The Enigma Experiment

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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 12th centure 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.

The account is set in the village of Woolpit, located in Suffolk in the middle ages. The story was recorded by two 12th century chronicles - Ralph of Coggestall, an abbot of a Cistercian monastery and William of Newburgh, an English historian and canon at the Augustinian Newburgh Priory. 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. Their skin was tinged with 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.

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. 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 Kings Lynn. According to some accounts she took the name "Agnes Barre," and married an ambassador of Henry II.

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.

Over the centuries may 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, the condition is caused by a very poor diet that affects the colour 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 colour after adopting a healthy diet. With regards to the description of the strange land 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.

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 to Woolpit. Dressed in strange Flemish clothes and speaking another language the children would have presented a very strange spectacle to the Woolpit villagers. 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...