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Cerne Abbas Giant
Dorset, England

[Saturday - 05/08/99] This huge and impressive giant figure is formed by a trench 0.3m (1ft) wide and the same depth, cut into the underlying chalk. He is 55m (180ft) long and 51m (167ft) wide, and his right hand holds an enormous knobbed club 36.5m (120ft) long. His most famous and prominent feature is the erect phallus and testicles which indicate that fertility rites were practiced here. This is supported by the fact that until recently, on 1 May maypole dancing and other celebrations were held in the earth enclosure known as the 'Frying Pan' situated a little further up the hill, above the giant's left arm.

The giant is generally considered to represent the god Helith or Hercules and some theories state that the figure has been cut at the end of the second century AD when the Emperor Commodus (who believed he was a reincarnation of Hercules) revived the worship to this god.

The first reference to this figure dates back to 1694: a payment in the Cerne Abbas churchwarden's accounts of 3 shillings towards the re-cutting of the giant. The first written reference is by John Hutchins in his Guide to Dorset, 1751, but no one knows exactly when or who first cut the Giant. Recently, the historian Ronald Hutton stated that it was cut in the 17th century by the Lord Holles' servants. In fact, it's unusual that, unlike the Uffington White Horse, there is no reference to the Cerne Abbas Giant in Medieval documents. In the Civil War (1644-1660), Lord Holles was Lord of the Manor but his estate was sequestered and mismanaged by his steward. Maybe then his servants, in this period of chaos, cut the giant in the hillside.

A local legend says that a real giant was killed on the hill and that the people from Cerne Abbas drew round the figure and marked him out on the hillside. Barren women were said to conceive soon after sleeping on the Giant body, while young women wishing to keep their lovers faithful would walk around the figure three times. Another story ascribes the figure to the monks from the nearby abbey, who cut it as a joke against their abbot. Whatever the case, we couldn't resist stopping and looking at this famous figure while driving back to the George and Pilgrim. The figure is kept free from grass by a scouring every seven years.

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Last modified on Wednesday, November 26, 2008
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