Friday, April 23, 2010

Not now, George?

It's all a bit odd that England ended with George as its patron saint. After all, according to Wikipedia [so it must be true] we have to share him with: Aragon, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Russia, oh and Preston... (yes, Preston, Lancs.) I have often thought that Saint Alban would have been better - the first British martyr, killed during Roman occupation. He would probably be rather more palatable to our Scottish and Welsh neighbours as he predates England as a nation. He also has a saint's day nicely parked in the summer (June 22) - good for parties and BBQs.

As an alternative, maybe England could share Saint Cuthbert with her northern neighbour. He was born in what was then Northumbria, but is modern-day Scotland. Or perhaps we could go for the Venerable Bede - for his scholarship and historical writing. I guess some would champion Thomas a Becket.

Anway, we're stuck with George. He has a few unfortunate associations - the Crusades being the obvious one. Richard the Lion Heart is said to have adopted St George for England, and the Crusaders wore his cross to identify themselves, not they tended to commend themselves to locals. He soon caught on and was England's patron saint by the 14th century, and therefore he's not seen as someone to celebrate by anyone the English have conquered or dominated over the subsequent centuries.

But maybe it's time to reclaim him from those who are jingoistic, prejudiced or crassly nationalist. After all, our patron saint was [probably] born in modern-day Israel towards the end of the 3rd century, grew up in modern-day Turkey, had a Greek name and his father was a Roman official. Not a great candidate for being the patron saint of xenophobia, and not very English. In fact he ought to remind us that we can be inspired, challenged and learn from the stranger, the foreigner, the person who is 'different'.

He didn't kill any dragons, as that was probably a mythological way of depicting his courage. It seems he may have been martyred for refusing to comply with the Emperor's ruling that all should show their devotion to the Roman gods by sacrificing to them. Maybe his memory ought to make us a little more sympathetic to those who come today to England to escape imprisonment, torture and even death for being true to their consciences.


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6 comments:

Steve Hayes said...

Yours seems to be one of the few English blogs to acknowledge that St George is the patron saint of more places than England! And he's the parton saints of colonialists and anticolonialists alike (see Holy Glorious Great Martyr, Victorybearer and Wonderworker George (303) I Khanya).

I was also interested to discover your blog because I recently discovered that Poulton-le-Sands is now part of Morecambe, and some of my ancestors came from around there, well, Heaton-with-Oxcliffe actually.

St said...

And, as the Today programme reminded us, I love the idea that St George was probably more black than white.

Steve McMahon said...

It's also worth noting that George is the patron of the realm of England and its soldiers, but not of the English themselves! (Almost a Q.I. moment this, but the patron saint of the English is still St. Edmund and the patron of the English monarch is St. Edward the Confessor.)

Mike Peatman said...

Greetings Steve, Steve & Steve.

Steve Mc - yes that's QI verging on Geeky, but an important clarification.

Simon Nicholls said...

In a recent lecture I attended it was suggested that the myth of George's dragon-slaying was a coded way of recounting his resistance to the Roman Empire along the lines of the Apocalypse (which also charcterises Rome as a dragon). Everyone "in" on the story would understand the reference, but to the Roman authorities it was just a nice little fictional tale. Unfortunately, in the intervening centuries, the code got lost and so we too often regard it as simply fiction.

Mike Peatman said...

That would certainly make a lot of sense.