Tag Archives: national pride

St George – do we like him, or not?

I was almost thirty before I knew when my nation’s patron saint’s day was. I discovered it by accident by visiting a cathedral on this date = 23rd April.

 

George – who took over from St Edmund as England’s mascot – is less well known and celebrated here than our Celtic neighbours’ saints. Pubs in England will promote St David, St Andrew, and St Patrick’s days, but in school I was never asked to make a St George’s day thing; never attended a party for him as child nor adult. I’ve not seen the St George flag – a white background with a red cross – hanging out on this day, any year.

 

In Britain, we don’t use our national flag that much, unless there’s a royal occasion. They appeared at the most recent royal weddings, for which we all got a holiday; for the Queen’s landmark milestones, and on her palaces.

 

The just-for-us English Georgian one is seen in one of three contexts: six nations rugby, the football world cup; or by nationalists such as the English Defence League who march occasionally, proclaiming messages that most of us consider dangerous, for they are unwelcoming of other nationalities which live among us. Hence, there is concern and derision for this use of the flag and perhaps why, when it’s not an international sporting fixture, that we don’t display them. Note that whereas it’s considered a sign of national pride for our Celtic neighbours to get their flags out, it’s been noted that in England, we must have the pan-island Union Jack (which has the Georgian cross in it, combining England and Scotland’s flags but not Wales). Perhaps this point is why people like EDL do attract a following.

 

There is a fourth place that we might encounter St George – in churches. He’s not that common as a dedication for parish churches, unlike Mary, Paul, Peter, Andrew, Trinity.

He’s not found by fishing ports, like Nicholas, nor town gates like Botolph and Giles; not popular in a region in which he lived like Cuthbert or Edmund (in Northumbria and East Anglia respectively).

 

In English cities of multiple medieval parish churches, only Norwich has any Georges (2 out of 31); none of London’s 39, York’s 19, Bristol’s 14, Cambridge’s 15, Ipswich’s 12 (I’m allowing ruins and chapels as well here)… not in any of our other cathedral cities or county towns… save Canterbury, whose George in the high street (1 of 12) was obliterated in the last war.

 

Even checking the lost churches of these cities, which sometimes doubles the amount of dedications, I found only one George, ever, in London (in Botolph Lane) out of c100 parish churches in the old city; and nor could I swiftly think of any just outside it. None other of Norwich’s total 63 medieval dedications, nor any of its monasteries, were to St George. There’s one at Stamford (Lincs)… but not many in England, and I can only think of them in towns, not rurally.

The most famous English church dedicated to George is the chapel at Windsor castle. This vast perpendicular space is at the heart of the country’s largest castle and one of the places we most associate with our monarch, now and historically. It is from here that knighthoods are dispensed, in the order of this patron saint, which involves garters – yes those sort!

 

George lived in the 3-4th centuries, thus before English parish churches were conceived; rededication is possible. So it is significant that someone who became and stayed our patron and who died 1700 years ago, whose Order is 700 years old, has few churches to his name.

 

I noted that from Georgian times, George does appear in new churches, and not just Anglican ones. A Unitarian in Exeter, a German Lutheran church in the city of London, bear the name George, when saints and people’s names are unusual as part of these denominations’ titles.

 

In Bristol, England’s then second city, there’s a regency St George near the centre (and an area to the east); there’s a contemporary one in Brighton’s Kemptown (a town created by a George); a late 19th C monster in Jesmond, Newcastle – home of the Geordies; and there are three in Edinburgh’s new town (18th and 19th C), a building venture dedicated to King George. Glasgow has a 19th C George in the Fields and its original sibling, a more central late Georgian George, which like in Edinburgh, has its own square – a royalist, unionist statement. There’s an 18th C George at Great Yarmouth, home of Nelson’s naval hospital and column.

