1. The Green Man

by Romola Parish

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Commentary by the artist

Romola Parish writes:

What do you think is going on when you see the Green Man opening an exhibition on ’Divine Encounters’? 

Many people understand the Green Man to be a purely pagan creature, but I don’t think it is that simple. He decorates the roof bosses, capitols and misericords of churches throughout England, Wales and Brittany. He survived the iconoclasm in churches where images of saints were defaced. No one knows for sure what he means: he could be pagan or divine, or even both. It is that very ambiguity that fascinates me. 

For me, this creature, growing out through a split in the bark of a trunk, brings to mind not just the stone-carved foliate faces of English churches, but also Yggdrasil, the ‘World Ash Tree’ which connects the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology; the Islamic Khidr, the ‘green one’ who lives at the interface between the seen and unseen and who searches for the place where the world and the spirit are one (which in itself reflects the Celtic idea of a ’thin’ or holy place with particular spiritual resonance); and the Anglo-Saxon ‘landwight’ who personifies the preternatural, immanent spirit of place. This image also brings to mind Eden, and the intertwining stems suggest a serpent. He is the face of creation, and personifies the physical encounter that we have with God through the locus sacrae of Christ indwelling the world we live in and cannot live without.

Vicar’s reflections

Andrew Bunch writes:

The Green Man by Romola Parish encourages us to look at anything in the natural world and see the presence of God in it. This was brought home very powerfully for me after the birth of our first child. The day after being present at the birth, I realised that God’s presence is just as visible in a wildflower such as a thistle or in a weed or a blade of grass. When I thought of the complexity of being within something as ordinary as a blade of grass or an ant, a sense of amazement and wonder arose within me. That is when I started to realise that I could no longer be satisfied as being merely a consumer in this world, but an honoured visitor on this earth who is invited to experience the nature of God all around me.

(Genesis 1:31 “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”)