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The Green Children of Woolpit

The Green Children of Woolpit: the 12th century legend of visitors from another world

The Children of Woolpit is an ancient account dating back to the 12 th century, which tells of two children that appeared on the edge of a field in the village of Woolpit in England.  The young girl and boy had green-hued skin and spoke an unknown language. The children became sick and the boy died, but the girl recovered and over the years came to learn English. She later relayed the story of their origins, saying they came from a place called St Martin’s Land, which existed in an atmosphere of permanent twilight, and where the people lived underground.  While some view the story as a folk tale that that describes an imaginary  encounter with inhabitants of another world beneath our feet or even extraterrestrial, others accept it as a real, but somewhat altered account of a historical event that merits further investigation.

The account is set in the village of Woolpit located in Suffolk, East Anglia. In the Middle Ages, it lay within the most agriculturally productive and densely populated area of rural England. The village had belonged to the rich and powerful Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds.

The ruins of the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds

The ruins of the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds ( Wikipedia)

The story was recorded by two 12 th century chroniclers  - Ralph of Coggestall (died c 1228 AD), an abbot of a Cistercian monastery at Coggeshall (about 26 miles / 42 km south of Woolpit), who recorded his account of the green children in the Chronicon Anglicanum (English Chronicle); and William of Newburgh (1136-1198 AD), an English historian and canon at the Augustinian Newburgh Priory, far to the north in Yorkshire, who includes the story of the green children in his main work Historia rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs).  The writers stated that the events took place within the reign of King Stephen (1135-54) or King Henry II (1154-1189), depending on which version of the story you read.

The Story of the Green Children

According to the account of the green children, a boy and his sister were found by reapers working their fields at harvest time near some ditches that had been excavated to trap wolves at St Mary’s of the Wolf Pits (Woolpit). Their skin was tinged with a green hue, their clothes were made from unfamiliar materials, and their speech was unintelligible to the reapers. They were taken to the village, where they were eventually accepted into the home of local landowner, Sir Richard de Caine at Wilkes. 

The children would not eat any food presented to them but appeared starving. Eventually, the villagers brought round recently harvested beans, which the children devoured. They survived only on beans for many months until they acquired a taste for bread.

The boy became sick and soon succumbed to illness and died, while the girl remained in good health and eventually lost her green-tinged skin. She learned how to speak English and was later married to a man at King’s Lynn, in the neighboring county of Norfolk. According to some accounts, she took the name ‘Agnes Barre’ and the man she married was an ambassador of Henry II, although these details have not been verified. After she learned how to speak English, she relayed the story of their origins.

Artist’s depiction of the Green Children of Woolpit

Artist’s depiction of the Green Children of Woolpit ( Image source )

A Strange Underground Land

The girl reported that she and her brother came from the “Land of Saint Martin”, where there was no sun, but a perpetual twilight, and all the inhabitants were green like them. She described another ‘luminous’ land that could be seen across a river.

She and her brother were looking after their father’s flock, when they came upon a cave. They entered the cave and wandered through the darkness for a long time until they came out the other side, entering into bright sunlight, which they found startling. It was then that they were found by the reapers.

Explanations

Over the centuries, many theories have been put forward to explain this strange account. Regarding their green colouring, one proposal is that the children were suffering from Hypochromic Anemia, originally known as Chlorosis (coming from the Greek word ‘Chloris’, meaning greenish-yellow). The condition is caused by a very poor diet that affects the color of the red blood cells and results in a noticeably green shade of the skin. In support of this theory is the fact that the girl is described as returning to a normal color after adopting a healthy diet.

With regards to the description of the strange land, Paul Harris suggested in Fortean Studies 4 (1998) that the children were Flemish orphans, possibly from a nearby place known as Fornham St. Martin, which was separated from Woolpit by the River Lark. A lot of Flemish immigrants had arrived during the 12 th century but were persecuted under the reign of King Henry II. In 1173, many were killed near Bury St Edmunds. If they had fled into Thetford Forest, it may have seemed like permanent twilight to the frightened children. They may also have entered one of the many underground mine passages in the area, which finally led them to Woolpit. Dressed in strange Flemish clothes and speaking another language, the children would have presented a very strange spectacle to the Woolpit villagers.

Other commentators have suggested a more ‘other-worldly’ origin for the children. Robert Burton suggested in his 1621 book ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’ that the green children "fell from Heaven", leading others to speculate that the children may have been extraterrestrials. In a 1996 article published in the magazine Analog, astronomer Duncan Lunan hypothesised that the children were accidentally transported to Woolpit from their home planet, which may be trapped in synchronous orbit around its sun, presenting the conditions for life only in a narrow twilight zone between a fiercely hot surface and a frozen dark side.

The story of the green children has endured for over eight centuries since the first recorded accounts. While the real facts behind the story may never be known, it has provided the inspiration for numerous poems, novels, operas, and plays across the world, and continues to capture the imagination of many curious minds.

