Unveiling the Secret Behind the Rosslyn Chapel’s and Dornoch Cathedral’s Green Men’s Missing Teeth

Unveiling the Secret Behind the Rosslyn Chapel’s and Dornoch Cathedral’s Green Men’s Missing Teeth

Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel came under the world spotlight in 2003 after Dan Brown featured it in his bestseller, The Da Vinci Code. A hitherto unseen correspondence between this legendary chapel in southern Scotland and the magnificent Dornoch Cathedral further north in Sutherland, poses a highly-niche mystery.  Historian Ashley Cowie  finds a curious, sacred feature found depicted on holy buildings around the world - foliate heads – may hold the key to solving the mystery.

Green Man of the Rosslyn Chapel (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Green Man of the Rosslyn Chapel (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Foliate Heads

‘Foliate heads’ was a popular term in the English language up to the mid-20th century used to describe carved faces with flora sprouting from their mouths, which pepper the architectural features of many European medieval churches and cathedrals. Today, they are most often called ‘Green Men’ but this term was coined in March 1939 when amateur folklorist, Lady Raglan, published an article titled The Green Man in Church Architecture in the Folklore Journal, which concluded: “This figure (Green Men) I am convinced, is neither a figment of the imagination nor a symbol, but is taken from real life, and the question is whether there was any figure in real life from which it could have been taken. The answer, I think, is that there is but one of sufficient importance, the figure variously known as the Green Man, Jack-in-the-Green, Robin Hood, the King of May and the Garland King, who is the central figure in the May Day celebrations throughout Northern and Central Europe.”


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