Rude Man of Cerne
1755

This figure has lain on the Dorset hills for generations, displaying his 80ft long erection to the gaze of all. His origins remain hotly disputed - with no agreement about what he means, or even when he arrived.

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Rude Man of Cerne

Rude Man of Cerne

The priapic figure of the Rude Man dominates the landscape around him. And little wonder; standing 180 feet tall, he brandishes a 120 foot club and - most famously - an 80 foot erect penis. Iconic as he is, the origins of the Rude Man are a matter of heated dispute between folklorists, archaeologists, historians and locals.

Surprisingly, there is no mention of him in documentation prior to his appearance in a pamphlet of 1755. This raises two possibilities - either the rude man is a relatively recent addition to the landscape, or his very nature led to him being delicately skipped over by chroniclers from more censorious prior ages. Against the second theory, it must also be pointed out that Stonehenge (whose antiquity is in no doubt) is very sketchily documented in surviving records until relatively recent times.

Various tests carried out since the 1980s have revealed that at one time his arm carried a cloak, and that he may have had a head - presumably of a victim of some kind - at his feet.

Those features have given rise to various suggested identities. The Roman god Heracles is often depicted as wielding a giant club, and sometimes an equally prominent phallus. Others think his identity is wrapped up in a pagan past that has been lost to us all. Some antiquarians point to his relative recency in the records and suggest that he is a giant, satirical caricature of some unpopular lord or political figure of the Middle Ages.

On local tradition maintains that the Giant is the figure of Lord Holles - a dissolute Abbot who was driven from the area when his misdemeanours came to light. An alternative take of the same tale maintains that Holles was a royalist who himself commissioned the giant as a lampoon of Cromwell (who was known as 'The English Hercules'). The latter tale is perhaps supported by records that show that local churchwardens were being paid to upkeep the giant in the early 18th century.

While the identity cannot be proven, crude caricatures of this kind were common at the time so the Rude Man would 'fit' from an artistic and cultural perspective.

Opponents of the recent origin theory point to the fact that the sun rises directly in line with his penis on May 1st - suggesting a more ritualistic connection with fertility rites.

Whatever his origins, many popular myths surround the giant. Infertile women are supposed to sit on his penis (with knickers off!) or make love there in order to conceive a child. It is also said that the giant comes down from the hill to drink from a stream whenever he hears a bell toll midnight.

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 10th March 2015 | © Weird Island 2010-2017
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Rude Man of Cerne: location

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"I think he's a sex symbol"

Locals, Gordon Honeycomb and scientists alike venture their opinions as to the origin and meaning of the Rude Man in this classic clip from 1981's Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World