The 23rd of April is St. Georges’s Day and a campaign is afoot to have it celebrated as a National Holiday in England in the words of the Stgeorgesday.com“A site for England”:
“As you may know, other countries all over the world celebrate their patron saint or have other days, the closest to us and probably the most well known is Saint Patrick’s Day for Ireland! This day is celebrated all over the UK and also widely in the USA, what about Burns night for Scotland, for a well celebrated Scottish poet where the toasting of his words culminates in the eating of haggis, why then can we not have our own patron saint’s day?”
|Engerland – where that?|
In tandem with this the Government quango, English Heritage has launched a campaign to dispel the apathy surrounding St George’s Day and encourage more people to celebrate the country’s patron saint. A survey by the government agency revealed that fewer than one in five people mark St George’s Day on April 23rd, suggesting that the English feel less national pride than the Welsh, Irish and Scottish. In an attempt to rectify the situation, English Heritage has produced a St George’s Day Guide, which suggests recipes and traditional games with a St George and the Dragon theme. For those of you unfamiliar with English Heritage it is the Quango which took over historic public properties and sites from the Board of Works and by pretending to be separate from Government now charges to go into these sites which we already paid for and own as taxpayers. Nice work if you can get it!
|St. George in Tbilsi, Georgia|
|Lady Godiva didn’t need all this gear!|
Now, those of you who have read The Paddy’s Day Blog
will know that I compare unfavourably the very real connection St. Patrick has with Ireland with the situation of George of Cappadocia who may or may not be the St. George of England, who didn’t even know England existed and who was foisted on England by Richard the Lionheart, a French Plantagenet who spent less than six months in England during his reign. Or St. Andrew, crucified on a saltire in Patras and whose bones are now in Patras and the Duomo in Amalfi who had absolutely no connection with Scotland, unless you believe a cock and bull storey about his bones (he must have had a lot of bones as they also claim to have his arm in Kephalonia!) being brought under “divine guidance” to St. Andrews in Scotland!
What can be said with certainty about George is that he is a very busy saint. St. George’s Day is celebrated by several nations of which Saint George is the patron saint, including Catalonia (Spain), England, Portugal, Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republic of Macedonia. For England, St. George’s Day also marks its National Day. Most countries who observe St. George’s Day celebrate it on 23rd. April, the traditionally accepted date of Saint George’s death in 303 AD. St. George’s Day is a provincial government holiday in Newfoundland, Canada. All very well and all very busy but none of this answers the question of what does he mean to England and how can you identify with a saint who didn’t really care about you because he never knew you even existed? St. George’s Day is not celebrated as much in England as other National Days are around the world. The celebration of St. George’s Day was once a major feast in England on a par with Christmas from the early 15th century. However, this tradition had waned by the end of the 18th century. On the other hand, there have also been calls to replace St. George as patron saint of England, on the grounds that he was an obscure figure who had no direct connection with the country. However there is no obvious consensus as to whom to replace him with, though names suggested include St. Edmund, St. Cuthbert, or St. Alban, with the latter having topped a BBC Radio 4 poll on the subject.
|St. George attacking Ali Baba?|
There is very little known in reality about Saint George. He’s popularly identified with England and English ideals of honour, bravery and gallantry – but actually he wasn’t English at all. Pope Gelasius said that George is one of the saints “whose names are rightly reverenced among us, but whose actions are known only to God.” The little we do know is from accounts written well after the fact. What we believe to be the truth is that George was born in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey in the 3rd century; that his parents were Christians; and that when his father died, George’s mother returned to her native Palestine, taking George with her. George became a soldier in the Roman army and rose to the rank of Tribune. The Emperor of the day, Diocletian (245-313 AD), began a campaign against Christians at the very beginning of the 4th century. In about 303 AD George is said to have objected to this persecution and resigned his military post in protest. George tore up the Emperor’s order against Christians. This infuriated Diocletian, and George was imprisoned and tortured – but he refused to deny his faith. Eventually he was dragged through the streets of Diospolis (now Lydda) in Palestine and beheaded.
|Greek Icon of their Patron Saint, St George|
As was common there were many fanciful accounts of Saints and their wonderful deeds and a whole cult of veneration of their relics. After (with a gap) the Emperor Diocletian, Constantine the Great became Emperor and the position of Christianity was transformed when it became the state religion of the empire. It is possible the tale of St. George was played up to cast Diocletian in an evil light and draw a contrast between his vigorous persecutions of Christians and Constantine’s endorsement of Christianity.
