You wouldn't usually look for erotic artwork in a church - but it turns out you might not be looking hard enough!

Stone carvings called Sheela Na Gigs, which depict an old woman squatting and holding apart her vulva, can be found on about 45 churches up and down the country.

There are only two such carvings recorded in West Yorkshire - but if you want to see them you're in luck, as they are both close to Huddersfield.

The carvings have mysterious origins as nobody can really agree what they mean.

Sheela Na Gig in Cavan County Museum, Ireland

Some researchers believe they are pagan idols; some believe they represent fertility and others believe they represented female lust as hideous and sinfully corrupting.

The Sheela Na Gig Project, which is listing all known carvings and hunting out new ones, the carvings are normally found on Norman churches of Romanesque design.

They say: "Even though the image is overtly sexual the representation is always grotesque, sometimes even comical.

"They are usually associated with “hags” or “old women”.

"The carvings often incorporate ribs showing on the torso and sometimes facial scarring as well."

The most famous UK Sheela Na Gig is probably the carving at Kilpeck Church near Hereford - but if you fancy seeing one closer to home, you're in luck!

The closest carving to Huddersfield is at Whitechapel Church in Cleckheaton.

Whitechapel Church's Sheila Na Gig
Whitechapel Church's Sheila Na Gig

The Sheela Na Gig Project says the figure is unique in the UK and Ireland because it's on a font rather than on a building. The font dates back to at least 1120 - and babies are still baptised in it today.

The Project says: "The Sheela Na Gig figure is different from the rest (on the font) in that its legs with its in-turned feet escape the confines of the arcading and are carved on the base of the font.

"While the execution is fairly crude, the deeply carved cleft between the legs, as well as both hands gesturing towards the cleft, make this an unequivocal exhibitionist or 'sheela na gig'."

About nine miles away you'll find this carving.

It's in Grade II listed Woodkirk Church, near Dewsbury, which dates back to around 1100.

The Sheela Na Gig in Woodkirk Church, near Dewsbury
The Sheela Na Gig in Woodkirk Church, near Dewsbury

Its tower is original Norman, but the main church building was rebuilt in the 1830s after a storm blew in the roof.

The Sheela Na Gig Project says the figure is thought to date from the early English period, around the late 1400s.

It says: "The figure is unusual in that it does not appear to be corbel or appear to server some other architectural function.

"It is quite plump with a pronounced vulva with the left hand reaching down to pull it apart.

"The right hand is held to the side of the neck, possibly indicating that it is holding its hair, though the top of the figure's head appears to be bald.

"The hand gesture is not dissimilar to that found in Roman depictions of the goddess Venus who is usually depicted with the right hand holding the hair. Given that a Romanesque carving
incorporates many classical motifs this comparison may not be without merit."

Have you spotted an erotic church carving? Email