Where to find Shropshire's green men
PUBLISHED: 16:46 17 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:11 20 February 2013
Shrewsbury-based writer Richard Hayman whose book The Green Man is published next month goes on the trail of the mystical figure
Where to find a green man
Shrewsbury-based writer Richard Hayman whose book The Green Man
is published next month goes on the trail of the mystical figure
Anyone with even a passing interest in history has heard of the green man, the hapless face with leaves and branches spewing from his mouth, and occasionally his nose and ears. In modern if not medieval times he has come to be seen as an emblem of nature and fertility. The green man has moved away from his origins in the darker recesses of medieval churches to establish a place in mainstream culture.
The best place to experience modern green man is at the Clun Green Man Festival (May 2-3). Cluns Green Man is tailor-made for the locality. He wears a cloak bordered with trees that spread branches across his chest; his leafy face is bordered with antlers, reminding us that deer roam in the surrounding woodlands. On the bridge over the river Clun the green man, spirit of spring, performs a duel with the Frost or Ice Queen, where winter is ritually vanquished and the celebrations of the new season can begin. It is a modern twist on the ancient May Day festivities, where communities come together to celebrate the survival of winter and the beginning of better days.
But the green man has a much older vintage. Green men were popular images in the Middle Ages and there are several good examples in Shropshire, having first appeared here in the work of 12th century Herefordshire-based sculptors. Many green men are not really men but masks and, in an art where ugliness was an expression of sinfulness, spoke more of human failings than of nature. Almost all of Shropshires green men are found on or in churches, with the exception of the figure carved in wood on the outside of the gatehouse of Stokesay Castle.
May is also a good time to be out and about, and green man spotting is a good excuse to venture out on unfamiliar byways in search of new places. Green man carvings are inconspicuous and often go unnoticed by church visitors. Nobody has claimed to have discovered every medieval green man, and there are doubtless fresh discoveries to be made.
*The Green Man by Richard Hayman is published next month by Shire Books, Midland House, West Way, Botley, Oxford, OX2 0PH.