Posted by: Prospector PJ17 APR 2013
This Tuesday (23 April 2013) is St George’s Day, one of many days each year when the English fail to do much to be patriotic. According to one survey, England is the least patriotic country in Europe, with only one in three English people knowing when St George’s day is, and nearly half unsure why St George is their patron saint.
This Roman soldier from Turkey who once slayed a dragon, according to myth, is not a popular choice of patron saint among the English. Only a quarter of practising Christians in the UK would vote for him, according to another survey, while 11 per cent would prefer St Augustine.
St Alban is another popular choice for England’s patron saint (see Didapper, PJ, 21 June 2008, p761). Like George, he was beheaded for his Christian beliefs, but unlike George he was at least English. Users of the Myspace website even voted for comedian Stephen Fry to replace George.
Despite the apparent indifference of the English, George is a remarkably popular patron, chosen by countries ranging from Georgia to Ethiopia and Palestine, by cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Preston, and by groups as disparate as syphilis sufferers and the Scout movement. The English might love him more if they had an annual day off in his honour, but that tradition died out in the 18th century, some time after the union of England and Scotland.
Although St George’s flag was adopted by England and the city of London in 1190, George was not adopted as patron saint until the 14th century, taking over from Edward the Confessor.
Ironically, George’s rise in popularity may have been because he was a foreigner. Since his cult was not associated with any particular part of the country — unlike that of Thomas Becket, for example — English knights could set off for the Hundred Years Wars in the name of St George without stirring up regional rivalries.