Saint George for England
Colman, Rebecca, Contemporary Review
On the twenty-third of April some Englishmen will wear a red rose and others will toast the memory of England's patron saint. Why the English chose St George as their patron saint has long been a puzzle. There is no evidence that St George ever left the Orient, much less travelled as far west as the British Isles, yet his fervent adoption by the English rivalled even that of the Greeks who were the first to call him megalomartyr. His popularity was spread in the west by returning crusaders. Innumerable institutions and communities large and small made him their patron saint. Under his flag, Venetians and Genoese built commercial empires, Portugal fought for independence, the Catalans freed Barcelona from the Moors and Aragon clinched the victory that led to the reconquest of Valencia after the saint appeared at a critical juncture in the battle of Puig. Where no such spectacular triumph accrued to his name, he was associated with important local myths (the Bulgarians identified him with their fabled Thracian Rider) or with traditional rituals, particularly spring festivals. In England's case, however, historians have searched in vain for a comparable connection. He did not appear at a time of great national endeavour but, on the contrary, was adopted after the ignominious defeat of 1066 that cost the English their country. The traditional answer to 'What did St George mean to the English?' has been a list of Christian virtues that is generally considered inadequate, since pious exhortation without concrete expectations has seldom spurred men to action. In recent centuries, industrial and imperial ascendancy has given England's St George world-wide exposure, but his adoption in the first place has remained a mystery.
The maturing of St George into England's patron saint was a slow process spanning several centuries after the Norman Conquest. Before that time he was hardly known outside monastic circles, a fact confirmed by Aelfric, Archbishop of York and author of the first English life of the saint who, writing less than fifty years before the Normans' arrival, differentiated between saints 'honoured by the English nation' and saints like St George whom monks 'honoured among themselves.' The …
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Publication information: Article title: Saint George for England. Contributors: Colman, Rebecca - Author. Magazine title: Contemporary Review. Volume: 270. Issue: 1575 Publication date: April 1997. Page number: 169+. © 1999 Contemporary Review Company Ltd. COPYRIGHT 1997 Gale Group.
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