The Romanesque Green Man

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I am very keen to get a discussion going about the Disgorging Green Man in Romanesque cathedrals and churches. I posted my paper below with that intention. If you are interested in contributing your paper, please email it to me. I undertake to post every sincere piece of writing sent to me, given the author's permission.


I, Sophie Johnson, was a volunteer assistant at Canterbury Cathedral. My paper is here:


The Romanesque Disgorging Green Man and His Companions: a heretic, some good guys, some bad guys, no pagans


Dr Maria Cristina Magee is an Argentinean scholar. This is her paper:


A Fresh Threshold to a Better Knowledge of the Origin of the Romanesque Green Man


If you prefer to write only briefly, please email your piece to me, and, with your permission, I shall post it to the 'comments' thread below. Please feel free to respond to the comments already posted. Also, you can contact each article's author directly.




ADH Worsley 13 April 2016

You will be pleased to learn that intelligent conversation about Romanesque frieze sculpture does happen in English cathedrals. I haven't heard about pagans there since my childhood. That was long ago. We've all printed out your article in my study group. Some of us are working through your reading list. Thanks.


Sophie Johnson 26/08/2016

ADH Worsley,

Please pardon my very late reply. And please keep in touch. I should love to know what conclusions your working group is reaching.


Lawrence Blake   26/1/2016

As a Canterbury Cathedral Assistant for the past 4 years I have long been fascinated by the various green men on display in and around the Cathedral. However, I never knew anything about the 'feline' connection. When discussing the various 'grotesques' all of us tend not to get too involved with anything deeply historical or cultural but only to explain how skilful the mediaeval masons were with their axes rather than mallets and chisels in carving the capitals in the Holy Innocents and St Gabriel's chapels. As for the archway of the Great West door and the vaulted roof of the Cloister the usual conversation is about tradition  and early English building symbolism. Although I don't intend to get too involved with detail about cats' posterior regions I have long been intrigued by the  feline face poking its tongue out in the vaulted ceiling above the South West Door. Thanks for your excellent essay on the wider subject of the disgorging mouths of the green men. This has certainly opened my eyes to what is behind the carving of these strange works of art.


Sophie Johnson   8/2/2016

Lawrence, thank you for your kind remark!

I am just reading a brilliant work, Romanesque Architecture, Sculpture and Painting, Rolf Toman (ed.), HF Ullman 2014. (This is the first real history of art in a very long time.) Sadly, it seems that art historians continue to ignore the 'Green Man' concept. The only encouraging thing in this regard is that the book has an article by Barbara Deimling, 'Medieval church portals and their importance in the history of law'. That at least concedes a connection between medieval sculpture and church/civilian history.


But this is what I want to tell you: I can find nothing in this rather long and detailed work (nor in any other work) that would corroborate 'mediaeval masons ... with their axes rather than mallets and chisels'. Do you have a source for this, please?


And now, frankly: I think the claim that mediaeval masons perversely chose to use axes rather than the apropos tools for sculpting is nothing short of a piece of blithering nonsense. Please see:


MF Hearn, 1981, Romanesque Sculpture: The Revival of Monumental Stone Sculpture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, p.50.  


Hearn notes the remark by Gervase that Romanesque sculptors used axes and the Gothic ones  chisels, but dismisses it out of hand. No other art historian bothers with Gervase's remark. Evidence of chisel, and even drill, work in Romanesque sculpture is too much present to take Gervase at his word.