A huge outline sculpted into the chalk hillside above the village of Cerne Abbas representing a naked, sexually aroused, club-wielding giant.
Public perceptions are wide-ranging, is he smutty, humorous or offensive? Certainly he has been used to advertise products as diverse as condoms, jeans and bicycles. Many couples today believe him to be a unique aid to fertility.
One of the Trust’s most racy remnants of our distant pagan past or a 17th-century political caricature?
The Cerne Abbas figure has conventionally been viewed as a great symbol of ancient spirituality. A mound below the giant’s left hand may be the sculpted remnant of a severed head which he once clutched – a rather grisly if common ancient Celtic religious symbol.
Alternatively, the Roman hero Hercules was often depicted naked with a club in his right hand and a lion skin draped over his left shoulder. Scientific tests have suggested that there might once have been something draped over the giant’s left side, but long grassed over.
The problem with all these theories is that despite an abundant archive of local medieval documents at Cerne Abbey, there is no written reference to the giant before 1694. In 1774 the Rev. John Hutchins claimed he was told that the giant was ‘a modern thing’ cut by Lord Holles.
Denzil Holles who owned Giant Hill from 1642 to 1666 was a fierce critic of Oliver Cromwell. Could the Cerne Abbas Giant seek to satirise Cromwell's stern puritanical rule?
People will continue to speculate about the origins of the giant, but a new scientific technique, Optical Luminescence, may yet offer a concrete answer. This has already been used to date the Uffington White Horse as 3,000 years old.
Did you know?
During the Second World War, the giant was disguised to prevent the Germans from using him as an aerial landmark. Since then he has always been visible, receiving regular grass trimming and a full re-chalking every 25 years.
- The village of Cerne Abbas is eight miles north of Dorchester on the A352 Sherbourne road.