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There are good reasons for wanting George as your patron saint

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Stained glass, All Saints, Horstead, Norfolk
Image Simon K

You like to travel, and so did George. You're adventurous, and George was fond of adventures, too. You rally to hopeless causes, and so did he. You practice - or you enjoy being the recipient - of chivalry. You're at ease despite difficulties because you believe in eternal life. Finally, and not to be sneezed at, George was successful. He slew the dragon and saved both the girl and her city.

St George was known in England as early as the 7th century - he appeared in a stained glass window at the monastery of Jarrow and in the works of Bede - but the English took several centuries to credential him.

First George became the patron saint of English farmers (his Greek name combines the words for land and tilling) and the patron saint of English knights. He was given a feast day at the synod of Oxford in AD 1222. In 1381 the farmers and artisans who marched on London in the Great Revolt marched under his banner.

He was finally recognized as patron saint of England in the 15th century during Henry V's reign and given Shakespeare's stamp of approval 180 years later - "God for Harry, England and St George". Let it never be thought that the English did not thoroughly vet him.

As the patron saint of England, George was "linked by name to beneficent institutions of all kinds, to hospitals and charities as well as churches. . ." (Oxford DNB). Guilds and associations called him their champion, and he was the hero of many plays.

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His personal attractions are evident in cheerful pub signs. Some show him reviving with a beer after his encounter with the fiery reptile.

In the early 20th century, the Scouts named him their patron saint, and George Orwell took the name George in affection for St George and England.

By the late 20th century his name and England's had become almost forbidden names - names that could not be named.

In the early 21st century, Boris Johnson "slew the dragon of political correctness by announcing London would mark St George's Day with a week of celebrations".

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George's colours, and England's, are a red Cross on a white ground. His watch words are be not afraid.

Our affection for George and England runs deep. Happy St George's Day!

Comments (3)

Michael:

Well now that was all very interesting indeed. I have always wondered how George came to be the patron saint of England, given that he never saw the place, indeed, never went any further west than Jerusalem. This certainly fills in much of the picture. But still, how did that initial step, becoming the patron saint of English farmers occur? Did some farmers petiton the church? Did the English church petition Rome? Was there a formal declaration by the Pope (which one?) or by the Archbishop of Canterbury, (again, which one)? And what was it that in some way connected him to English farmers? Just asking if anybody knows, or can point me toward a source.

Cat:

Interesting question, Michael.

As you know, it was a period when everyone in Europe was looking for a saint. Their numinous powers were supposed to protect countries, cities, towns, monasteries, guilds. . .and in fact a healthy respect for their powers sometimes stayed the hands of evil men. As well, their presence (in the form of relics) could make a monastery the locus of pilgrimages and offerings. . .

I am not sure a specific date can be found for George's "arrival" as saint of England. I imagine that the Anglo-Saxon saints - even Edward the Confessor - who had once seemed important were less enthralling to the Normans and so the national consensus slowly, over decades and centuries, settled on George - a well-liked saint, by the way, as he is also the patron saint of Portugal, Bulgaria, Georgia (naturally), Barcelona, Genoa, Milan . . .

Someone in the Eastern Church must have connected his Greek name with farmers. Brits liked him because he was also a successful warrior and chivalrous. (It would be interesting to explore the connection between farmers and warriors in Rome of the Republic, England of Magna Carta and Revolutionary America.)

I think George became a saint in the same way that common law in England was built up out of a series of cases and precedents that were the direct result of the people's experiences. However, unlike the written evidence of common law, written reports of the saint's progress, are thin on the ground. . .

Roger :

One of the finest texts on St George is Book I of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene. Here he is the Red Cross Knight, a 'tall clownish [i.e. bumpkinish] young man' who is sent on a mission to rescue the parents of Princess Una from a terrible dragon. In the process of the book, which is subtitled 'the Legend of Holiness', Redcross gradually learns that virtue (through many mistakes, both funny and terrifying), and eventually becomes Saint George. It's a terrific poem, full of dreadful villains: Error (a huge snakewoman who vomits books), Archimago (the evil magician who pretends to be a holy hermit), Duessa (a monstrous witch), and of course the Dragon himself, so huge he blots out the sky. Once you get used to his style, Spenser is addictive.

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