It is sometimes said that England’s patron saint, St George, is not very English. Yet Britain in his day was part of the Roman Empire, and George refused to help the Roman Emperor send troops against his own people in peacetime, one of the key provisions of ‘Magna Carta’. You can’t get more English than that.
On the martyrdom of St George, see St George the Triumphant Martyr.
IN 1552, the English government forbade banners depicting Christian saints, considered idolatrous by the country’s newly Protestant churchmen. An exception was made, however, for banners of St George, popular in the army since Richard the Lionheart’s crusade to the Holy Land.
Although Bede knew of St George, outside the army English people thought more fondly of King Edward the Confessor, who reigned just before the Norman invasion, King Edmund, martyred by Danish invaders in the ninth century, and St Cuthbert, whose banner was carried to victory at Neville’s Cross in 1346.
But in 1348, Edward III dedicated the royal chapel at Windsor Castle to St George, and instituted the Knights of the Garter in his honour.
Royal pride subsequently kept George in the public consciousness, while the prejudices of the clergy kept all others out.
Happily, St George, a loyal Roman general who chose death rather than obey his commander-in-chief’s order to murder his own countrymen, perfectly exemplifies what it means to love one’s country.*
* The Church commemorates the martyrdom of St George on 23rd April, and the translation of his relics to Lod on 3rd November.