Why St George?
St George’s Day (23 April 2014)
by James Lamont
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider St George’s attributes.
Preparation and materials
- Have available an image of the flag of St George and the means to display it during the assembly (checking copyright if necessary).
- Have available a recording of either ‘I vow to thee my country’ or ‘Jerusalem’ and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
- On 23 April, England celebrates St George’s Day. George is England’s patron saint, yet he was not English. A saint does not need to come from the country of which he or she is patron saint, but should be someone who represents the country. Today, St George’s Day is growing in popularity, with ‘English’ activities such as Morris dancing and the waving of English flags becoming popular.
- Yet how does George, a Roman soldier born in what is now Turkey, ‘represent’ the English? Little is known about him, but he is revered in legends as a great warrior and English kings frequently invoked him to encourage their soldiers in battle. This famously occurs in Shakespeare’s play Henry V (Act 3, Scene 1): ‘Follow your spirit; and upon this charge cry “God for Harry, England, and St George!” ‘
The flag of St George, a red cross on a white background, has remained the English flag for hundreds of years.
- George, then, is England’s patron saint because of his reputation as a great fighter, but also because of tradition. Interestingly, George is also the patron saint of other countries, which include Georgia, Greece and Russia. France venerates Joan of Arc. Could it be that the warring traditions of European countries have influenced their choice of patron saints?
- Although the popularity of St George’s Day is growing once more, for most English people it is still largely irrelevant. There have been calls to replace the patron saint, with St Alban being the most popular choice. St Alban was England’s first Christian martyr, a man who gave his life for his beliefs. To make St George a more relevant figure to many people, perhaps we can stress the other less warlike qualities he also stands for – determination, resilience and justice.
Time for reflection
How do you think of St George, if you do?
What would you like to be remembered for – warlike skill or determination, resilience and justice?
‘I vow to thee my country’ or ‘Jerusalem’