Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Mysterious Green Children

Sometime during the twelfth century, in the English village of Woolpit, an unusual legend was born that brings fame to the small hamlet even after 800 years.

The legend tells that two children, a girl and a boy, were found crying in a field nearby clad in garments of unusual manufacture. However, the most striking thing about the duo was the color of their skin: green. The men working the field took the children to the home of Sir Richard De Calne.

Once in the home, the two became a spectacle at which the villagers were allowed to gawk. Neither could speak English and, initially, they would accept no food. However, as starvation set in, the children relented and began eating beans.

In proper medieval European fashion, the children were soon baptized. The boy, unfortunately, died shortly thereafter. The girl did survive and eventually began to eat different foods. Subsequently, her health improved and her skin turned to a pallor more familiar to the denizens of Woolpit.

Now able to communicate, the girl was able to tell locals about where she came from and how it was that she and her brother had arrived.

They came, she said, from a land where all the inhabitants were green and there was no sun but only perpetual halflight. She and her brother had been tending their flocks when they came to a cave. Curious, they entered and explored until they suddenly found themselves stunned by daylight. There they had lain disoriented for some time when the field workers found them. She said they wanted to escape but could no longer find the cave entrance.

The girl eventually took up a job in the home of a wealthy knight. She later married and lived out her years in Suffolk.

Others who chronicled the legend, such as William of Newburgh, added that the girl told the people of Woolpit that her homeland was called St. Martin's Land and that all its people were Christians. However, this is a later addition and may not be wholly accurate. Although for some, it may hold the answer to the riddle of the Green Children.

Paul Harris, who has studied the matter, theorized that the children may have come "from the twilight of the thick woodlands" of Thetford Forest, which is very near to old flint mines. The village of Fordham St. Martin, too, is very close to this forest. Harris believes that the children may have spoken an English dialect that the isolated villagers of Woolpit could not understand. Harris continues in his theory with the belief that malnourishment contributed to their verdant hue.

I have doubts about this theory, mainly having to do with 12th century topography. But I also wonder if any dialect could be so alien as to sound completely foreign. Although, I have heard more than one Welshman that spoke English in an accent so thick as to be able to shield one from radiation. So, I suppose it is possible.

A curious reiteration of this tale surfaced in Banjos, Spain centuries later.

In August of 1887, it is said that two children with Asian like eyes appeared at the mouth of a cave wearing strange clothes and possessing green skin. They spoke no Spanish and would not eat any food proffered. Eventually the boy died, but the girl lived on, learning Spanish. She told the townspeople that she and her brother arrived from a sunless land via a whirlwind that deposited them in the cave. The girl died in 1892.

As strikingly similar as the accounts are, it seems almost obvious that the latter was based upon events at Woolpit. Perhaps the Spaniards were green with envy. No? Anyway, this may explain a curious facet of these legends. In researching them, I was often struck by how many writers glossed over the connection between these two tales. Jerome Clark doesn't even mention the Spanish event in his paranormal omnibus, Unexplained! And a Reader's Digest book, Mysteries of the Unexplained, only mentioned it in passing with no real examination.

Perhaps it is simply too obvious to remark upon. After all, similar pilfering of past legends have occurred before. The famous case of farmer Orion Williamson comes to mind. He vanished in mid-step as he crossed his pasture in 1854 and no fewer than four stories arose in this legend's wake, most famously "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field" by Ambrose Bierce.


RRRGroup said...


Such tales always fascinate, and Jacques Vallee has made much of them.

Ambrose Bierce liked them also, as you note, and look what happened to him.

(For readers not in the know, he disappeared in Mexico, and may have ended up in Spain or somewhere, green as hell.)

Strange things occurred in medieval times, but after the Dark Ages, there is a dearth of chronicles of such stories, unfortunately, although the Vatican Archives contain a few, most not mentioned elsewhere as far as I can tell.


Ken said...

Very interesting indeed! Of course, with so much time having elapsed, there is always the threat of embellishment. As for their green-colored skin, perhaps they came from a region rich with copper? After all, oxidized copper turns a greenish hue.

I do love these forgotten tales. History never fails to surprise and amaze me.

And being a fan of "Bitter" Bierce, I think I need to seek out that tale...

Page-Turner said...

Yet, another example of rationalism run amuck! I wonder, were green due something lacking in their diet. Just as some people who eat too many carrots can grow a sickly orange shade - did their diet contribute to their uncanniness?

Cullan Hudson said...

Some have suggested it was a dietary issue. Perhaps the children suffered from an excess of copper in the blood. This has been one explanation. I do not, however, know if that is medically plausible.

Buck said...

Of course regarding the language thing, dialects were more varied at that time and this is only 100 years after the Norman conquest so the nobles' English might have been a bit lacking as well. :)

Buck said...

"Perhaps the children suffered from an excess of copper in the blood."

Actually the major symptom of this which is a genetic disorder known as "Wilson's Disease" is actually jaundice or yellowing of the skin with often reddish rings around the eyes. It also usually doesn't show until adolescence and can lead to liver failure, mental illness, tumors and death.

Cullan Hudson said...

Great insights, Buck. It's important to place these things in their proper historic context. Sometimes when we do so, we can see solutions to these mysteries.