All Things Green Man & The Traditional Jack-in-the-Green

Posts tagged “Norman

Green Men of Normandy by Bruce Eaton

Church of Saint-Germain in Barneville-Carteret - Copyright Eleanor Eaton

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.[1] 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),[2] 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.

[1] Hicks, C. 2000 The Green Man – A Field Guide COMPASSbooks p75

[2] 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

Green Man of the Month

St Peter's Church Charney Bassett Oxfordshire

St Peter's Church Charney Bassett Oxfordshire

These 12 Green Men (and beasts) adorn the 12th Century Tympanum of St Peter’s Church in Charney Bassett Oxfordshire. The church is extremely old and would have been originally built in what was a remote marshland settlement. It is probable that the existing Norman church was erected on the site of an earlier wooden Saxon church. Although early Saxon churches were commonly of wood they were not necessarily wholly of wood. It is possible that the Saxon church at Charney may have had some stonework in it, possibly evidenced by the enigmatic carved tympanum now over a side doorway in the chancel. A mysterious figure between two gryphons, possibly ascending to heaven has been identified as Alexander the Great in a Christian manifestation. Although probably Saxon it is also possible that it may be Norse, as this area came much under Norse Viking influence during the reign of  Cnut (Canute). There is also an ancient legend that Cnut had a palace at Cherbury.

Our twelve Green Men are part of another (I think equally fascinating)  archway over the south (Main) door to the church. and is also undoubtedly very old, and may indeed be twelfth century Norman work.

To see more pictures of this arch visit the COTGM flicr site at