Eagle eared listeners may have heard Tim Healey on Radio 4’s Questions Questions yesterday with his query relating to the possible eastern ancestory of the green man. Also appearing on the programme was Mercia MacDermott author of “Explore Green Men”. For those who missed it you can listen again at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00tgwlh/b00tgw75/Questions_Questions_26_08_2010/ I’ve also posted a discussion topic on the BBC discussion board.
Saint-Germain, Barneville-Carteret, Normandy
On a recent family holiday in Normandy we took some time out from sandcastle building duties and sampling the excellent local cider to indulge in a spot of Green Man hunting. Without doubt the highlight was the small Romanesque church of Saint-Germain in Barneville-Carteret. We knew we were in for a treat when we saw the rows of grotesque corbels around the outside of the church. The pillar capitals that support the dog-toothed Norman arches of the nave were fascinating. They featured, amongst other things, multiple examples of Green Men of the ‘face generating foliage’ type, a figure holding two serpents which seem to emerge out of his anus, a wrestler throwing his opponent to the floor whilst being attacked by a serpent, a possible Christ figure with knotwork dogs, abstract knotwork patterns and a probable Sheela-na-Gig (although the ‘lady’s area’ has been attacked with a chisel at some point in the carving’s history). The parish priest, when interrogated by my father-in-law, claimed that the oldest parts of the church date to the tenth century. Clive Hicks, in his excellent field guide, dates the capitals to the twelfth century. I would tentatively suggest an eleventh century date, but am happy to stand corrected. Photographs of the capitals have been added to the COTGM Flikr site so that you can make up your own minds.
I had been aware that the master masons who supervised the building of England’s twelfth century churches had largely been recruited in France (most famously the Herefordshire School), but until visiting Normandy I had not fully appreciated that, as well as bringing their expertise, these master craftsmen also brought with them a complex artistic vocabulary, of which Green Man designs form but one element. This style did not develop in isolation and many of the carvings at Saint-Germain seem to bear more than a hint of Scandinavian influence. This is unsurprising given that the deCarteret family claim direct descent from one of the henchmen of Rollo ‘the Dane’, the founder of Normandy.
 Hicks, C. 2000 The Green Man – A Field Guide COMPASSbooks p75
 Bailey, J. 2000 The Parish Church of St Mary & St David at Kilpeck Berrington Press p23
More of Bruce and Eleanor’s pictures of Normandy Green Men can be viewed on our Flickr Site http://www.flickr.com/photos/thecompanyofthegreenman
The book is a first edition glossy hardback and its appearance is comfortingly reminiscent of the large format fairytale books of childhood that some of us literally read to pieces. It is definitely a book that will appeal to readers of all ages bringing memories flooding back to some and inspiring others to seek out the traditions, wildlife and folklore that surround us all. A great bedtime read for adult and child alike.