This is one of those stories that confirms the view of folk in the Middle Ages being…well…not the sharpest pencils in the box. It’s a strange tale. We must go back to the stormy reign of King Stephen, a Norman king who sat precariously on his throne fighting an insurgency from a rival claimant to his crown – the Empress Matilda. The Anglo-Saxon chronicle claims these were miserable times for England when God himself had turned his face away from the country.
It’s in troubled periods like this that odd events seem to happen – mysterious occurrences with no rational explanation. Maybe a product of mass hysteria – people driven out of their wits by daily strife. And what happened in the village of Wulpit in Suffolk was, frankly, out of the ordinary. It was recorded by one William of Newburgh in 1150. He adopts a cynical tone but says so many witnesses claimed what they saw was true that he feels compelled to repeat it.
Four or five miles from Bury St Edmunds – the shrine to a Saxon king shot through with arrows – was Wulpit….named after “ancient cavities” called Wolfpittes or ‘pits for wolves’. While the reapers were in the fields working, two children emerged from these holes in the ground. A boy and a girl. Nothing untoward about that – except for their appearance. William of Newburgh explains:
“…a boy and girl, completely green in their persons, and clad in garments of a strange colour, and unknown materials, emerged from these excavations…”
Their skin was completely green! Well, the reapers were startled and grabbed the kids taking them to Wulpit. The villagers gawped at them for ages, trying to feed them but the children would not take what they were offered – until somebody offered them beans from their pods. And they gobbled them down.
Over time, they were taught to eat bread and learned English and then something unexpected happened – their green colour started to fade. With this development, it was decided to baptise the boy and girl. This proved fatal with the boy who subsequently died. The girl survived and “differed not in the least from the women of our own country”. She even got married.
All of which begs the question – who were these children? This was their own explanation recorded by William of Newburgh:
‘…we only remember this, that on a certain day, when we were feeding our father’s flocks in the fields, we heard a great sound, such as we are now accustomed to hear at St Edmund’s when the bells are chiming; and whilst listening to the sound in admiration, we became on a sudden, as it were entranced, and found ourselves among you in the fields, where you were reaping’.
They claimed to be from the ‘land of St Martin’ – a place where this saint was hugely venerated. Did they believe in Christ in their homeland? Yes. Did the sun rise like it did in Wulpit? No.
‘The sun does not rise upon our countrymen; our land is little cheered by its beams; we are contented with that twilight, which, among you, precedes the sunrise, or, follows the sunset.’
So they lived in a permanently dark realm though, bizarrely, they could see in the distance a ‘certain luminous country’. But they couldn’t get to it because there was a great river in between.
There are a large number of theories as to what or who these children were – ranging from aliens to fairies to Flemish refugees, etc, etc. It’s not atypical of other stories in the Middle Ages detailing strange visitations to isolated villages. One such story I like is of the villagers in a church who heard a great thump in the graveyard and found a massive anchor had dropped from the sky…and up above was a floating ship…and down the anchor chain came a sailor. In one version of this story he was grabbed by the villagers and ‘drowned’, exploding like a being made of water.
Sounds like something from X Men!