Picture a quaint little English village in the Middle Ages. It’s the 12th century, and you’re in the charmingly named Woolpit. Woolpit is located in Suffolk, and it still exists. Just over 2,000 people live there today.
In the 12th century, a group of harvesters stumbled upon a most extraordinary pair of children. The boy and girl were dressed in unusual clothing, the likes of which the villagers had never seen. Neither child spoke a word of English, but conversed in their own strange language. But that wasn’t the weirdest thing about these kids.
Their skin was a vivid green.
Although they appeared to be starving, the children refused all food until they were offered raw beans, which they ate voraciously.
Sir Richard de Calne of Wyke took the children in and had them baptized. Soon after, the little boy grew sick and died, but the girl remained healthy. Eventually, she was encouraged to eat a regular diet, and the green hue vanished from her skin. As she learned English, she told a most unusual tale.
She explained that the children came from a land where the sun never shone and the light was like twilight. They called their home St. Martin’s Land. They had been herding their father’s cattle when they heard a loud noise coming from a cave. Deciding to investigate the sound, they entered the cave and suddenly found themselves in Woolpit.
The girl was given the name Agnes. As an adult, Agnes had an illustrious career as a reportedly “wanton and impudent” servant, which, judging by the time, probably means she flashed a bit of ankle.
The story of the green children of Woolpit is detailed in two historical accounts–one by Ralph of Coggeshall (died c. 1226) and the other by William of Newburgh (c. 1136–1198). Although the two writers emphasized different details, their reports are very much the same.
There is a possible scientific explanation for the children’s green skin–hypochromic anemia, or “green sickness.” Hypochromic anemia can be caused by a vitamin-B6 deficiency, diminished iron absorption, or excessive iron loss. It can also be caused by infections and lead poisoning.
So that theory covers the green skin, but the girl’s story of their incredible origins? That one is anyone’s guess.
Have you ever heard of the green children of Woolpit? What do you think–were they from another land or just gifted storytellers? (Who wore weird clothes, spoke in another language, and had green skin.)
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