Today is St George’s day. If you want to celebrate it, Matthew Jukes has a fabulous article today in the Daily Mail’s Weekend Magazine complete with quintessentially English recipes. There are also some rather good English wine recommendations including (ahem) one of our own see https://mailonline.newspaperdirect.com/
St George is the patron saint of England, and – since the Reformation – England doesn’t have a lot of saints. This year St George’s Day falls on a Sunday, but there are suggestions that it should become a Bank Holiday.
WHY IS ST GEORGE A LEGEND?
Once upon a time, in a far far-away land, a dragon (or perhaps it was a crocodile -which is slightly less impressive) lived at the water edge. Collecting water was dangerous. Citizens would lure the dragon from the water with a juicy sheep or, if sheep were in short supply, a maiden.
The unlucky lady was chosen by lots. One day the Princess herself was chosen and she was offered up to be the dragon’s titbit.
Luckily for her, George happened to be passing at the time. If he was wearing armour, it was certainly shining. When he saw the damsel in distress he challenged the beast – defending himself with the sign of the cross. The dragon was slain. George got the girl. He was a hero. The town (possibly Cyrene) converted to Christianity.
IS IT TRUE?
You might think that you’ve heard this story before. Classicists among you remember the story of Perseus and Andromeda. Its all suspiciously familiar.
You might also think that a woman is not an obvious food substitute for a sheep. The Ocado picking team would have nightmares over that one.
Also, instead of spending all that time on lotteries and sacrificing maidens, why the town didn’t invest in a proper sheep breeding programme? Or even better, a plumbing system?
From the 7th century there have been pictures of St George. Surprisingly, the dragon did not appear until 300 years later. Hmmm. Its like missing the main part of the story. Imagine telling the story of Daenerys Targaryen of Game of Thrones without mentioning dragons.
Without being too cynical, this sounds like pretty unreliable history.
WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE?
It seems that George was a Roman soldier, born in about 275AS in Lydda, Syria. He was a Christian. When the Roman emperor asked that all roman soldiers make a sacrifice to the roman gods, George refused. So the Emperor sacrificed him by cutting off his head.
His name ‘Georgios’ means ‘worker of the land’ in Greek. So perhaps he was more a farmer than a fighter. Nevertheless his ghost reportedly pops up in battlefields (Antioch in 1098, Jerusalem in 1099) to boost troop’s morale. Maybe he was more bellicose than his name suggests. Nominative determinism? Pah!
WHY IS ST GEORGE A SAINT?
No-one knows. Not even the Pope. When asked Pope Gelasius said that George was one of those saints ‘whose names are justly revered among men, but whose actions are known only to God.’
WAS ST GEORGE ENGLISH?
No. Definitely not.
SO WHY IS ST GEORGE ASSOCIATED WITH ENGLAND?
The English liked the Crusaders story of St George slaying the dragon. It caught the English imagination in the Romantic era. As George’s popularity soared, pictures of him slaying the dragon popped up all over the world.
So George is not as quintessentially English as we might think. He is recognised in many different religions: Catholicism, Anglicanism, Orthodox, East Syrian, Miaphysite and Islam. Many other nations have claimed him. As well as England, he is the patron saint – or has a special significance – in Georgia, Armenia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Egypt, Ethopia, Germany, India, Italy, Lebanon, Lithuania, Malta, Montenegro, Palestine, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Spain (well, at least in Aragon), Syria and the USA.
Even Scouts ‘dib-dib-dub-dub’ to St George. Their highest award is the St George’s Scout.
Some believed St George had special medical powers. Arabs believed he could restore sanity. If someone had been ‘sent to St George’s’ they had been carried off to an asylum. St George is also the patron saint of those with skin diseases or syphilis. I do not speculate why.
WHY DID ST GEORGE BECOME PATRON SAINT OF ENGLAND?
As well as being a good story, the English knew about St George because St Bede had mentioned him as being a martyr.
In fact, he was probably chosen as England’s patron saint precisely because he had no connection with England.
After the Reformation, there was a lot of politicking and jockeying for position in the English Church. When it was suggested that St Thomas a Becket could become England’s patron saint, some protested that would over-promote Canterbury. Some suggested Edward the Confessor as an alternative but he was connected with Westminster. You can’t help but suspect someone had their eye on the valuable money to be made from pilgrims. Finally in 1552 St George was chosen. He wasn’t connected with anywhere.
Since then, the flag of St George is the only saint’s banners permitted to fly in England. All others are banned. The St George’s cross has been part of the Union flag since 1606.
WHAT ABOUT SHAKESPEARE?
We have almost as little reliable information about the birth and death of Shakespeare as we have about St George. The convention is that both Shakespeare’s birth and death occurred on 23rd April – St George’s Day. Although this is highly unlikely to be true, I’m happy to have any excuse to pop a cork, pour a glass and – in the words of Henry V – toast:
‘The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit; and upon this charge Cry ‘God for Harry! England and Saint George!’
ST GEORGE’S DAY CELEBRATION – AMBRIEL ENGLISH RESERVE
Matthew Jukes suggests pairing White Chocolate, Rose and Raspberry Blondies with our Ambriel English Reserve. English Reserve English Sparkling Wine Demi-Sec | Ambriel (ambrielsparkling.com) Sounds delicious. He describes the English Reserve as his ‘favourite English Sparkling demi-sec style’ because ‘It’s a rich, fruity, fizz that has immense class and grandeur’.