on wall, above entrance doorway, some 4 m above ground
  • High on E face
  • Figure c. 7 m over ground level
  • Figure... at considerable height, just below level of fourth floor.
  • Situated some 14 m up in masonry
  • Figure overlooks Clashawley river and Watergate Bridge.
  • Situated very high on E wall
  • Figure situated some 2--3 m up... on outer wall
  • About 6 m above ground level in wall of tower
  • Figure on second floor... above opening in S wall.
  • High up on W wall of (church) tower
  • On apex stone crowning W gable of medieval parish church
  • High up on... S face
  • High on S facing wall
  • At top of wall... this was an outside wall
  • Figure originally in outer N chancel wall where it served as cornerstone, 1.5 m above ground, overlooking graveyard.
  • Figure situated... at SE corner of nave on outside some 2.8 m above ground level.
  • Situated on N external wall... c. 2.5 m from ground.
  • On W wall of eleventh-century tower at third floor level
  • High up on outside W wall of N transept, above window
  • Below clock on S side of tower.
  • Set on central panel of S wall of tower.
  • Believed to have come from E gable of old church... described in... 1834/5 as 'a grotesque figure in freestone' projecting from wall.

A Somerset hunky punk. Source: Goddess or Queen? The enigmatic carving at Braunston in Rutland

The last entry brings to mind Rutland Village by Village, 2011 edition, p25, where author Rob Trubshaw describes a female stone-carved figure found face down and being used as a doorstep at Braunston, Rutland, England:

the massive stone 'base' suggests she once stuck out horizontally, face down, from near the top of the tower. Such decorative figures are known as 'hunky punks' in Somerset, where they are known to date to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The word 'punk' at this time had connotations of a whore; Quaintree Hall House nearby on the green takes its name from 'queen tree' and, again, until recent decades, the word 'queen' also had a double meaning as whore.

Draw your own conjectures.

If you're struggling, you can even compare the 'good works' of the Church with a brothel manager's attitude to his job:

We do good work! Source: No longer online.

Don't just take my word for it. Take a look at Canterbury:

A pilgrim's town. Source: 2095 The Canterbury Grotesques - Wooden Street Gargoyles

We already made a case that ecclesiasts were active in the business of 'hatches'. What might medieval brothels have to do with famine? And with harvesting human parts for medicine and cosmetics?

Famine first.

Elui from Easthorpe, Essex, England Source: Images of Lust

Look at her ribs.

Many sheela na gig images depict women like this: thin with visible ribs. It is probably significant that their creators took the time to carve ribs on what are otherwise very primitive carvings. Only one or two are known to depict the physiques of well nourished women.


The Great Hunger and the Celtic Gene | Irish America discusses hemochromatosis - a disorder characteristic of survivors of famine. The page focuses on the Great Irish Famine. Bear in mind this IHASFEMR thread grew out of evidence that North-West Europe went through a series of flood-famine cycles starting approx 1,000 years ago and that the British floods have been propagandised into purely politico-ecclesiastic events.

Hemochromatosis is:

a fatal disorder [where the body builds up excess iron] that compromises the liver and pancreas, and results in bronzing or hyperpigmentation of the skin.

Individuals possessing the gene for hemochromatosis would have been advantaged in the face of limited dietary iron availability and delivery. Those without the gene would have died in disproportionately large numbers since iron is one of the most critical elements within the body.

The HFE gene that renders populations particularly susceptible to hemochromatosis:

has documented a remarkably high incidence in the Celtic population, leading to the description of the HFE gene as the Celtic Gene.

The Great Famine with its life-destroying absence of adequate nutrition magnified the importance of possession of the HFE gene for hemochromatosis.

Female famine survivors tend to show hemochromatosis later in life (10-20 years later) than male famine survivors. Because women periodically hemorrhage iron through menstruation and occasionally through childbirth.

Discussing possible sheela na gig depictions of free-flowing menstruation, Freitag cites research that says post-menarche female human stock require 'at least' twice as much iron as men. And that most women were - at best - anemic in medieval times.


  • Famine survivors were more likely to have the iron-retaining HFE gene (the Celtic Gene).
  • Women were more likely to suffer from iron deficiency (anemia) than men during famine.
  • Surviving women were less likely to suffer hemochromatosis than surviving men after famine.

