Friday, April 23, 2004

St. George for England






Today is the feast of St. George, the patron of England. In the celebration stakes, he seems to be stuck in the "show" position behind St. Patrick and St. Andrew. But he has his backers, and they are nothing if not enthusiastic.

He is patron saint not only of England but also of Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany and Greece; and of Moscow, Istanbul, Genoa and Venice (second to St Mark). He's also patron saint of soldiers, archers, cavalry and chivalry, farmers and field workers, riders and saddlers, and he helps those suffering from leprosy, plague and syphilis.

The good old Catholic Encyclopaedia, rather disappointingly, starts out this way in its article on St. George:

Martyr, patron of England, suffered at or near Lydda, also known as Diospolis, in Palestine, probably before the time of Constantine. According to the very careful investigation of the whole question recently instituted by Father Delehaye, the Bollandist, in the light of modern sources of information, the above statement sums up all that can safely be affirmed about St. George, despite his early cultus and pre-eminent renown both in East and West (see Delehaye, "Saints Militaires", 1909, pp.45-76).

In spite of the killjoy attitude of the no-doubt otherwise commendable Fr. Delehaye, the C.E. continues on for 4 pages (6, if you count the advertisements) to discuss St. George. After the article finishes slaying drag--, uh, I mean myths, it gets to the more historical (and interesting) bits:

The crusades no doubt added to his popularity. William of Malmesbury tells us that Saints George and Demetrius, "the martyr knights", were seen assisting the Franks at the battle of Antioch, 1098 (Gesta Regum, II, 420). It is conjectured, but not proved, that the "arms of St. George " (argent, a cross, gules) were introduced about the time of Richard Coeur de Lion. What is certain is that in 1284 in the official seal of Lyme Regis a ship is represented with a plain flag bearing a cross. The large red St. George's cross on a white ground remains still the "white ensign" of the British Navy and it is also one of the elements which go to make up the Union Jack. Anyway, in the fourteenth century, "St. George's arms" became a sort of uniform for English soldiers and sailors. We find, for example, in the wardrobe accounts of 1345-49, at the time of the battle of Crecy, that a charge is made for 86 penoncells of the arms of St. George intended for the king's ship, and for 800 others for the men-at-arms (Archaeologia, XXXI, 119).



A little later, in the Ordinances of Richard II to the English army invading Scotland, every man is ordered to wear "a signe of the arms of St. George" both before and behind, while the pain of death is threatened against any of the enemy's soldiers "who do bear the same crosse or token of Saint George, even if they be prisoners". Somewhat earlier than this Edward III had founded (c. 1347) the Order of the Garter, an order of knighthood of which St. George was the principal patron. The chapel dedicated to St. George in Windsor Caste was built to be the official sanctuary of the order, and a badge or jewel of St. George slaying the dragon was adopted as part of the insignia. In this way the cross of St. George has in a manner become identified with the idea of knighthood, and even in Elizabeth's days, Spenser, at the beginning of his Faerie Queene, tells us of his hero, the Red Cross Knight:

But on his breast a bloody Cross he bore,
The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweet sake that glorious badge we wore
And dead (as living) ever he adored.

We are told also that the hero thought continually of wreaking vengeance:

Upon his foe, a dragon horrible and stern.

Ecclesiastically speaking, St. George's day, 23 April, was ordered to be kept as a lesser holiday as early as 1222, in the national synod of Oxford. In 1415, the Constitution of Archbishop Chichele raised St. George's day to the rank of one of the greatest feasts and ordered it to be observed like Christmas day. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries St. George's day remained a holiday of obligation for English Catholics. Since 1778, it has been kept, like many of these older holidays, as a simple feast of devotion, though it ranks liturgically as a double of the first class with an octave.



In the current liturgy of the Pauline Rite, St. George is usually a mere optional memorial. In England, where he is principal patron, his day had been a Feast but has now been upgraded to a Solemnity. There is a proper second reading in the Liturgy of the Hours, a portion of a sermon by St. Peter Damian.

The hymn given as proper in England to his feast in the English language office is this:

Leader now on earth no longer,
Soldier of thh'eternal King,
Victor in the fight for heaven,
We thy loving praises sing.
Great Saint George, our patron, help us,
In the conflict be thou nigh;
Help us in that daily battle,
Where each one must win or die.

Praise him who in deadly battle
Never shrank from foeman's sword,
Proof against all earthly weapon,
Gave his life for Christ the Lord.
Great Saint George, our patron, help us,
In the conflict be thou nigh;
Help us in that daily battle,
Where each one must win or die.

Who, when earthly war was over,
Fought, but not for earth's renown;
Fought, and won a nobler glory,
Won the martyr's purple crown.
Great Saint George, our patron, help us,
In the conflict be thou nigh;
Help us in that daily battle,
Where each one must win or die.

His collect:

Magnificantes, Domine, potentiam tuam, supplices exoramus, ut, sicut sanctus Georgius dominicae fuit passionis imitator, ita sit fragilitatis nostrae promptus adiutor. Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum, Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum.


After a hiatus of more than a century, St. George can once again be celebrated with bagpipes. The English pipes, which at one time were played throughout England, by the beginning of the 20th century had been reduced to the occasional Northumbrian piper. Here in the 21st century Julian Goodacre will make you an English Great Pipe, a Leicestershire Pipe, a Cornish Double Pipe and couple of other English pipes. He and Ray Sloan, who is linked at the "Northumbrian" link above, are not the only English pipe makers. Would that Jonathon Swayne had a web page; he makes some beautiful instruments.

An English celebration ought to include beer and ale. At least a Chestertonian one ought to. There is no shortage. Tetley and Bass are readily available in this country with only a minimum of research. Even Boddington's, if you must. (In this area, try The King's Head in Santa Monica.) This site recommends Hobgoblin Traditional English Ale. Like the reviewer, I've seen it at Trader Joe's. Unlike the reviewer, I've never sampled any. That may change.

And as long as you're in Trader Joe's, they carry some excellent English cheeses to go with the ale. There are some good cheddars - including, dare I mention it here, an Irish cheddar called "Dubliner" - and an excellent melt-in-your-mouth stilton that'll raise a glorious stink in the kitchen.

Enough. I need some lunch.