'Cry God for Harry, England and St George!'
(Shakespeare, Henry V) - An assembly for St George's Day - To think about those who suffer for their faith, and standing up for what you believe in.
by Ronni Lamont
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To think about those who suffer for their faith, and standing up for what you believe in.
Preparation and materials
A flag of St George would be useful, even if it’s just a small one, the type that are available during international football/rugby tournaments.
As the students arrive, play some patriotic English music, perhaps ‘Nimrod’ from the Enigma Variations by Elgar, or ‘Jerusalem’ by Parry, or ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.
- You will all be familiar with this flag (wave flag). During big sporting events, people fix them to their cars as they drive around. The flags are sometimes displayed from houses. Then, when England lose, we despondently put them away until next time.
This is the flag of St George, the patron saint of England. The trouble is, he wasn’t English, and because he died many years ago, his story has been embroidered and the truth lost in history. But there is one bit that most people agree is true.
- St George was a high-ranking soldier in the Roman army, who died during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, in about AD 303. He was a Christian, and the Emperor was persecuting Christians at that time. George was horribly tortured, but would not deny his faith; eventually he was beheaded near the town of Lydda in Palestine, present-day Israel. Later on his head was taken to Rome and buried in a church that was then dedicated to George.
- Stories about his bravery soon spread. The crusading knights of the Middle Ages heard the stories about George’s courage, and brought them back to England. As the stories spread, so a popular cult grew up about him.
You probably associate him with killing a dragon. The story is that he killed a dragon on the flat-topped Dragon Hill at Uffington, Oxfordshire. Legend says that no grass grows where the dragon’s blood trickled down.
- But this could be confusing George with the archangel Michael, who is portrayed in classical pictures wearing armour, with the devil represented as a dragon. In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, Michael and the devil fight, and Michael beats the devil. Various stories have probably got mixed up down through the ages, so eventually giving us the story of George saving a young woman from being eaten by a dragon.
- It was King Edward III who in 1350 made George the patron saint of England, and the cult of St George was further advanced by Henry V, at the battle of Agincourt in northern France. William Shakespeare spread the legend further in his play about Henry V, which features that battle: he used the call ‘Cry God for Harry, England and St George!’ as Henry’s rousing battle call to his troops.
- So why is George the patron saint of England? The answer to that lies in his reputation as a brave and honourable knight, which is what captured the imagination of the crusaders in the Middle Ages. They modelled themselves on George, fighting for the Christian church in the Middle East. We find that sort of war difficult to understand now, but we can all respond to a man who refused to deny his faith even under the worst torture.
- The flag of St George stands for a Christian who was faithful to the point of death. I wonder how many of us could withstand torture rather than deny our faith?
- In the world today, many people are not free to practise their faith. Governments oppress minority faiths in many countries. One recent example of this was the uprising of Buddhist monks in Burma, who were demonstrating peacefully for the return of democracy to their country. Would you or I have the faith and strength of those monks to stand up to the military for what we believed in?
- You may think that you cannot do much to help the world become more accepting of different faiths, and of people’s right to practise their faith. One of the easiest things you could do is write letters for Amnesty International. These go to people who are either in prison, to show that the world hasn’t forgotten them, or to the governments that are holding them prisoner. Look at the Amnesty website and see how you too can join in, and although you won’t be tortured like St George, you too can make a real difference.
Time for reflection
We’re going to listen to some music. It is often played when we remember all the military personnel who died during the two World Wars. Perhaps you’d like to think as you listen, about how you can help to bring freedom to the world.
You might also like to say a prayer for yourself for all the people held captive at this time because of their religious belief. (Play ‘Nimrod’.)
God of the free, be with all who are suffering for their faith today.
Help governments and leaders to be open
and accepting of others who may be different.
Help me to listen to what other people say,
and so come to a greater understanding of their beliefs.