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Posts Tagged ‘churches’

Just before New Year, Chris (my green-man-hunting friend) and I went down to Salisbury to see if we could track down the four green men listed in Clive Hicks’s book The Green Man: a field guide. On the way we stopped off at various small churches along the Wylye valley, and this was very enjoyable, but we found no more green men to add to our image bank. It was all rather depressing, the more so as we had had several similar trips recently without a single green man to encourage us.

Then we arrived in Salisbury, walked down to the Cathedral and slipped in through a side door, finding ourselves close to the main crossing. We tend to think we’re good at spotting green men now, and knowing there was one up in the crossing somewhere, we set off squinting at bosses and other carvings. I got out my binoculars and immediately found a foliate head. That was one. I left Chris swearing slightly at the impossible task of photographing something so high up, and wandered on to see if I could find the chantry chapel where Hicks lists another green man.

I found it in the aisle to the north of the high altar. It actually had seven different foliage-spewing beast-heads on it. Great! Eight already and we’d hardly started. Chris joined me and we quickly found yet another in the baptistry. We moved on to the choir stalls and I found a little foliate head, then tipped up the only misericord we could reach (strictly forbidden) and there was another!

Then we were stuck. We knew there was at least one more in the building but couldn’t track it down. In the end we found a cathedral guide and asked her, and she took us to a tomb to the south of the high altar – we had walked right past two fine spewing heads. Perhaps we were not quite so good at this as we thought. On the other hand, she also showed us the green man among the bosses in the crossing – the one we thought we’d already found. No, we’d found yet another green man that she did not know about – so honours were even.

Then we decided to take a break and have coffee. We now had a bag of around 14 green men, and the information that there were more in the misericords that we could not access. We wandered into the cathedral shop and I found a book which had pictures of several more green men that we had missed in spite of our careful searching. I made notes…

We were straight back into the cathedral and very swiftly found the spewing beast-head on the base of a pillar in the Galilee chapel, the five different heads on a single monument near the crossing, and the strange baroque beastie on a wall memorial. By the time we left, we had photographs of 20 or so green men, and Chris had made an exhibition of himself by lying flat on his back next to the crossing altar so as to photograph the green man among the bosses in the tower. Who is that man? Nothing to do with me.

And then we found St Edmund’s church and there was another one on the north wall.

So these will appear gradually on the Wiltshire Green Men website, along with such pearls of wisdom as I can muster in description. They will take our grand total up to over 100 green men in Wiltshire located and documented so far. Our cup runneth over…

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Chris and I set off on Saturday to see if we could find any more examples of the Green Man for our Wiltshire Green Men website At the Sign of the Black Cat.  We decided that we had to bite on the bullet and visit some of the town churches in West Wiltshire, so we started with Warminster and went on to Westbury, Melksham and Corsham.   Far too many of these were kept locked.  Then we couldn’t stand it any longer and went back to village churches for our last two checks.

There’s been a lot of speculation about the green man, specificately about whether he was sneaked into churches by undercover pagans back in mediaeval times.  I feel that is most unlikely.  What seems to have happened is that during the Romaneque period churchmen went on the pilgrimage to Saint Iago di Compostela in Spain, following the pilgrim route through France and Spain.  In many of the churches on the route they saw green men – foliate heads, or spewing foliage – and when they came back to Britain they recalled this and had green men carved in their churches too.

There are two main forms of the green man: the foliage head and the foliage-spewer.  The foliate head, where the face is made up of leaves, does seem to derive from pagan Greek and Roman forms, but it’s important to recognise that it was used in the mediaeval Christian church to make a Christian point.  As was the foliage-spewing green man also, but his origins are even more interesting.  He has been very convincingly shown to have come to Europe from India, where he/it was known as the kirttimukha.

A really great book on the subject is Mercia McDermott’s Explore Green Men, published by Heart of Albion Press.  She considers the green man’s origins and variants in great detail, and gradually works back in time to its origins in India.  Well, I’m convinced by her arguments, anyway!

What is certain though is that the Pagan community has picked up on the green man and recognised his relevance as a symbol of nature and the green movement.  I certainly relate strongly to the green man as an image, and I am able to set aside his past role within the Christian church, which was of its time, and focus on his new role as guardian of the greenwood and of all that is green and growing.  It doesn’t matter that this is a relatively recent interpretation – who says things have to be ancient to be real or relevant?

We found three green men, by the way, and one green frog.  Although none of our finds were mainstream green men in form, they were all rare and interesting.  They’ll appear on the website very soon.

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My friend Chris and I walked this afternoon out from Bishopstrow near Warminster onto the perimeter path that skirts Salisbury Plain. The army was much in evidence, with gunfire sounding from the firing ranges, and a gun placement clearly visible in the distance. We ignored it as best we could and focused on the views and the superb archaeology.

There are strip lynchets (ancient strip fields) all along the edge of this part of the Plain, carefully sited to catch the sun. Our route skirted two Iron Age hillforts, Battlesbury and Scratchbury, and passed several long and round barrows. When we came down off the edge of the Plain, we returned to Bishopstrow along the valley, through Norton Bavant. The views from the Plain were wonderful, and although the day was rather overcast, the sun broke through the light cloud several times. Cley Hill with its prominent round barrow dominated the middle distance.

I am not a druid who works with a Grove, or does a great amount of ritual. Walking the land is the core of my practice. You can travel by car, train or bus and cover much more ground and see more than on foot, but you can only truly know the land if you get out of the transport and walk. Even when the land feels as uneasy as Salisbury Plain, scarred by past dangers and present war games, it is still rewarding. Down in the valley where the lovely river Wylye runs through quiet villages, the land is truly gentle, friendly and welcoming.

The walk we did today comes from ‘100 walks in Wiltshire’, published by Crowood Press in 1990, although there’s a later edition around now. Look for walk 90, ‘Middle Hill’. It covers 7 miles of some of the most scenic countryside in south-west Wiltshire, and is one of my favourite walks, highly recommended.

We finished off the day by visiting a couple of churches in search of new examples of green men, which we are documenting At the Sign of the Black Cat. We found none at either Knook or Upton Scudamore. But Knook has a south door with a tympanum depicting swirling beasts intertwined; and Upton Scudamore has several crazy heads including a triple head arrangement each with manically gritted teeth. The church had been decorated for harvest festival, and someone had carefully suspended vegetables – peppers, parsnips and carrots – from the church gate’s metal arch. It was all quite crazy, very charming, and very much in the spirit of the harvest season of Alban Elfed.

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