A WOMAN is appealing for others to help her celebrate a medieval Oxford statue linked with fertility.

Several years ago, Raga Woods, 77, became fascinated with the city’s sheela-na-gig, which is one of only around 40 such surviving statues in Britain which depict naked women with exaggerated genitalia.

She said: “There was something about her that spoke to me and I think with the current Me Too movement she is especially relevant today.”

The Oxford sheela is housed in the old Saxon tower of St Michael at the North Gate Church on the corner of North Street and Ship Street, but Ms Woods wants to see it play a more prominent role in the city.

The figures are usually found on the outsider of churches and castle from the Norman period. Though their purpose is unknown historians have theorised they may have been to warn against lust or related to promoting fertility.

The Oxford statue, thought to be a 11th or 12th century Norman addition to the tower, was originally placed on the West side high up near the belfry windows before being taken down in 1928 to prevent further weather damage.

Ms Woods said: “I feel she is so mysterious and the church has never really known what to do with the sheelas. I want to celebrate what she represents which is a connection with the female body and her previous role as a protective figure for the city.”

The New Hinksey woman has set up a group dedicated to finding out more about the sheela and exploring how best to make her history accessible to local people.

It was given a boost in May when member Ken Ishikawa, who is studying for a Phd in Indian archaeology at Oxford University, came across a second sheela-na-gig for sale on ebay from a man in Derbyshire who said he had recovered the statue from a skip.

Ms Woods said: “It was the day after we’d had a May Morning celebration of the Oxford sheela so it felt like more than coincidence.

“It feel as if it has came into our lives to help bring attention to the Oxford sheela.”

She added there were no firm plans for what to do with the Derbyshire statue, which is currently in Mr Ishikawa’s Jericho living room, but an exhibition of some kind was hoped for the future.

Susannah Phillipson, who became involved in the project after meeting Ms Woods at last month’s Oxford Storytelling Festival, said the statues had a lot to say about modern feminism.

She said: “We like to think we are very comfortable celebrating the female body and we are with the womb but even I had an instinctive reaction of almost disgust to the sheela’s pose and I think that is why she is so important in connecting us with our past.”

The group are particularly keen to hear from academics and women’s organisations. Get in touch via oxfordsheelanagigs@gmail.com.