Featured image: A village sign in Woolpit, England, depicting the two green children of the 12 th century legend ( Wikimedia)

References

Clark, J. (2006). “ Small, vulnerable ETs”: The Green  Children of Woolpit . Science Fiction Studies, Vol 33 (2), pp 209 – 229.

The Green Children of Woolpit – Mysterious Britain and Ireland. Available from: http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/suffolk/folklore/the-green-children-of-woolpit.html

The Wild Kids of Woolpit – Mysterious Universe. Available from: http://mysteriousuniverse.org/2013/11/the-wild-kids-of-woolpit/

The Green Children of Woolpit – Myths and Legends. Available from: http://myths.e2bn.org/mythsandlegends/origins24-the-green-children-of-woolpit.html

The Green Children of Woolpit by Brian Haughton. Available from: http://brian-haughton.com/ancient-mysteries-articles/green-children-of-woolpit/

By April Holloway

Comments

Hello am new here.  Having just read the article above I believe the answer is simple, the children came from another dimension.

My theory is that we live in only one dimension, but can move through them.  There are various way, at present, it is only at death.  Some of these worlds are available if we could find a way to pass through to them.

I even believe that visiters from space, are only moving through a dimensional field.  

Glee

Tsurugi's picture

It is an ancient belief that rock is a barrier between dimensions or other worlds. I am an avid spelunker; every time I enter a cave I wonder if I will later emerge into the world I just left, or something entirely different and strange....

Your comment has elements of truth to it, but they're twisted and distorted. We don't live in a one-dimensional universe, but a four-dimensional one: up/down, left/right, forward/backward, and time. As for where we go after death, we could be here long enough to find out if we decided to argue about it. As for visitors from space moving through a dimensional field, that I can't even make sense of.

Here's where I'm coming from:

It has been postulated that our universe was originally eleven-dimensional, a tiny 11D bubble in a substance known as quantum foam, which is supposedly the underpinning of reality (the eleven dimensions account for the eleven needed to make the math of string theory work out). This quantum foam is, for all intents and purposes, randomness.

For some odd reason, that bubble that would become our universe began to swell to unimaginable proportions, though it was still infinitesimal on our scale. As the bubble grew exponentially, it split off from the sea of quantum foam, and six of the eleven dimensions shrunk back down to quantum scale. The remaining four, the ones I've previously mentioned, continued to expand into the Big Bang and the universe we know.

Consider, for a moment, the implications an extra special dimension would have on the anatomy of the children should they come from, as you claim, a "higher dimension".

Picture a 2D world, where the people are basic geometric shapes: squares, triangles, pentagons, and the like. This 2D world is flat. It's like a piece of paper. The people in it have to concept of "up", because they cannot grasp a third dimension.

Now, imagine that piece of paper with a human being standing on it. The paper begins rising, passing through the person as it does. What would that person look like? A couple of strange, pulsing ovals of rubber, then cloth or leather, then, when the piece of paper gets to the jeans, the ovals become very rough circles. Eventually the two circles of our legs join up and create an oval perpendicular to our feet: our waist. Around this time, a collection of smaller circles (our fingers, then eventually hand) appear out of nowhere and shift and pulse as the paper rises. Finally, our arms meet our torso at the shoulders, then the oval shrinks to another circle, our neck, before expanding again and pulsing all kinds of different shapes and materials when it comes to our faces. Finally, an extremely spiny circle coalesces out of the weirdness of our faces, and gradually shrinks away to nothing.

This is how a three-spatial-dimensional human being would look to a two-special-dimensional sentient triangle. A series of pulsating, rapidly shifting blobs. That's how a creature from a four-special-dimensional universe would look to us: a collection of rapidly shifting and pulsating orbs of various changing materials. Eyes would appear out of nowhere, along with portions of fingers and pieces of clothing.

A universe of a different dimension would have completely different rules for its reality. There is no chance whatsoever that a higher-dimensional being would look like a human to us.

If you're not talking about spatial dimensions, but alternate realities, some of the same rules would apply. If our universe has an edge, and we could cross it into another one, the laws of reality would be drastically different from those in our own.

On the other hand, if you're talking about worlds like most people would talk about planets, and space to you is a "dimensional field", then your points are valid.

The odds are as close to zero as you can get that living creatures from another universe or dimension would look almost exactly like us.

The article author's guess about the children being Flemish, suffering from a form of malnutrition, and wandering in a cave or forest is the likeliest explanation.

The story stats these kids became lost from the home territory while attending their father's flock. Flock of what? Surely someone asked this question. Surely it would be a clue as to where these kids came from. And where was the boy buried? Loads of questions.

The only thing a flock could be is sheep or birds, otherwise they would have said herd or another name for a group of animals.

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