It seems appropriate on Saint Patrick’s Day to have a blog on the curious medieval phenomenon – especially notable in England – of the Green Man. The rather strange looking head with leaves growing out of his mouth. There are numerous theories as to what exactly the Green Man is – so don’t take one view as the last word. To me, he seems clearly pagan and pre-Christian but co-opted, as with so much imagery, in to the church. But I’ve read Christians arguing that he is an ‘allegory’ for certain Christian values – good luck convincing anybody of that.
A succession of green men for St. Patrick’s Day, beginning with several of the most celebrated medieval “foliate heads” in Britain from the parish churches of Sutton Benger, Wiltshire and Winchelsea, East Sussex. As you can see, these grotesques are not green in color but they are definitely green in spirit: representing nature, fertility, the life cycle, and memory. A very common motif of medieval architecture across Europe, I have always felt that the presence of the Green Man in sacred spaces also represents the assimilation of Christianity and pre-Christian cultures.
Green Men from Wiltshire and Sussex, from a comprehensive gallery of images at “The Enigma of the Green Man” site.
The omnipresent Green Man has a few cousins in medieval culture, including the “wild man” or “wild woodman”, sometimes referred to as the “wodewose” as in this great scene from Jean Froissart’s Chroniques d’Angleterre, titled the “Dance of…
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