Saturday, 18 October 2008

'The Lord of the Greenwood' at Sutton Benger Church

A detail from the Green Man carving - birds eating hawthorn berries.

The Green Man Carving at Sutton Benger Church - today I saw it for myself, it is every bit as intricate and beautiful as I imagined.

A notice on the wall by the Green Man says the following:

Although the Green Man is often associated with the hawthorn, or May Tree, if you look more closely at the carvings you will see that it is an emblem of autumn, not of spring. The hawthorn leaves are never accompanied by flowers, but often by fruit. At the church of Sutton Benger, Wiltshire, the generous Green Man provides hawthorn berries for the birds. The crudest carver could usually manage to surround him with some acorns or grapes.
To continue:
Old Churches can seem very stark and plain today but in the Middle Ages they would have been bright with green and gold, the colours of growth. Medieval people love bright colours which were so difficult for them to make artificially and yet so abundant in nature. The mystic, Hildegarde of Bingen, spoke of viriditas, 'the greening of the soul'. The Green Man would have conjured up thoughts like this. He himself was always human colour, not tinted green, although there were other outlandish figures in popular tradition who were this colour. In the twelfth century, two Green Children were found at Woolpit, in Suffolk. They said they came from a fairy underworld and they stayed green by living on beans.

Green leaves were a delight. Learned clerks wrote ominously about them signifying the sins of the flesh, and preachers warned against the temptations of springtime, but not everyone listened. In May, people carried home the branches of the hawthorn, with its sweet blossoms. Young couples strolled in the woods, their heads crowned with garlands of ivy. Green Men shared in this symbolism, and in a set of carvings at Weston Longville church in Norfolk, they surround a young man carrying branches of May. In fact many Green Men resemble well-dressed youngsters of the period; they are certainly not wild spirits. Their hairstyles, when they can be recognised, are those of fashionable young men of the time. (taken from text in the church)
See also the post made on 25th September 'Enchantment - in nature'. Apologies for any duplication.

All Saints' Church at Sutton Benger - near Chippenham
Formerly called St Leonard, there has been a church on this site since the 13th century. Many of the statues were defaced or destroyed by the Puritans and the church was restored between 1836 -1862. Although the Green Man has been dated back to the 13th century, it may have been refashioned in 1851.