The Green Man in Medieval England: Christian Shoots from Pagan Roots
This beautifully illustrated landmark book (with more than five dozen specially commissioned original colour photographs) compellingly connects the Green Man phenomenon in medieval England to a specific Christian meaning and understanding rather than a mysterious and undefined pagan one. The meaning and significance attached to such Green Man depictions would have been apparent to almost all churchgoing medieval folk, from the patrons who commissioned them and the stonemasons and woodcarvers who created them, to the monks, clergy and worshipping community well-versed in biblical stories and associated Christian lore and legend that helped to flesh out and illuminate Scripture—stories and legends long-since forgotten by the majority today. The visual narrative contained in the art and craft of medieval churches brought such stories to life in a meaningful way for everyone, the literate and illiterate alike.
Drawing on a wealth of extant examples, the book connects Green Man iconography with the Christian legends and hagiographies of Adam, the Garden of Eden, the Quest of Seth, and the various legends of the cross, contained in such medieval writings as Jacobus Voragine’s, The Golden Legend and Honorius of Autun’s Imago mundi. The author has visited a large sample of medieval cathedrals and parish churches throughout the length and breadth of England in his search of such illustrative evidence and offers a selection of those findings and conclusions here.
Stephen Miller is a visual arts and theology scholar who has been fascinated with researching this subject since studying for his Master’s degree in Christianity and the Arts at King’s College London (in association with the National Gallery, London). He has contributed to a number of academic journals, and is the author of the books, The Word Made Visible in the Painted Image (2016) and The Book of Angels: Seen and Unseen (2019). His research interests focus on the theology of images.
“Stephen Miller, a visual-arts and theology scholar, has presented the evidence that the Green Man is traceable to apocryphal Christian (and Jewish) texts about the Garden of Eden, hagiographies pertaining to Adam, legends about the making of Christ’s cross, and such medieval texts as The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine and the Imago Mundi of Honorius of Autun. Along with his careful research into the meaning of the motif, he has provided a sort of guidebook to a selection of locations around Britain where the many versions of the image can be seen. Perhaps most stunning of all are the 69 colour plates that provide the centrepiece of this attractive volume, the photographic work of his daughter, Lucy Alexandra Miller.”
Addison Hodges Hart
The Church Times, 21 October, 2022
“While Miller makes a strong case for his understanding of the Green Man, he also recognizes how the importation of this established Christian motif into England with the Norman conquest would have been received and appreciated within a new culture where a variety of Celtic and Norse pagan figures and images remained and would have influenced the stonemasons and woodcarvers who copied this image into so many new churches. Miller considers a wonderful range of previous scholarship and allows for some of the typical Christian appreciation of pagan stories and characters in the reception of the Green Man within the English context. In one of many delightful details, Miller explores connections with Tolkien’s work, giving particular attention to Tom Bombadil (53-54). [...] Most inspiring to me was Miller’s obvious appreciation for the wonders of the “medieval Christian legend-making mind at work” (45).”
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