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Monday, August 28, 2023

Something About Moss Men

The fens way.

I found the image of what I thought were people disappearing eerily through the bushes in reverse somewhat bizarre until I realized it was a reenactment. And they weren't really backing into the underbrush, either. The marchers in natural camouflage wear bryophytes - the word Roger Bacon used to spell out brass when attempting communication with a hard-of-hearing brazen head in The Face in the Frost (1969).

But why the moss?

According to a 2001 paper by Javier Martínez-Abaigar and Encarnación Núñez-Olivera from Universidad de La Rioja, the legend of the Moss Men probably originated from 1209 when Christians were hiding in the mountains of El Castañar around 3 kilometers (19 miles) from Béjar, Spain. It was June 18, marking the celebration of Saint Marina, a virgin who'd lived undercover as a male monk in an eighth-century monastery.

Following a big party at La Centena, the Christians covered their clothes and weapons with moss so that at dawn they could head to the enemy Muslim fortress and hide, camouflaged by their mossy surroundings. When the fortress gate was opened, they launched their day-long battle to conquer the town.

The legend is celebrated in a parade that sees people dressed head-to-toe in moss march the streets of Béjar, commemorating the battle that's said to have freed it from Muslim occupation around eight centuries ago.

"The tradition of the Moss Men has survived until the present day and is commemorated every year in the procession of the Corpus Christi festivity, which is celebrated nowadays on the ninth Sunday after Easter," wrote Martínez-Abaigar and Núñez-Olivera.

Bryophytes are a group of plants that include the mosses, alongside liverworts and hornworts, explains the British Bryological Society. Like plants, they get their food through photosynthesis, but a weakened root system and high tolerance for wetting and drying arguably make them a better material to work with when creating botanical armor.

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