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Cerne Abbas

from The New Yorker

The Mysterious Origins of the Cerne Abbas Giant

On a hillside ages ago, people inscribed a naked man with a twenty-six-foot-long erect penis. Why did they do it?

By Rebecca Mead

The sun was still low in the sky on the spring morning last year when Martin Papworth, an archeologist for the National Trust, arrived in the village of Cerne Abbas. Setting off along a wooded path at the foot of Giant Hill, he carried in each hand a bucket loaded with excavation tools. Cerne Abbas, in a picturesque valley in Dorset, about three hours southwest of London, is an ancient settlement. At one end of the village, beneath a meadow abutting a burial ground, lie the foundations of what was, a thousand years ago, a thriving abbey. Close by is a spring-fed well named for St. Augustine, a monk who was sent by Rome in the sixth century to convert Britain to Christianity, and who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. According to legend, he caused the spring to stream forth by striking the ground with his staff. Atop Giant Hill lies an earthwork, possibly dating from the Iron Age: a rectangular enclosure, known as the Trendle, that may have been a temple or a burial mound. The object of Papworth’s interest was another mysterious man-made part of the landscape: the Cerne Giant, an enormous figure of a naked, armed man, carved into the chalk of the hillside.

The Cerne Giant is so imposing that he is best viewed from the opposite crest of the valley, or from the air. He is a hundred and eighty feet tall, about as high as a twenty-story apartment building. Held aloft in his right hand is a large, knobby club; his left arm stretches across the slope. Drawn in an outline formed by trenches packed with chalk, he has primitive but expressive facial features, with a line for a mouth and circles for eyes. His raised eyebrows were perhaps intended to indicate ferocity, but they might equally be taken for a look of confusion. His torso is well defined, with lines for ribs and circles for nipples; a line across his waist has been understood to represent a belt. Most well defined of all is his penis, which is erect, and measures twenty-six feet in length. Were the giant not protectively fenced off, a visitor could comfortably lie down within the member and take in the idyllic vista beyond.

[ click to continue reading at The New Yorker ]

Posted on May 14, 2021 by Editor

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