Archive for July, 2020

Green Man in Title of “Plague of a Green Man”

Monday, July 27th, 2020

The title of my second book in the Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series is Plague of a Green Man and the cover picture, shown above, is a “green man” roof boss in the south quire aisle of the cathedral in Exeter, Devon, where the book is set.  There is a bit of a stretch in my use of “Green Man” in the title of a medieval mystery because this phrase was not used to describe these foliate faces until 1939.

Besides the green man shown above, I was aware, when living in Exeter, of over fifty instances of these foliate faces in Exeter Cathedral.  That number is now known to be over sixty, as I learned in my most recent visit to Exeter in 2018.  Also, we have learned through our travels that one will find stone and wood carvings of them in many medieval churches throughout western Europe and England.  My inspiration for the idea of “Green Man” developed from my time as a steward and guide at Exeter Cathedral, which also plays an important role in the plot of Plague of a Green Man.

The presence of “green men” in Christian churches is very mysterious.  We do not really know their symbolic meaning in a Christian church.  Did they have something to do with a good harvest or with fertility?  People have suggested many things. but perhaps the medieval carvers simply added them to the decoration of the church without instruction from clergy?  After all, it is thought that a master mason of Exeter Cathedral added carvings of his dog in at least four important locations scattered around the building.  One example is the corbel in the Lady Chapel which is shown on the left.  Even though it is prominent and easy to see, no one wastes time worrying about whether the dog has hidden symbolic meaning.  The beloved puppy is a beautiful representation of human love for a faithful pet.

There are variations in how “green men” are depicted throughout Exeter Cathedral.  It is usually a bearded male face, whose hair, beard, and mustache are shown as leafy foliage.  Sometimes the leaves may be growing out of its mouth or nostrils or even its eyes.  A double green man in the retroquire of Exeter Cathedral with foliage growing from the two mouths is shown on the right.

It is known that the ancient Celtic people of the British Isles, served by the Druids of their tribes, believed in the “cult of the head”.  They believed that the human soul resides in the head.  The Celts also worshiped nature.  Therefore, a foliate face might have represented to a medieval carver his presentation of the human head as residence of the human soul, adorned by nature.  We will never know the precise meaning of such symbolism in a great church for there are no records of such things.  Further, the Druids, as the priestly class of the Celts committed everything to memory, never wrote anything down.

It was an extraordinary opportunity for me, as an American, to live in Exeter several different years and have daily access to the city’s 14th century Cathedral of St. Peter.  Being able to experience the ancient church firsthand and be able to study its history is a high point of my life and the most important source of my desire to place my series in the late 14th century in the West Country of England.


The City of Exeter in “Plague of a Green Man”, Part 3:

Monday, July 13th, 2020

My posts in June featured the City of Exeter, the setting of my second Lady Apollonia Medieval Mystery, Plague of a Green Man.  First, I described how living in Exeter had inspired me to write this story and set it in that city in the year 1380.  My last post dealt with the history of Exeter and some of its surviving medieval buildings which played a role in the book.  Now, I will speak to the ancient city of Exeter and its location in the County of Devon on the River Exe as shown on the map above.

The River Exe has it source in North Devon in what is now the Exmoor National Park.  It flows south through Exeter and widens into the Exe Estuary before it reaches Lyme Bay in the English Channel by the present town of Exmouth.  Dartmoor, the first national park in England, lies to the West of the Exe Estuary, and it is there that that Plague of a Green Man begins.

Brandon Landow, the Pardoner in my stories, finds himself lost in one of the infamous fogs of Dartmoor while riding his faithful mare, “Absolution”.  The Pardoner has been told that he is to meet someone at Grimspound which is at the far left of the map shown above.  Unknown to him, however, Grimspound is a barren sight, the ruin of a Bronze Age settlement, as shown in the image on the right.  Before Brandon can get near Grimspound, he is enveloped by the blinding Dartmoor fog, made famous in Victorian times as the setting for the Sherlock Holmes novel Hound of the Baskervilles.  In desperation, Landow follows a stream flowing eventually to the village Lustleigh where he gains refuge in the village church from the disorientating fog.

Several villages to the south and east of Exeter also play a role in my story.  On the map above, two places are important, Exmouth and Beer, both facing Lyme Bay and the English Channel.  Exmouth in medieval times had two ecclesiastical parishes, Withycombe Raleigh to the west and Littleham to the east as shown on the map.

The villains in my story are members of the Falford Family whose manor is in the parish of Withycombe Raleigh, and some of the action in the story takes place at their manor.  Other characters, Adam Braund and his friend Eric Aunk, spend some time at Adam’s home in Littleham parish and also on the River Exe where Adam has a boat used for shipping stone to Exeter to put the finishing touches on Exeter’s 14th century cathedral church.

Beer is a village to the east of Exmouth on the coast of Devon.  It is surrounded by picturesque white cliffs as shown in the picture on the left and is important for two reasons in Plague of a Green Man.  Its quarry caves have supplied stone since Roman times and were an important source of stone for Exeter Cathedral, largely completed by the time of my story, 1380.  Some Beer stone was still being shipped by water for the Cathedral Image Screen on the west front of the cathedral. 

The other notable thing about Beer was its smugglers’ cove and caves which were once used to store contraband goods.  Smuggling by medieval gangs was common, particularly in Devon and Cornwall, so I had to weave that bit of history into my story.