Thursday, July 20, 2006

Replacing St. George

The following column by David Warren appeared in the Sunday Spectator of the Ottawa Citizen on July 9, 2006 ( It has to do with a motion before the General Synod of the Anglican Church in replace St. George with St. Albans as the patron saint of England because St. George is too "militaristic", too "foreign", and crucially, "potentially offensive to Muslims". Thanks to David for allowing us to reprint it here. I look forward to your comments.

Sad little England

A motion before General Synod in the Anglican Church has proposed elevating St Alban to patron of England. This is to get rid of St George, whom various Anglican clergy, starting with the pusillanimous vicar of St Matthew's in Westminster, now consider to be too "militaristic", too "foreign", and crucially, "potentially offensive to Muslims". A private members' bill in the British House of Commons may also advance this cause.

Poor St Alban in heaven, to be used in this way. He was the first British martyr -- a pagan of Verulamium (now St Alban's in Hertfordshire), converted by a priest he was sheltering during the persecution of Diocletian, around 305 A.D. When the Roman soldiers came to search his house, he put on the priest's cloak, and was himself martyred. (The priest was found and stoned a few days later.) He is thus a special symbol for English Catholics, so many of whom were martyred as priests, or sheltering priests, by the gauleiters of Queen Elizabeth I, thirteen centuries later. (The Anglicans incidentally celebrate his feast on the wrong day in June -- owing to a typo in an early edition of the Book of Common Prayer.)

I'm sure St Alban himself will don St George's armour, when the gauleiters of Political Correction arrive to despatch the latter.

The change would necessarily involve the replacement of England's flag, which is St George's red cross on white ground; and then the revision of the Union Jack of which it forms a part. St Alban's cross is a diagonal yellow on blue ground. Britain would thus come to be represented by a thin streak of yellow on the cross of St Andrew.

In the meantime, St George remains the patron not only of England, but of Venice, and other cities in Italy, of the old Kingdom of Aragon, and of all soldiers and armourers. He is the "great martyr" of Eastern Christendom, and one of the "auxiliaries" of the West (saints the praying through whom is especially efficacious). England's Order of the Garter was founded upon his patronage, and similar orders across Europe. He is not a "Little Englander".

The pedantic, early 20th century notion that St George never existed is itself now dismissed as quaint scholarship, on a level with Edward Gibbon's malicious association of him with the Arian heretic, George of Cappadocia. Today, we realize his existence was attested by multiple traditions, as a prominent martyr from Lydia in what is now Turkey, a little before the time of Constantine. It does not follow, from the fact we can no longer construct a detailed biography of the man, that he never lived. We can construct detailed biographies of no one from that place and time.

My reader will recall there were dragons in those days, and the lair of one was in a marsh near Selena in Lydia. It required human sacrifices. Cleodolinda, daughter of the king, drew the lot and was escorted to the marsh in bridal garments. St George, a tribune in the Roman army, happened to ride by. Making the sign of the Cross, he confronted the dragon. Pinning it to earth with his lance, he slew it with his sword. Having converted the Lydian king, and all witnesses, he then rode on to Palestine, where he died a martyr under the same Roman persecution that claimed St Alban.

This fanciful story from out of the Golden Legend (13th century) only adds to his mystique. But it was not part of the legend of St George, when he appeared before the Crusaders as a herald of victory. Or became an honoured and holy figure in Muslim legend, too, under the name Jirgis Baqiya.

Now, apologizing for the Crusades is a vogue among persons who lack both a spine, and historical knowledge. The Crusades were defining events in the development of Western Christendom, and therefore of what we now call the West. They represented the West's first success, in reclaiming Christian territory that had fallen to Islamic conquest. Territory in which, incidentally, Christians were then still in the majority, and living in a state of servitude. Prior to this, Christendom had been only on the defensive; and without the Crusades, almost certainly, we would all be Muslims today. It was the great break-out of a Europe that was surrounded and under siege.

It would be absurd for England to dispense with St George. It would make more sense for St George to dispense with England.

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