Today is St George’s Day and I am pleased to be flying the St George’s flag at Nell Bridge House. It is a lot easier than flying the Union flag. There is no problem with “which way is top”. With the flag of St George, either way is top!
Very little is known about the real St George. He is thought to have been born into a noble Christian family in the late third century in Cappadocia, an area which is now in Turkey. His father, Gerontius, was a Roman army official. His mother, Polychronia was a Christian from Lydda in the Roman province of Palestine. Both were Christians from noble families; both died while George was relatively young. George followed his father’s profession of soldier and became part of the retinue of the Emperor Diocletian. In AD 303, the emperor ordered the systematic persecution of Christians and George refused to take part. He was tortured and executed in Palestine, becoming an early Christian martyr.
The legend of George slaying a dragon and rescuing an innocent maiden from death is of medieval origin. As the story goes, a dragon or, perhaps, a large crocodile made its home at a spring that provided water for the city of Cyrene in Libya or Lydda in the Holy Land. Both feature in different versions of the legend. The citizens were faced with the problem of dislodging the dragon to collect water. Every day, they offered the dragon a sheep but, if no sheep could be found, a maiden was thought to be the best substitute. She was chosen by drawing lots. On one occasion, a princess is chosen and the king begs for her life to be spared but in vain and she is offered to the dragon. George happens upon the hapless maiden, takes on the dragon and kills it with his spear. The citizens abandon their ancestral pagan worship and convert to Christianity. George is canonised in AD 494 by Pope Gelasius I. St George’s Day is celebrated in England today, 23 April, reputed to be the day of George’s martyrdom in 303.
Today is an opportunity to celebrate England and Englishness. John Major described it as “a country of long shadows on county cricket grounds, warm beer, green suburbs, dog lovers and old maids cycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist”. Perhaps also a time to re-assert our right as the English and the largest part of the Union to equality of treatment with the Scots, Welsh and Irish. Sit down and shut up Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Martin McGuinness; today is our day!