Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Woodwose of Norfolk

I'm a Norfolk Humanist, but that does not stop me from enjoying the beauty, ingenuity and diversity of Church Art.  So many churches in Norfolk, and so much to discover.  Like Woodwose, for example.
The woodwose, woodhouse or woodwo, the wild man of the woods, was a popular mediaeval folklore figure, dressing in a lion's skin and in this case carrying a heavy club and shield -

The Ludham Woodwose.  There is also a very
rare carving of a female woodwose on this font.
I found two carvings of hairy men with clubs on the misericordia of Norwich Cathedral and took these pictures (with permission and on paying a small fee in the Cathedral shop). 

They are extraordinary images to find in a cathedral, and one can only speculate at the motives of the wood carvers.  Were they paying homage to older religions?  Were they hedging their bets with the Gods?

As you can see, the representations of "unregenerate" or unsaved man are not unsympathetic.  The figures seem healthy and well fed, even smiling slightly. What do they mean in their context?  Are they the secret messages of sceptics who could not otherwise express their doubts regarding the Christian message? 

Anton Wessels in his book "Europe:  Was it Ever Really Christian?" asks the same question from the Christian point of view, and acknowledges the strength of the Graeco-Roman, Celtic and even earlier influences, through enduring myths and legends still vivid even when Christianity was at its strongest.  

These woodwose are a joke, in my view, a wink from the past to fellow sceptics who do not take religion too seriously -

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