What is clear is that Richard the Lionheart, a French Plantagenet, who actually spoke English badly and spent less than six months in England as King endorsed St. George as Patron Saint because the Crusaders identified with his being martyred in land which they held as part of The Kingdom of Jerusalem and then of Acre in the 13th Century. George’s reputation grew with the returning crusaders. A miracle appearance, when it was claimed that he appeared to lead crusaders into battle, is recorded in stone over the south door of a church at Fordington in Dorset. This still exists and is the earliest known church in England to be dedicated to Saint George. The Council of Oxford in 1222 named 23rd April as Saint George’s Day.
|Of course I’m a Dragon!|
The story of Saint George and the Dragon only achieved mass circulation when it was printed in 1483 by Caxton in a book called The Golden Legend. This was a translation of a book by Jacques de Voragine, a French bishop, which incorporated fantastic details of Saints’ lives.
Nobody can accuse George of being a lazy Saint. He is also patron saint of agricultural workers, Amersfoort, Aragon, archers, armourers, Bavaria, Beirut, Bulgaria, butchers, Cappadocia, Catalonia, cavalry, chivalry, Constantinople, Corinthians, Crusaders, equestrians, Ethiopia, farmers, Ferrara, field workers, Freiburg, Genoa, Georgia, Gozo, Greece, Haldern, Heide, herpes, horsemen, horses, husbandmen, knights, lepers and leprosy, Lod, London, Malta, Modica, Montenegro, Moscow, Order of the Garter, Palestine, Palestinian Christians, Piran, plague, Portugal, the Portuguese Army, the Portuguese Navy, Ptuj, Reggio Calabria, riders, Romani people, saddle makers, Serbia, Scouts, sheep, shepherds, skin diseases, Slovenia, soldiers, syphilis, and Teutonic Knights. Say what you like about George but he gets around!
|Tomb of St. George at Lydda|
The site of the saint’s martyrdom and shrine Lydda is today within the boundaries of Israel and is known as Lod. It was the scene with the neighbouring town of Ramle (now known as Ramla and location of Ramla Prison where Adolph Eichmann was hanged) of two of the most notorious incidents of the 1948 War, the Lydda massacre and Death March as part of the expulsion of 50,000–70,000 Palestinian Arabs when Israeli troops captured the towns in July that year. The military action occurred within the context of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The towns, which were predominately Arab areas in Palestine at the time, and which the UN partition resolution had designated to be in the Arab nation, became predominantly Jewish areas in the new State of Israel, known as Lod and Ramla. Ramle surrendered immediately, but the conquest of Lydda took longer and led to an unknown number of deaths; Israeli historian Benny Morris suggests up to 450 Arabs and 9–10 Israeli soldiers died.
|Refugees from Lydda after the three day forced march
to the Arab front lines
Once the Israelis were in control of the towns, an expulsion order signed by Yitzhak Rabin was issued to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) stating, “1. The inhabitants of Lydda must be expelled quickly without attention to age.…”, Ramle’s residents were bussed out, while the people of Lydda were forced to walk miles during a summer heat wave to the Arab front lines, where the Arab Legion, Transjordan’s British-led army, tried to provide shelter and supplies. Quite a few of the refugees died from exhaustion and dehydration. Estimates ranged from a handful to a figure of 350 based on hearsay which is the reason why the events are also referred as the Lydda death march.
For more on these events see; Nakba
|The Orthodox Church of St. George at Lydda in Palestine which holds the saint’s grave|
Part of the efforts to promote St. George’s Day is to promote a concept of Englishness and the difficulty and confusion can be seen in the statement from the PM’s office announcing that Downing Street would be flying the flag of St. George on the day; “The Prime Minister’s view is that of course we should celebrate our Britishness, but celebrating our Britishness does not mean we cannot also celebrate our Englishness, Scottishness, Welshness or Northern Irishness.” Well leaving aside the last one there are more Ness’s there than in the highlands of Scotland!
It is time to face up to two important facts: St George has nothing to do with England and there are and never were creatures called Dragons. Oh, and while I’m at it there are probably no fairies at the end of the garden.
Having said that, have a happy St. Georges Day!
|St. George’s Day in Ye Olde Luton Towne|