Monday, March 02, 2009

The Green Man

click photo to enlarge
In my church-crawling I frequently come across the Green Man, a mystical face with foliage sprouting from its orifices. Often they peep out from the stone leaves of the fourteenth century capitals on nave columns. Carved wooden misericords often feature his disturbing visage. And occasionally I see him forming the decorative design of a stone or wooden boss that hides the joins of the roof vaulting, as with this example at Croyland Abbey, in the village of Crowland, Lincolnshire.

The origin of the Green Man is obscure. Many feel that he is of pagan origin, representing a fertility figure or a spirit of the trees, that was adopted and adapted by Christians along with symbols such as the yule log, the fir tree and mistletoe. Such figures are known in England from the eleventh century onwards, and they don't look out of place next to the grotesques and gargoyles that are carved on the inside and outside of old churches. This example, probably dating from the 1400s is high above the chancel of the abbey at Crowland. He is of the variety known as disgorging because he spews the foliage from his mouth. Other variants are the foliate head where the head itself is in the shape of a flower or leaves, often with additional vegetation, and the bloodsucker that has foliage coming out of every hole. The Croyland example seems to be sprouting oak leaves, a not unusual tree to find associated with a Green Man. What is unusual, however, is the gold colour: green is more usual where any colour remains or has been restored. However, gold is certainly very common on bosses, so perhaps that accounts for it.

I took my photograph lying on my back, directly below the Green Man, with my camera clamped to my face. On a dull day, in a dark interior, and without my tripod, I took several shots to be sure of getting one that was reasonably sharp.

photograph & text(c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 102mm (204mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.1
Shutter Speed: 1/5
ISO: 800
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On