Hiding in Plain Sight: Medieval Mermaids in Churches

Hiding in Plain Sight: Medieval Mermaids in Churches

Why would an ancient, folkloric, but non-Biblical, character such as a mermaid find its way into so many medieval European churches? And can such mermaid imagery and symbology be correlated with the more overt pagan symbols of the Green Man and Sheela na gig?

14th-century mermaid bench-end at St Mary’s church, Ivinghoe, Buckinghamshire (Image: Courtesy John Vigar)

Common Pagan Symbols in Churches

There are numerous stone sculptures and wood carvings in European medieval churches that depict what may appear to be non-Christian imagery. Most discussed are those of the Green Man and the Sheela na gig, which have found various interpretations, from pagan symbols existing surreptitiously within Christian sacred spaces, to simple decorative adornments, created by masons and carpenters with the implicit approval of the Church.


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