The Green Men

Garway church
Garway, Herefordshire, England

I was first introduced to the Green Man carvings on my third or fourth visit to England.   At first, I thought that they were like the carvings at Oxford.  I found a small book about it, one of the Pitkin Guides.  I had read about the stone masons carving small faces and figures in obscure places of churches and cathedrals in the book by Edward Rutherfurd, “Sarum”, but I don’t remember that the term “Green Man” was used.

Salisbury Cathedral’s roof boss

According to the Pitkin Guide, Green Men do not appear in England until the twelfth century, but were in Rome as early as first century a.d.  I couldn’t find a definitive list, or the number of Green Man carvings in England.  The Pitkin Guide lists 60 in the back of it.  From what I could find there are hundreds of them around the UK.

Rosslyn Chapel

These consist of churches, cathedrals, benches,  roof bosses, the tops of columns, and hinged wooden seats, known as “misericords”.

Roof boss carved in 1350, Prince’s Chantry
Canterbury Cathedral

I honestly have not had the pleasure of seeing any of these in person, yet.  I wrote about searching and finding the one in Canterbury Cathedral.  In my research for this article I discovered that what I actually found was a cat mask and not the Green Man as shown above! I’ve been to many of the places that have a Green man hidden among the columns, but before I found the book, I didn’t even know to look for them.

The Green Man roof boss from Dore Abbey
Herefordshire, England

The Green Men are whimsical creatures with no apparent religious symbolism, although many are in churches.  I like to think that in repressed times it was the carvers way of showing a little defiance and creative grit.  I love the way the carvings seem to capture most of our human character;  surprise, glee, whimsy, fear, menace, mirth, shyness or evil.

Replica carving of a Green Man, near the Chapter House entry of York Minster

See how many you can find in your travels.  They are hidden in some of the most visited attractions in the UK.  Like the above mentioned, but also in Windsor, Bristol, Cambridge, Winchester, Stratford-on-Avon, Ludlow, St. Paul’s, near Cardiff in Wales, and Glasgow, Scotland, to name but a few.  Make a game of it with the kids, it would be a fun adventure!


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