I can’t remember when I first became aware of the Green Man – a figure of a human face made of or surrounded by leaves. I think my parents pointed them out in the 1980s, along with the similarity between fan-vaulted church ceilings (like Kings College Chapel) and the canopy of trees in the forest. They both seem to be medieval attempts to bring the wild wood that everyone knew into the sacred space of the church. For me, the Green Man is sometimes a personification of nature, but sometimes he is a symbol of mankind as part of nature and that’s another way of representing the idea of rewilding ourselves.
I’ve been thinking about these connections for the last year or so, and making more of an effort to look out for Green Men when out and about. There are lots of images online of him in churches and cathedrals, but here are some I’ve taken in the John Rylands Library built in Manchester in the 1890s. The building looks like a gothic church and even has fan vaulting. There are heavy stone bosses at the tops of the pointed arches and corbels where the arches spring from the walls, and all of these are carved with some kind of figure or design. Walking round I was able to find three green men on arches: a corbel and a ceiling boss from the corridors on the first floor, either side of the block of rooms including the Rylands Gallery; and then a ceiling boss from the staircase down to the men’s toilets under the main staircase at the Deansgate end of the building:
There’s also a very prominent fanged Green Man by the doorway into the main reading room:
This inspired me to add a Green Man to the log cabin. I have his hand-carved wooden image at home, but there’s always a risk things left at the wood might be stolen. So I opted for something I could easily replace if necessary.
I suppose next I could learn to do chainsaw carving and start putting him on tree stumps that would be tricky to steal with a van and sell off in a pub car park somewhere! I wouldn’t be the first to do this though. Here’s one example carved from a tree that stood at the centre of the maze in Tatton Park in Cheshire taken a few years ago: