The Green Children of Woolpit: Legendary Visitors from Another World
The 12th century tale of the Green Children of Woolpit, in Suffolk, is a bizarre medieval folk story which has been remembered for generations. It isn’t often we hear of children appearing at the edge of a field, with green-tinged skin and no knowledge of any locally-known language. Even today, historians debate as to whether there was any truth to the story, some going so far as to claim it describes an extraterrestrial encounter.
A village sign in Woolpit, England, depicting the two Green Children of Woolpit from the 12th century legend. (Rod Bacon / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
The Story of the Green Children of Woolpit
The legend itself posits that the Green Children of Woolpit were a boy and his sister, 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). Surprisingly, their skin was tinged with a green hue, their clothes were made from unfamiliar materials, and their speech was unintelligible to the reapers.
The feral children 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, even though they appeared to be 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.
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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. Over the coming years 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.
The girl reported that she and her brother came from a strange underground land which she called the Land of Saint Martin. In it there was no sun, but a perpetual twilight. Like them, all the inhabitants of St. Martin’s Land lived underground were green like them. She described another luminous land that could be seen across a river.
The girl explained that she and her brother were looking after their father’s flock when they came upon a cave. On entering the cave, they wandered through the darkness for a long time until, following the sound of bells, they came out the other side, entering into bright sunlight, which they found startling. It was then that they were found by the reapers.
The ruins of the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, which had once owned Woolpit. (Tuli / CC BY 3.0 )
Medieval Chroniclers: Recording the Story of the Green Children of Woolpit
The story of the Green Children of Woolpit 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 story itself was recorded in two contemporary chronicles. The English chronicler Ralph of Coggeshall, who died around 1228 AD, was an abbot of a Cistercian monastery at Coggeshall, which lay about 26 miles (42 km) south of Woolpit. His account of the green children of Woolpit was recorded in the Chronicon Anglicanum (English Chronicle), and in it he named Sir Richard de Calne, who took the children in, as his source.
Meanwhile, the English historian and canon at the Augustinian Newburgh Priory, far to the north in Yorkshire, William of Newburgh (1136 to 1198 AD) included the story of the green children in his main work Historia rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs). Both writers stated that the events took place within the reign of King Stephen (1135 to 54) or King Henry II (1154 to 1189), depending on which version of the story you read.
The Historia rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs) by William of Newburgh included the story of the Green Children of Woolpit. ( USC Libraries )
Interpretations of the Green Children of Woolpit
Over the centuries, many theories have been put forward to explain the strange story of the Green Children of Woolpit. Regarding their green coloring, one proposal is that the children were suffering from a condition known as Hypochromic Anemia, originally known as Chlorosis (coming from the Greek word Chloris, meaning greenish-yellow).
Chlorosis 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 girl’s 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 12th century but were persecuted under the reign of King Henry II. In 1173, many were killed near Bury St. Edmunds.
If the Green Children of Woolpit had indeed been Flemish immigrants on the run, and 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.
Artists depiction of the Green Children of Woolpit. (Public domain)
Otherworldly Explanations: Were they Extraterrestrials?
Other commentators have proposed a more otherworldly origin for the children. Robert Burton suggested in his 1621 book The Anatomy of Melancholy that the green children of Woolpit "fell from Heaven," leading others to speculate that the children may have been extraterrestrials.
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In a 1996 article published in the magazine Analog, astronomer Duncan Lunan hypothesized that the children were accidentally transported to Woolpit from their extraterrestrial 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. He included these claims again in his 2012 book Children from the Sky .
Since it was first recorded, the story of the Green Children of Woolpit has endured for over eight centuries. 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.
Top image: The Green Children of Woolpit, created from Babes in the Wood illustration by Randolph Caldecott. Source: Project Gutenberg / Public Domain
By April Holloway
Clark, J. 2006. “’Small, vulnerable ETs’: The Green Children of Woolpit” in Science Fiction Studies , Vol 33 (2), pp. 209 – 229. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4241432
Haughton, B. No date. “The Green Children of Woolpit” in BrianHaughton.com. Available at: http://brian-haughton.com/ancient-mysteries-articles/green-children-of-woolpit/
Ian. 6 August 2008. “The Green Children of Woolpit” in Mysterious Britain and Ireland . Available at: http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/suffolk/folklore/the-green-children-of-woolpit.html
Redfern, N. 6 November 2013. “The Wild Kids of Woolpit” in Mysterious Universe . Available at: http://mysteriousuniverse.org/2013/11/the-wild-kids-of-woolpit/
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The Greek philosopher Anaxágoras mentioned in his work "Sobre la Naturaleza" the existence of intelligent beings very similar to humans who lived in a parallel world to our own. This other world also had characteristics we would find familiar such as mountains, lakes, rivers, woods, communities etc.
A parallel world without sun is suggested in modern times by the official report on the mysterious disappearance of Five Avenger aircraft flying a navigation training mission from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The base was in contact with the aircraft by radio throughout the five hours of their last known existence when they appeared to have entered the parallel world. They were told to fly West but were unable to do so because "the compasses didn't work" and they could not find the sun. Although they flew and flew for five hours at low level and saw many islands, they never once saw a merchant ship, fishing vessel, yacht or sign of life.
I find it not difficult to believe that there are portals between this world and the parallel world, and that both by accident, as happened with the Woolpit children, or by design, it is possible to make the transit. The learned explanations never accept this possibility: every academic that ever was has to find the alternative explanation, no matter how complicated and bare of proof it may be.
Thanks for a good introductory article. Just a few points if I may: 'chlorosis' is now considered to be 'a disease that never was', a catch-all name for a variety of nervous conditions suffered by young women in early industrial society, including what we now call anorexia. None of the details fit the Green Children case. There is no record of any Flemish community in the area. There was a Flemish invasion of East Anglia in the winter of 1173, but both chronicles agree the children appeared in summer. Being Flemish doesn't explain why the children were green, nor why nobody understood them: Woolpit was an aspiring market town on what was then the principal pilgrim route in England, and the children were taken to Richard de Calna, who is hard to trace, because it seems he was the head of Henry II's secret service. Nor, if they were only Flemish refugees or runaways, why would the case have interested any of the 'witnesses of such quality' cited by William of Newburgh - apparently including the king, de Calna, the head of the Knights Templar in England, the bishop of London and the ambassador Richard Barre, who married the girl if my thesis is correct - not to mention the Pope!
Analog has a long tradition of publishing cutting-edge or controversial science articles, and as a frequent contributor at the time, when I went to Woolpit I didn't think I would find more than some local background for another article. I went armed with a set of questions supplied by a historian friend, and the trail that I uncovered was so detailed that by the time the article was accepted, it was clear there would be enough material for a book. That was published as "Children from the Sky" by Mutus Liber in Edinburgh in 2012, and I would recommend anyone who's interested in the story to read the investigation in full. It is a fascinating story and although I can scarcely believe what I'm looking at, it really looks like ET abductions, for experimental purposes, with the knowledge if not the connivance of at least some of the terrestrial authorities - the X-Files in the 12th century!
The wolf pits, from which the village of Woolpit took its name, hint at the elemental root of the myth. Two children emerging from a wolf pit. One diagnosis is lycanthropy. The odds are, they were Flemish. Flanders sits next to France. When the floods came, the Flemish migrated to the British isle. The loup-garou came with them. That is why the children did not eat. Peasants would not have been offered meat. Then the childrens' canine senses, with heightened smell, detected in beans the nutrient and amino acid profiles, that approximate those of fresh meat. It even explains the boy's death here: https://youtu.be/Hcp_Y6tcTTk
If we ,truly, live in a 4-dimensional world,time being one of them,then i guess people can travel through time.If we can really travel through time and change the past or the course of history then there is no such thing as truth in this life.