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Green Man

To some a ‘green man’ is simply a man in green. Robin Hood has been mentioned in this connection and his picture appears on some Green Man inn signs. Today ‘Green Man’ is what we have learned to call a ‘foliate head’, an architectural detail found in innumerable churches and cathedrals, since Lady Raglan coined the phrase in an article in Folklore magazine in 1939. The foliate heads have been there, however, since the churches were built many hundreds of years ago. Scholarly papers have been written about foliate heads but the truth is that nobody is sure what they are all about. Collections accepts the rebirth theory up to a point but wonders who it was that was actually responsible for carving them, the craftsman who did it surreptitiously or an overseer who instructed him to do it. There is something subversive about many of the older ones, perhaps personal protests about the foreman or the church itself, and so many of them are tucked away in corners or cleverly concealed amid more conventional decoration. Later foliate heads are more benign, more up front, more planned, more apparently sanctioned. At first it was a secret sign, later it became a hallowed custom.