The Green Children of Woolpit

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

(Read the article on one page)

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.

Comments

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....

The Flemish theory makes indeed the most sense, except for the fact they wouln't eat anything but beans. That is very strange, I suppose they must have seen and eaten other foods, before the became lost...if indeed they were Flemish.

This is the stuff fairytales are made of..

 

Sunny Young

rbflooringinstall's picture

This is an awesome article. To me, the Flemmish anemic theory makes the most sense. It is fun to think they came from another world, though.

Peace and Love,

Ricky.

Yes it would make sense, but then again no matter how big or dark the forest is - one is ALWAYS bound to see the sun shining through. At least once a day / week / month.
Dont even know what to think of this even though had heard it before.

Hey did anyone read Game of Thrones? There are a green, otherworldly brother and sister pair in it...This must be where the idea came from.

Pages

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

A Malakulan spider web mask.
Spider webs are sticky, somewhat creepy, and generally not something you like to see in your house. But they are also intricate and beautiful when the right light hits them. Even more intriguing than the process and formation of a spider web is when the silk from said web is used for alternative purposes.

Myths & Legends

King Haraldr hárfagri receives the kingdom out of his father's hands. From the 14th century Icelandic manuscript Flateyjarbók.
Myths and legends – purely the creation of creative and imaginative minds, right? Not necessarily. Numerous stories, sagas, and texts from the ancient past have been proven to hold facts. For example, a 2013 study validates an intriguing idea presented in the Icelander Sagas - Vikings were probably less brutal than many people assume.

Opinion

The ancient and mysterious Sphinx, Giza, Egypt.
In 1995, NBC televised a prime-time documentary hosted by actor Charlton Heston and directed by Bill Cote, called Mystery of the Sphinx. The program centered on the research and writings of John Anthony West, a (non-academic) Egyptologist, who, along with Dr. Robert Schoch, a professor of Geology at Boston University, made an astounding discovery on the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article