Experts puzzled by ‘naked woman’ carving on Duart castle

Duart Castle on Mull. Picture: Wikimedia
Duart Castle on Mull. Picture: Wikimedia
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A mystery carving believed to date back to the 13th century has been discovered on the walls of a castle on Mull.

While investigations into the carving at Duart Castle continue, some experts say it may be a quasi-erotic image known as a Sheela Na Gig.

Often found on old churches, to protect the building from evil spirits, Sheela Na Gigs traditionally depict a naked woman with an ugly face. However, the Duart carving is so weather-worn it is difficult to determine its origin.

Sir Lachlan Maclean, 73, the clan chief who owns the Maclean stronghold of Duart Castle, had no knowledge of the carving until a guide noticed it.

He said: “I had never noticed it before but once it’s been pointed out to you it’s quite clear – although you do have to be looking at the right angle.”

Nic Broomhead, who made the discovery, said: “The light happened to hit the wall at the right angle to show the carving up.

“It is a depiction of a woman and it’s a rather unusual one. The mystery is where has it come from, because it is not carved in local stone, it is different from all the other stonework on the castle. We don’t know if it was brought here from elsewhere.”

The castle was a ruin until 1912 but there are photos of the building in 1905, before it was restored, and the carving is there then.

He added: “We are not sure what it is but in the past two or three weeks we have been trying to circulate pictures of it to academics.

“We have talked to a number of people, including experts at Dublin University and an archaeologist in Nottinghamshire and the general impression is that it is from around the 13th century.”

Some experts think it’s a hagstone – a stone with a natural hole running through it which is said to hold magical powers of protection.

Andrew Bradley, a stonemason who is carrying our restoration work at the castle, said: “It is heavily weathered and it needs more research into it, but it’s obviously meant something to somebody, there is obviously a reason for it being carved and a reason for it being at Duart.

“It’s the only piece of carved stonework on the castle, other than the armorial coat of arms that were done in the 1910-1912 restoration.”