The Cerne Abbas Giant also known as the “Rude Man” or the “Rude Giant” is a figure that stands 180 ft long and 167 ft wide.
It is carved in the hillside of Cerne Abbas, just north of Dorchester, England.
It is visible on Google Earth at Coordinates: 50°48’49.00″N, 2°28’28.99″W.
It’s origin and date is unknown, although there are no records of this carved giant prior to the late 17th century. It’s purpose is also unknown, although most scholars tend to agree it is either a symbol of fertility or the representation of the Roman Heracles.
Made by a turf-cut outline filled with chalk, it depicts a large, naked man, with a substantial erect penis, typically described as a giant wielding a club. The figure is listed as a scheduled monument in the United Kingdom and the site where he stands is owned by the National Trust.
The figure has been the subject of much study and speculation, but its origin and age are unclear. It is often thought of as an ancient construction, though the earliest mention of it dates to the late 17th century. Early antiquarians associated it, on little evidence, with a Saxon deity, while other scholars sought to identify it with a Celtic British figure or the Roman Hercules, or some syncretization of the two. Archaeological evidence that parts of the drawing have been lost over time strengthen the Hercules identification. However the lack of earlier descriptions leads modern scholars to conclude that it may date from the 17th century, and perhaps originated as political satire.
Regardless of its age, the Cerne Abbas Giant has become an important part of local culture and folklore, which often associates it with fertility. It is one of England’s best known hill figures and is a major visitor attraction in the region.
Cerne Abbas folklore claim the figure is the actual outline of a real giant that came from Denmark and was soundly defeated by the local villagers as he slept on the hill.
Although, the real purpose of this carving on the hill is unknown, it is an important part of the local culture and rechalked every 25 years to preserve its features.
A 1996 study found that some features have changed over time, concluding that the figure originally held a cloak in its left arm and stood over a disembodied head. The former presence of a cloak was corroborated in 2008 when a team of archaeologists using special equipment determined that part of the carving had been allowed to be obliterated. The cloak may have been a depiction of an animal skin, giving credence to the theory that the giant was a depiction of a hunter, or alternatively, Hercules with the skin of the Nemean lion over his arm.
Additionally, reviewing historical depictions of the giant, it has been suggested that the Giant’s current large erection is, in fact, the result of merging a circle representing his navel with a smaller penis during a re-cut.
In 1993, the National Trust gave the Giant a “nose job” after years of erosion had worn it away.
Although the best view of the Giant is from the air, most tourist guides recommend a ground view from the “Giant’s View” lay-by and car park off the A352.
The earliest known written reference to the giant is a 4 November 1694 entry in the Churchwardens’ Accounts from St Mary’s Church in Cerne Abbas, which reads “for repairing ye Giant, 3 shillings“.
In 1734, The Bishop of Bristol noted and inquired about the giant during a visitation to Cerne Abbas. The bishop’s account, as well as subsequent observations such as those of William Stukeley, were discussed at meetings of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1764.
Additionally, in 1738 the antiquarian Francis Wise mentioned the giant in a letter.
Beginning in 1763 descriptions of the giant appeared in contemporary magazines. The earliest known survey was published in the Royal Magazine in September 1763. Derivative versions subsequently appeared in the October 1763 St James Chronicle, the July 1764 Gentleman’s Magazine, and the 1764 edition of The Annual Register.
The Gentleman’s Magazine account in particular was prominent, and contained the oldest known drawing of the figure.
In 1774, the antiquarian John Hutchins reviewed various previous accounts in his book The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset.
In it, he wrote that the carving had only been done the previous century.
The earliest known drawing of the Giant appears in the August 1764 issue of Gentleman’s Magazine.
A map referred to as the “1768 Survey Map of Cerne Abbas by Benjamin Pryce” is held at the Dorset History Centre.
However, a record at the National Archives notes that “the cartouche refers to Lord Rivers by that title which he did not acquire until 1776. Numbers on the map appear to correspond with the survey of 1798“.
By the Victorian period (after 1837) the penis was removed from academic and tourist depictions.
Other folklore, first recorded in the Victorian era, associates the figure with fertility.
In the past locals would erect a maypole on the earthwork, around which childless couples would dance to promote fertility.
According to folk belief, a woman who sleeps on the figure will be blessed with fecundity, and infertility may be cured through sexual intercourse on top of the figure, especially the phallus.