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    Green Men Carvings in St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall

    greenman symbol relationship human and wild natureHi Mairiuna!

    As you mentioned in one of your recent post ‘St Magnus Cathedral in Orkney: The ‘Light in the North’ , we would have missed seeing the depictions of the Green Man as seen in the guide book, had it not been for the assistance of a very kind gentleman that helped us locate them on the pillars and other mysterious locations inside the cathedral.

    I’ve always been intrigued by Green Men and the symbolic message that they seem to convey about the relationship between human nature and wild nature.

    That is why I would have been delighted to hear the stories of mermaids, goblins, skulls and “Green Men” carved in the stones of one of the finest and best preserved medieval cathedrals in Scotland, with storyteller and folklore expert, Marita Lück when she performed last October ‘ a gentle storytalk for people aged 6 to 106’. 😉

    Mairiuna… we definitely must go back again to study and enjoy even more all that is expressed in this magnificient cathedral!  Let’s faithfully prepare Itinerary #8 and note down this storytelling event on our “carnet de bord”.

    It is at times quite dark in the cathedral, but nevertheless, we did manage to take some pictures of the green man carvings. Not the best pictures but enough to give us an idea of their expressions.

    St Magnus Cathedral Greenman Carvings Kirkwall Orkney Scotland - Scotiana 2012

    Greenman Carving- St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall- Scotiana 2012


     A Green Man is a sculpture, drawing, or other representation of a face surrounded by or made from leaves. Branches or vines may sprout from the nose, mouth, nostrils or other parts of the face and these shoots may bear flowers or fruit.

    Commonly used as a decorative architectural ornament, Green Men are frequently found on carvings in churches and other buildings (both secular and ecclesiastical). “The Green Man” is also a popular name for British public houses and various interpretations of the name appear on inn signs, which sometimes show a full figure rather than just the head. The Green Man motif has many variations. Found in many cultures around the world, the Green Man is often related to natural vegetative deities springing up in different cultures throughout the ages.

    Primarily it is interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, or “renaissance,” representing the cycle of growth each spring. Some speculate that the mythology of the Green Man developed independently in the traditions of separate ancient cultures and evolved into the wide variety of examples found throughout history.

    Source : Wikipedia

    In the Celtic Encyclopedia, we can read…


    (The Hidden One – The Cylenchar*) The next stage of the ecological revolution begins with the reawakening of the male counterpart of the Goddess, the Green Man, an archetype found in folklore and religious art from the earliest times, and especially linked with the Christian origins of modern science. Long suppressed, the archetype emerges now to challenge us to heal our relationship with nature. – It is likely that Green Man pillars were erected originally on the sites of sacred trees. The Green Man signifies irrepressible life. He is an image from the depths of prehistory: he appears and seems to die and then comes again after long forgettings at many periods in the past two thousand years. In his origins he is much older than our Christian era. In all his appearances he is an image of renewal and rebirth. See also: JACK IN THE GREEN.

    *Note: Cylenchar is a Celtic name for the Green Man and actually means ‘the hidden one’.

    The Cylenchar is connected to the deep ancient wisdom of the Great Mother, whose essence is of life and the primal forces of Nature. He is the son of the God of life and death, and of the Goddess of birth and renewal.


    St Magnus Cathedral Greenmen Carving Kirkwall Orkney Scotland Scotiana 2012

    Greenmen Carving St Magnus Cathedral-Kirkwall,Orkney -Scotiana 2012

    In the St-Magnus cathedral guide book it is said that ‘these pictures of the Green Man suggest that originally it was a fertility symbol used by the medieval Church to represent corruption of the flesh, while the leaves represented decay and sins.’

    Greenman carving St Magnus Cathedral-Kirkwall,Orkney,Scotland -Scotiana 2012

    Greenman Carving St Magnus Cathedral-Kirkwall,Orkney,Scotland -Scotiana 2012

    Green Men are found all over the planet and as an example take a look at this beautiful grave slab that can be seen inside St Peters Church, in Northampton:


    Grave Slab in St Peters Church Northampton © Susan Doncaster

    This finely carved Anglo Saxon grave slab dates to the 10-11th Century and shows beasts and birds entwined in some incredible foliage all sprouting from the mouth of  a Green Man. It is thought that the grave slab would have been in an earlier church that stood on the same site. The stone was found in a nearby ditch and was used as a door lintel and a mantel piece before finding its way back to the church.

    The slab has been attributed to St Ragener an Anglo Saxon prince who was slain by the Vikings in 870. His grave had been forgotten until the mid 11th Century when visions of an elderley man drew a priest of Edward the Confessor to the burial site. Many miracles were said to have taken place at the church and the king had a shrine erected there decorated with gold, silver and precious stones. Sadly nothing of the great shrine remains.


    Grave Slab in St Peters Church Northampton © Susan Doncaster

    Although the grave slab has been cut down by 3cm on one side the carving is remarkably intact and it is one of the earliest carved stones in Northampton. St Peters Church (…) is considered to be the most outstanding Norman church in the county.


    Here’s another great example, this time in the United States:

    Watch this video about Grotesques, Green Man and Gargoyles with Historic preservationist, Jan Fleming, engrossed in grotesques (which are faces carved in stone on buildings) introducing us to the 28 grotesque faces on the Polk County Courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Some are charming, others funny and many…scary! Amongst them are beautiful Green Men.

    Not much is known about the reason for the grotesque faces on the building, except that some are similar to faces in Europe called the “Green Man” because foliage is growing out of, or around, the face.


    Jan Fleming has found very little documentation about the people who carved these remarkable faces and talks about it in her book titled : Grotesques in Des Moines…Iowa and Abroad.


    Greenmen are such a fascinating subject!

    A couple of years ago, I’ve shared this poster with you Mairiuna. Remember? It gives great insight as to what the Green Man has been associated with and the many symbolic attributes. Notice it mentions that a few  “Green Women” also exist: goddesses Asherah and Flora, the nymph Chloris, Dakshi the tree-goddess of India and even Greensleeves.  Interesting!

    Greenman Cheat Sheet small


    Happy green man hunting 🙂



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