The Journal of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


The Priapus Stone, Great Urswick, Cumbria

SD2704 7377. The ancient Priapus Stone is embedded into a wall beside a country lane half a mile south of Great Urswick village, near Holme Bank farm, and 4 miles south of Ulverston. There is much uncertainty about it’s age but it is probably prehistoric in origins and almost certainly pre-dates Christianity. This block of un-hewn limestone which measures 7 foot long by 2 foot 7 inches wide and 1 foot thick used to stand upright in the field on the other side of the wall till 1920. It is said to weigh upto one and quarter tons and was brought from a nearby quarry. There are six small holes at the head of the stone, five of which are in a cluster. These little holes apparently allowed women to place their fingers in as a kind of ancient fertility rite, but the stone itself is very crudely phallic in shape, supposedly fashioned to look like male genitalia, representing the ancient Greek and Roman god Priapus.

The Priapus Stone, Cumbria.

Back in the mists of time the women of Great Urswick would perform a fertility rites ceremony and decorate the stone to look like the god Priapus, son of Aphrodite. On midsummer’s day, in particular, coloured pieces of rag were smeared with sheep’s saliva or butter and placed over the stone; the head part was decorated with flowers – all this in the hope of a fruitful procreation being helped on. The ancient Greeks and, later the Romans, honoured Priapus with painted pictures on temple and villa walls, and often tiny statuettes were kept by ladies with the god himself usually depicted as a young, well-endowed man with “over-sized genitalia”. Today the stone in the wall at Great Urswick is slowly becoming forgotten, no such rituals and rites take place now, or do they?

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