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We have neglected our patron saint. What are we going to do about it?

Unlike the people of Gozo, we have neglected St George

By on Friday, 16 August 2013

The flag of St George is raised over No.10 Downing Street (PA)

The flag of St George is raised over No.10 Downing Street (PA)

There are lots of lovely things to see on the island of Gozo, and in the city of Victoria, Gozo its capital, in particular. One thing I noticed with particular delight, walking along Palm Street last Sunday was the sight of the Catholic Herald on sale, and the fact that most of the houses in the oldest part of the city have little reliefs of the patron saint next to their front doors. The saint in question is Saint George, and it is to him that the parish church is dedicated.

Saint George in Victoria is one of the loveliest churches I know. It is a collegiate basilica, but at the same time it is quite small, though beautifully proportioned, and every surface is covered with marble, gilding or fresco. This is just the sort of church I grew up with, and the sort of church I like. You can get a good idea of its interior thanks to the new Liturgical Movement’s website, which has an illustrated account of the feast of St George here.

The Bishop in the picture is Monsignor Mario Grech, Bishop of Gozo. He is head of the collegiate chapter of St George’s but his Cathedral is up the hill in the Citadel overlooking Victoria, and that too is a most lovely church. As a matter of fact I know the bishop. Some years ago, with a couple of friends of mine who wished to get married in Gozo, we decided to call in at the curial offices, to ask about forms and things like that. The priest downstairs said to us: “Look, you had better go upstairs and speak to the bishop.” I said that we would hate to waste his time, or words to that effect. But despite our protests we were ushered into the bishop. He heard what we were there for, stood up, and said: “What a pity we don’t have any champagne! Otherwise we would open a bottle right now! Congratulations!”

He was warm, kind, welcoming, everything a pastor and a Christian priest should be. Needless to say there was no difficulty in getting dispensations for that marriage!

But back to Saint George. The basilica has an interesting series of frescoes about the life of the saint, or more accurately, the after-life of the saint. In the apse, we see him as he is now, in glory with God, crowned as a martyr in heaven, indeed not just a martyr, but a megalomartyr, as one of the inscriptions has it.

To the left of the sanctuary, we see Saint George leading the Maltese army during the Great Siege of 1565, and repulsing the Turks from his place in heaven, assisted by the Madonna. On earth, a Franciscan holds a crucifix before a mortally wounded Turk.

To the right of the sanctuary, we see Saint George banishing the plague from Gozo in the year 1765. This nineteenth century fresco, like the one opposite, shows a lively and delightful imagination in its treatment of costume, in the rich array of saints in heaven, and priests, clerics, peasants and gentry on earth.

Finally on the retrofacade, we see Saint George in glory surrounded by the representative figures of all the countries of which he is patron. There on the far left is a splendid and colourful Britannia, but much closer, indeed next to the Saint, are Melita and Gaulos (Malta and Gozo).

I was left reflecting that we in England do not do enough for our patron saint. Most people are a bit sniffy about his life on earth, saying that we do not know enough about him. But his life in heaven should most concern us. Unlike the people of Gozo, we have neglected him, and that is a shame. I wonder what we should do to right this?

  • nytor

    I’d far rather have an English patron saint. Aelfheah, for instance, martyred by the heathen.

  • NatOns

    Saint Patrick is not Irish, nor St Boniface a German, and the patron of France (or one of them) St Denis is not a Frank or a Gaul. That is the character of Roman Catholicism, it is not nationalistic but apostolic, as is its patron Peter – who was not a Roman, nor a Roman citizen, only one of imperial Rome’s subjects. Perhaps the national patrons of the British, St Alban, and of the Welsh, St David, could be joined by St Edmund for the Angles and Saxons (the English) and St Edward Confessor for England (as a political entity); but England and the English need a dragon slayer now more than ever .. as does the Catholic Church at large (just as Scotland still needs an apostle of the first rank to follow St Andrew).

  • David Lindsay

    It is amazing how many people assume that because there is a legend about Saint George, then 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.

  • mikethelionheart

    I’ve been thinking of St George myself the past few days. I’m currently in Lake Como and about 30 feet from my hotel is a church dedicated to him. The bells ring out for the major hours and the church is open until ten. When you walk in the smell of incense hits you and there is chant being played. I have tried to get my wife into chant for years but this is the first time it’s really affected her. Maybe it’s because we’re in Ambrosian Rite territory and it’s different. This church seems a real centre of the community. There are people all over the world here and I hope they go into that church and it awakens something in them.
    We need greater dedication to Mary and our patron saint. Our churches need to feel like places of spirituality that are open for longer than an hour or 2 one day a week. We need to re-establish the link between country and the Catholic faith.
    Right, back to the pool.

  • firstparepidemos

    Fair enough, Fr., but there are 4 patron saints in the UK, of which George is but one.

  • rjt1

    I believe our patron saint was once Saint Edward the Confessor. Should we perhaps return to him as being directly associated with our country?

  • French Cheese

    George. Lovely name for a cat.

  • guest

    Thank you for this, after the flippant replies above.

  • NatOns



  • Sara_TMS_again

    He gives a good ‘in’ for sermons- one I remember began ‘We know nothing about St George, so I’m going to preach on the Dragon’. Lots to say about dragons. But you have to admit it is hard to be devoted to a saint about whom we know nothing, and who could actually be the Arian bishop of Alexandria who savagely attacked Athanasius’ followers and was killed by a pagan mob under Julian the Apostate while the Athanasians looked on (as Gibbon thought).

    The Scots effectively have three saints to whom there is a real devotion in Scotland- St Andrew, Sr Margaret and St Columba- and St Ninian is a good fourth. The English have St Edmund, St Hilda, St Bede, the Forty Martyrs, Blessed John Henry and many more- it’s not really surprising if these all have a more devoted following than St George, in the circumstances.

  • TieHard

    Did George exist….?

  • James M

    St George is not PS of Scotland, or of Wales – not all readers of the CH are domiciled in the ecclesiastical provinces of England. (Such as the US readers of the CH.)