Happy St George’s Day! Are you doing anything special to mark the occasion? This morning I went along to Christ Church, our local parish church, where they had a St George-themed service featuring some of the kids from the Cubs and Scouts.
The minister at the church, the Revd Canon Glyn Evans, who also happens to be my neighbour, is really great with kids. He’s enthusiastic, funny and knows how to spin out a good yarn. His interactive re-telling of the story of George and the dragon featured a glove puppet, a cowboy hat and a foam sword amongst other assorted props.
Following the service I’ve had St George on my mind. I’ve been wondering what relevance George and his story might have for us today. This might be on my mind more this year than last as I had a little shock a few weeks ago that has had me thinking about my “Englishness”. My mum recently did one of those heritage DNA tests and it came out with a lot less English than any of us expected. There was a strong Celtic strand, and lots of Viking, but not so much Anglo-Saxon. I found this especially surprising as we’ve traced branches on my family up and down the east coast of England from Thirsk down to Southwold back to the 1700’s.
In modern times we do have a fascination with ethnic identity. Perhaps that’s why the most common thing that people tend to draw attention to when they talk about St George these days is his personal heritage – that he originated from part of the Roman world that has now been separated into Turkey and Syria. But clearly George didn’t become England’s patron saint because of where he was from. His influence comes from what our ancestors believed he stood for. Looking at St George in this way again may be a way to get beyond categories of identity that can often divide instead of unite.
I’d like to suggest that at the heart of the mythical story of George and the dragon is a lesson that we do well to keep in mind today, not just as individuals but as part of our English national story. First, I’ll summarise the story in brief:
A King ruled a city. It was being terrorised by a hungry dragon. To appease it, orders were given to offer it a sheep every day. After a time, the dragon became bored of the sheep. Now it demanded juicy human flesh. It wanted children! The King decided the only fair way to proceed was for all the adults to cast lots (a sort of lottery) and the loser would need to offer their child. And so the situation escalated. Soon, the King’s own daughter, the Princess, was to be offered. But that day, George, a travelling soldier, was passing the city. Horrified by what he discovered, he knew the only answer was to take on the dragon. He bravely went out to face it and after a great fight he killed it.It’s worth noting that there are lots of variants of the story!
So what might the legend tell us?
Firstly, that there is evil in the world. In our postmodern times we really don’t like to admit this. It suggests there may actually be clear categories of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, whereas we prefer to think of all things being relative. I’ve noticed this mindset has shifted a bit since Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine. It’s clear that he has an evil streak in the very traditional understanding of the word. The next point is how we as a society deal with the evils that confront us. The King in the legend took the cowardly option, he tried to co-exist with the dragon, he tried to pay it off. But evil is never satisfied, it will always want more. Ultimately, it needs to be confronted and defeated. That’s the spirit that George embodied, and I think that’s what we aspire to when we celebrate George as our patron saint.
So to me, St George is a reminder of what I consider to be the very best of Englishness. A sense of justice, of seeing clearly when something is wrong, and a willingness to step up, take a risk and put things right.
Happy St George’s Day 🙂