This is a pagan symbol associating with the earth spirit and often found in older churches. Rosslyn chapel near Edinburgh has several notable examples. According to Green Man enthusiast, Mike Harding, there are considered to be four types of Green Man; the foliate head in which the face becomes leaves, the spewing or uttering head where leaves and foliage emerge from the mouth, the ‘bloodsucker’ head where branches and leaves spring from the eyes, ears and mouth and ‘Jack in the Green’ which is often simply a head peering at us from a frame of foliage. The Green Man is also a very popular name for pubs – there are several that I can think of and also the Jack in the Green Mayday festival in Hastings.
I have always enjoyed looking for Green Men when visiting churches and cathedrals as he is often so well hidden. Canterbury and Gloucester Cathedrals have some notable examples and Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh has a very celebrated one.
The Victorians in their return to earlier symbols sometimes incorporated a Green Man or two in their churches and sometimes on the outside of their houses as decoration. There are notable examples in New Eltham, Brockley and Peckham. I always get a sense of satisfaction whenever I spot one as they can be so well hidden.
This one is very well disguised and it took several years of visiting Nunhead Cemetery before anyone pointed it out to me. It’s just beneath the top of the memorial on which it’ s placed but once you’ve seen it you know it’s there. It can be seen as a cross but I always have seen it as the Green Man of Nunhead. As far as I am aware there is not another one in the other Magnificent 7 cemeteries.
Below are images from the Hastings Jack in the Green Festival held on Mayday. The Jack or Green man is led down from the cliff top castle to the arena where as the climax to the day’s festivities. There he is torn apart and his body, made of leaves, is scattered to the audience as the precursor of Spring. A dramatic end to a great day,
Kathryn Basford The Green Man, 1978
A Little Book of the Green Man, Mike Harding, Aurum Press.1998
text and photos copyright Carole Tyrrell