Rector's Letter - April 2001

My Dear Friends,

 April 23rd is St George's Day, but what do we really know about St George?  Well, curiously, of all the four Patron Saints of the British Isles, he's the only one we can absolutely guarantee was NOT English.  St David, St Patrick and St Andrew have all at one time or another been claimed to be originally English by birth.  St George on the other hand was in fact… Turkish!

 He became a soldier in the Roman Army, and rose rapidly to the rank of Tribune, which is about the same as a Colonel.  ('Colonel George' - now that's sounding a bit more like an English Saint isn't it?)

 His Emperor, Diocletion, began a terrible and cruel persecution of Christians.  George's response was to bravely claim his right to an audience.  He threw himself on the Emperor's mercy, asking him to reconsider the harshness of his decrees.  His action was heroic, compassionate, and completely ineffective.  His head was chopped off.

 Centuries later, the Crusaders, returning from the Middle East, brought back fables and songs celebrating gallant St George and he became a popular saint.  And by the time of Shakespeare he was completely established as Patron Saint of England (…and also patron saint of Germany, Lithuania, Portugal and for reasons I've yet to fathom, went on to become Patron Saint of both the Boy Scout movement, and sufferers of syphilis!)

 But how the mighty have fallen!  1969 saw St George relegated from the Premier Division of Saints, along with St Valentine.  Officially, they now languish somewhere around the bottom of the Vauxhall Conference.

 But St George has a special place in people's hearts, and many a Boy Scout will have been on parade to remember him.  (Though I suspect sufferers of syphilis tend to respect a rather more low-key observance of April 23rd)

 For Englishmen, I reckon St George is just about the perfect Saint.  Like England, he's slipped between greatness and anonymity and accepted both.  Even his death was typically English: a mixture of heroism and tragedy that seems to characterise so many of our finest hours.

 Despite its imperfections, this green and pleasant Land isn't such a bad place to live is it?  And as long as there's a few Englishmen, either by birth or adoption, like St George around, prepared to stand up for what's right whatever the personal cost, even rising to slay the tyranny of the odd 'dragon' when required, then it might even get better yet!  And I for one will be proud to be an Englishman.

 Jeff Cuttell


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