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He might not have stepped foot in England, but don’t denigrate St George

We should be proud of our international soldier-saint

By on Tuesday, 23 April 2013

St George's Day celebrations in Swindon

St George's Day celebrations in Swindon

Today is the feast day – or in England the Solemnity – of one of the most popular Christian saints, St George. He is the patron of England and numerous other countries, in fact he seems to have more patronages than any other saint. And yet very little is known about him, and the most famous stories about him have no factual basis whatever.

Some people are rather sniffy about our patron Saint, and wish that England had someone else as heavenly protector; after all, George, a native of Palestine of Macedonian stock, never came to England. His cult is supposed to have come to England late in the day, at the time of the crusades. Being a soldier saint (that much we do know about him) it seems that he had great appeal to the English crusaders who then brought him back, so to speak, from the Holy Land. His tomb is to be found in Lod, formerly Lydda, the rather unattractive town near Tel Aviv airport, and which was once visited by St Peter, as the Acts of the Apostles relate in the ninth chapter.

While the cult of St George might seem to be narrowly nationalistic to some, the very international nature of our Saint should be a protection against this. It is nice to know, surely, that we share St George with the town of Victoria, Gozo (where there is a beautiful small baroque basilica dedicated to him) and the town of Qormi in Malta, home to another beautiful church dedicated to him, as well as places such as Beirut, and countries as diverse as India and Egypt. In fact George is not just Catholic, but also catholic in the widest sense: he is also revered by the Orthodox. He is even honoured by some Muslims.

Some years ago I was in Turkey, and I visited a tiny church dedicated to St George. Attached to the church was a monastery, but as is so often the case with Greek churches in Turkey, there was no congregation, and no stable community of monks. There was one monk from Mount Athos there, who was on a three month visa (the Turkish government is wary about letting people, especially priests, in); various monks from Athos would take turns to reside in this monastery. Like some of the Orthodox, this monk was anti-Catholic, but he spoke good English, and was happy to talk.

We were Franks, he told us, and they, the Orthodox, were the real Romans. No one ever came to the monastery except for tourists, but, he said, on the feast of St George some 60,000 people came on pilgrimage – and all those odd bits of cloth tied to the trees on the way up were prayer symbols left by the pilgrims.

I pointed out that there were not 60,000 Christians in all Turkey, let alone in that part of Turkey. He nodded and told me that these people who came on pilgrimage were Muslims, but Muslims in name only. They were in fact secret Christians, whose ancestors had converted to Islam in order to avoid deportation in 1923, during the so called exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey. The monk claimed that up to ten per cent of the population of Turkey was secretly Christian.

Of course, there is no way of knowing what the secret Christian population is, as it is secret. But I would love to be there on St George’s Day and see the secret Christians temporarily abandon their anonymity and make their pilgrimage to see their Saint and Protector. As for us, here in England, perhaps we can invoke the aid of our Patron not just on this land, but on all Christians, particularly those of the Middle East?

  • QAX3kFmH

    Interesting Article

  • Jose

    Yes, I have learned a bit about St. George myself, I think all Christians could use a bit of his bravery now and in the coming years. PS Don’t forget that St. Edward the Confessor is also the patron of the England.

  • Kevin

    “While the cult of St George might seem to be narrowly nationalistic to some…”

    Too bad for them:
    “The game’s afoot:
    Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
    Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’”

  • James M

    St. George is not English. England should have a Heavenly Patron who is less shadowy, definitely English, and who has deserved well of England. SS. Thomas More & John Fisher,perhaps. Or St. Bede Venerable, Doctor of the Church. The sooner Ven. Richard Challoner is beatified & canonised, the better. Or there are the Saints from the early days of English Christianity: St. Oswald, St, Cuthbert, St. Guthlac, St. Chad, St. Wilfrid and others. Or if we must have someone higher up the social scale, there are other bishops. But there is no need to import a foreigner of whom little if anything is known, and who is best known for a purely fictitious exploit. England requires Saints who are English.

    “In fact George is not just Catholic, but also catholic in the widest sense: he is also revered by the Orthodox. He is even honoured by some Muslims.”

    ## He is catholic in the widest sense if he is Catholic. The Church is not one of many co-equal denominations, but is the one, only, unique, universal Church & religion.

  • http://davidaslindsay.blogspot.co.uk/ David Lindsay

    Saint George’s Day ought to be a public holiday throughout the United Kingdom. As should Saint Andrew’s Day, Saint David’s Day and Saint Patrick’s Day. Away with pointless celebrations of the mere fact that the banks are on holiday.

    It is because, uniquely in the world, most of our public holidays are not for or about anything that, uniquely in the world, they do not in practice apply below a certain socio-economic level.

    It is amazing how many people assume that because there is a legend about Saint George, he himself must be a purely legendary figure. He is not.

    The Tomb of Saint George at his birthplace, which is now known as Lod and which is the location of Israel’s principal airport, has become a shadow of its former self.

    It was once a major focus of unity between Christians and Muslims in devotion to the Patron Saint of Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt before, and as much as, the Patron Saint of England.

    Three quarters of those who practised that devotion were violently expelled in 1948.

  • guest

    He gave his name to an entire nation: Georgia.

  • JohnF

    Isn’t St Edmund England’s true Patron Saint?

  • agent.provocater

    Dear Parasum, I am not English, so forgive me for correcting you on this point, but I’ve spent 5 years in England and thus I feel a sense of duty to defend St. George as the rightful patron of England. Your idea of choosing a new “truly” English patron saint is misguided. The obscurity of St. George in fact makes him a perfect patron saint for your country, which is a home to many people across the world and because it shows how England was once an integral part of Christendom. Christendom (sadly) doesn’t exist anymore, but it is inspiring to see, that mighty St. George is venerated from London to Moscow (he is a patron saint of Moscow). On the other hand I agree with you the Church should do more to “promote” (that’s a really stupid word in this context) other English saints like St. Edward the Confessor, St. Thomas More and St. John of Southwark as patron saints of England.

  • Yorkshire Catholic

    As far as I can tell, St. George is a legendary figure without the supporting historical credentials of most other early Christian saints. Did not the Vatican come to this conclusion some decades back? As for secret Christians in Turkey — a fantasy. There may be some in the eastern Black Sea but that is it. However 6th May is a feast day (‘St Elias’) which owes something to St. George. Which is why the conservative religious establishment has largely wiped out celebrations of the day during the last 20 years.

    If you want a patron for England, surely the unjustly neglected St. Edward the Confessor would be a good one? He was patron of England until about 1250-1300.

  • westlondoner

    I clearly remember Vatican II “desanctifying” three of the Eastern Church’s most popular saints: St. Nicholas, St. George and St. Christopher, while simultaneously declaring an earnest ecumenical wish for reconciliation with that very Eastern Church!! St. George is the patron saint of Georgia, together with his sister, St. Nino, who tied two olive twigs with strands of her hair into a cross, and went on to convert Georgia to christianity. St. George was a Roman soldier, a native of Cappadocia, who was martyred for his faith under the emperor Diocletian.