The Green Man and the Lily Cross

Over the Easter weekend, the trees have begun to unfurl their buds in earnest, the woodlands and hedgerows turning that wonderful, vibrant green that heralds the year’s blossoming. As a Pagan, Easter still holds meaning for me. It is hard not to make the rather obvious connection between the resurrection of Christ and the renewing of the natural world in spring, after all, this process is a living reality all around us, a joyous transformation that vividly articulates the mysteries of regeneration and hope.

 

Christ as a kind of Green Man does not need a massive leap of the imagination to consider; many Pagans – and a few Christians too – have already made the link, and here on the Island we have a beautiful mediaeval church mural that seems to express something of this notion. Of course, the mural’s original symbolism would have been very different to that of my modern Pagan perspective, but no less meaningful I think.

 

The mural is in the beautiful village church of Godshill. Godshill is the Island’s chocolate box village, with quaint little thatched cottages; the church itself is the most photographed on the Island, perched high above the village on the hill that gives this place its name.

 

There is a legend attached to the building of the church, one which is identical to that of Alfriston Church in East Sussex. Both are built on distinctive mounds/hills and are originally believed to have been home to pre-Christian Pagan sites of worship.  The name Godshill is thought to mean ‘hill of the idol’, the said hill standing rather incongruously above the flat village. The view from its summit of the surrounding downland is stunningly beautiful; it’s a place that feels ancient and curiously separate from the constant stream of tourists down in the village.

 

The legend goes that the Christian missionaries that built the church, began its foundations on a level piece of land a mile or so south of the present position. On three successive nights, the stones were uprooted and moved to the hill by mysterious forces. Each time the builders would take the stones back to their chosen site, only to find them moved once again to the hill the following morning. After the third time, they took the hint and built the church on the hill, believing this to be God’s choice. More likely is that Christians used the Pagan site, just as they had in other places as a means of conversion. The Island itself took a while to become Christian, being the last Pagan stronghold in England. This link between the Pagan and Christian religious worship on this extraordinary hill gives the mural an added depth for me.

 

The mural shows Christ crucified on a flowering Lily. The Lily has three main branches, another three shooting off from each of these. Christ’s sacrifice reflects that of the Green Man’s. As vegetation God, the Green Man offers his own body that others may live and flourish; he is grown up, cut down and reborn in the yearly cycle of his living and dying, and the deeper mysteries of his sacrifice bring hope and the possibility for renewal for all beings. Like Christ’s story, we find in the Green Man’s mythic and actual cycles both our own cyclical and eternal natures.

 

Many argue about the Green Man’s origins. For me he symbolises a modern understanding –  inspired by those mysterious mediaeval images – of the verdant, green world that sustains us. The medieval symbolism is lost to us – we can only speculate –  and so the symbolism develops and changes, just as our culture and perceptions of life move on. The Lily Cross mural is unique and speaks, I suspect, to both Christians and Pagans alike, and never more so than at this glorious time of year.

The Lily Cross, Godshill.

The Lily Cross, Godshill.

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2 Comments

  1. okathleen said,

    April 20, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    Another engaging post… it’s a wonderful thing to have faith, any faith, to believe in beauty and truth, when surrounded by cynicism and ugliness.

    http://www.okathleen.wordpress.com

  2. luckyloom1 said,

    April 29, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Thanks Kathleen. My friend and I were talking last night about how much more we appreciate and see the beauty of life as we get older. It’s not that you stop seeing the bad stuff, as you say there is a great deal that is challenging and depressing, but maybe with age comes that inkling that personal perception, where our own heads are at, can lead each of us to see the ‘same’ world incredibly differently. I remember sitting with another friend when he was very depressed; we had the back doors open on to the garden and it was raining. It was this time of year and everything was so green and lush and looked beautiful in the rain – my friend just couldn’t see it; we might as well have been on different planets at that moment. For me, and I know this isn’t the same for everyone, my spiritual journey is about trying to widen the focus of that perception, so that if possible I can embrace more of life, engage with the good and bad and try and find some depth and meaning in there, feel myself a part of it all.

    I really love your photos on your blog Kathleen – the’re beautiful, and as ever I so enjoy your writing. Mx


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