Letter - April 2001
My Dear Friends,
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!
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?)
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.
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!)
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
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)
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.
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.
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