Most known sheela na gig images are from Ireland and Britain, though there are a few finds (and suspected finds) in France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In Ireland and Britain, the distribution of known finds is:

Sheela na gig finds in Ireland. Source: Sheela-Na-Gigs - Unravelling an Enigma

Sheela na gig finds in Britain. Source: Sheela-Na-Gigs - Unravelling an Enigma

The evidence and circumstances not only support the Smithsonian's claim that fresh virgin's blood was in demand, but that at times any source of nutritional iron was in demand, and that - sometimes - any form of nutrition was in demand.

The fact that women produce iron-rich blood products through their adult life and during childbirth must have been attractive to farmers of human products. Especially during times of famine. They had a profit motive for herding women - especially virginal women - into centres suitable for regular blood harvesting.

Does my bum look big in this?

This 1974 image is of the inexplicably large vaults excavated beneath the toilets (in medieval-speak: the 'rere-dorter') at St Michael's Priory, Stamford, England - a nunnery housing 40 nuns (Google Maps), (Google Streetview). Source is the collection of images at: Plate 5: 12th-Century Monastic Remains | British History Online

The vault was nearly ten feet (3m) high. See: - St Michael's Priory rere-dorter, Stamford, Lincolnshire, and - St Michael's Priory rere-dorter, Stamford - 1007811 | Historic England

It's possible - even probable - that Stamford's nuns were composting their crap. So they would need to get under there with a wheelbarrow.

But ten feet?

Perhaps they sold compost at the roadside. However, economic theory says it makes more sense to 'add value' by selling the surplus vegetables they grew in their compost, along with prepared meals and hospitality to travellers and sailors (Stamford was a major medieval east coast port). Given that virgin's blood was in demand and (some) sheela na gig images depict 'bloody flux', can we speculate that St Michael's nunnery's massive toilet vaults are evidence of the working space required to collect and process a premium-priced, iron-rich human product? One that only nunneries could offer?

That's the medicinal side. It's not a big step to consider herding and harvesting of humans for cosmetics, just as American indians warned us (see section 3).

Taghboy, County Roscommon, Ireland (Copyright: Gay Cannon). Source: Sheela-Na-Gigs - Unravelling an Enigma

High on top of a church gable wall, the object beneath the sheela na gig at Taghboy, Ireland, is catalogued as 'amniotic sac ... partially lying on the ground'. That's not what it looks like to me but then I haven't inspected it closely. And there are around nine sheela na gigs where there seems no doubt that the 'falling mass' depicted between the legs is either afterbirth or menstrual fluid. It can also be seen - just - in the Rahara and Kilmokea sheela na gig images further above.

However, there were probably many more. Researchers often report the area between the legs of many sheela na gigs has been severely defaced.

What do we have here?

  • We may have menstrual fluid harvesting centres.
  • We may have afterbirth harvesting centres.
  • We may have abortion clinics. (It's worth reading up on medieval abortifacients and the cultural toings and froings around them)
  • We may have all three combined.

We also have evidence of intense popular rage over their activities: destruction of images, destruction of churches, monasteries, priories, nunneries - coupled with flood and mudflood.

How did the brothel-keeprs respond? Did management and workforce rebrand into our current Church? Or did they migrate to somewhere less... resentful? Or both?

Do we have any clues?

Allegations about a brothel manager. Source: No longer online.

Do the allegations in the clip give us clues about where hated farmer-managers of humans would migrate to?

Summarising the allegations:

  • Money laundering
  • Tax evasion
  • Good lawyers

And in the wider case being consisered here, with expertise in products like:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Cosmetics
  • Banking
  • Time management, watches and clocks. (The Spanish word for 'clock' is 'reloj'; the Portuguese word for 'clock' is 'relógio'; the Italian word for 'clock' is 'orologio')
  • Red crosses on white backgrounds and white crosses on red backgrounds
  • Conferences and organisations noted for elite arrogance
  • Food traditions focused on fat processing, such as chocolate (think 'butter fat' - as in 'butter crosses', 'butter markets', and 'sacamantecas'). And cheese.

And with a preference for high ground safe from flooding and statues that commemorate their history. Such as this 1540 statue dedicated to eating babies.

Where might that be?

Kindlifresserbrunnen, Bern, Switzerland (Google Maps), (Google Streetview).

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