Georgian churches – from the era – are traditionally English; solemn, quiet, not given to fuss; upright pews for stiff sitting, lips and values; orderly; places for mayor’s swords to rest in public ceremonies celebrating status; cerebral, but not given to displays of public affection, or the indulgent colourings in of our Victorian or Catholic, ahem, neighbours…

There’s a couple more Catholic churches dedicated to St George – such as Southwark’s RC cathedral and again in Norwich – not centrally. These are later 19th C dedications.

 

I note that George is not a British monarch’s name until the German house of Hanover takes over the throne; and that four kings are named George in a row; and then George returned last century to make an Edward sandwich (our first king, who built the palace that became ‘mother of all parliaments’) when we were being very imperial and class and might driven. And it’s a George who instigated a cross for military bravery in the last war. Hmm…

————

 

I was feeling uncomfortable about George the dragon slayer and this sort of Englishness.

 

I wasn’t sure about the dragon, who is the symbol of our neighbour, Wales. Note that name means ‘foreigner’ (a name given by the English to those whose self moniker means ‘fellow countrymen’) and this dragon seems to be about squashing threats of those that are different or other. I note too that dragons are important symbols to China and elsewhere.

 

I was further appalled to check the official St George website, royally appointed, who is trying to promote this under proclaimed saint, and their version of the dragon myth:

 

Pagans placate a sleeping dragon (well, let it sleep then!) with an unwitting sheep in order to get their essential supplies; and when sheep run out, they turn to the women. If the princess hadn’t drawn the lot to be dragon fodder – no doubt a good looking one – would St George have turned up to rescue her? On a white horse!! And killed the blessed thing (NOT on his horse) so that the villagers could get the water that the dragon nested by. (Was there no other water source? No reasoning and negotiation? No befriending the dragon?) Oh, and this feat naturally got the wayward barbarian Pagans turning to Jesus (well, the religion named after him) since the dragon slayer was of course already a convert…

 

So blonde, tall (Aryan) George, in his pennant shield with traditional armour on the horse (supposedly female fantasies), is usually depicted killing some poor alien beastie below him (not even what the story says), looking ugly and in agony. Supposedly too the picture of chivalry, and symbol of crusaders (more attacking foreigners and ‘dragons’ in the name of Christianity)…

 

Then I read a little more about Georgie not Porgie and felt a little more comforted.

 

One – EDL fascists – he’s not even English! (He’s from Turkey and lived in Persia, a part of the world you’re often harsh about). Ironic for crusaders then…

I bet we don’t even say his name right here.

 

But – I began to like his story and feel he is especially appropriate. Converted to Christianity, swift riser in the Roman army… still bored and cynical (when’s the dragon coming?). Well, the real dragon of George’s life was his emperor, Diocletian, who persecuted Christians in times of unrest and who were standing up to his harsh regime.

Then there was a supposed plot against Diocletian’s #2 by Christians – note there had to be reasonable reason – and so churches were shut (ringing any bells?) and scriptures burned; citizenship, if not life, would be forfeited for those found foul of the Emperor’s decree.

George wouldn’t do the worst that he was asked to by his paymaster, and in fact, he took down some Roman posters. But his paymaster was in the city, and George knew he was about to be cooked goose… Indeed, despite his brave and reasoned arguments, and his former favour, Diocletian put him to death for refusing to renounce his faith.

I’m now suspicious about that as a reason for martyrdom… rival Edmund claimed that too.

But… regardless of whether my facetious retelling (based still on the royal St George website) is true, it’s interesting that this is what the official fans purport and this is what the Catholic church canonised him for.

Not only courage, but compassion. Not for mass conversion, military might or beastie brutality, but for refusal to comply with unjust orders, to order his 1,000 men to bully citizens, and to renounce his faith and principles. George was willing to also disobey the scriptural mandate (did it yet say this, or was that later king’s scribes?) to obey earthly authority, but George must have felt that as this clashed with what he felt God was asking of him and what he lived by, that he must follow his God and his conscience. And he even told the Emperor off for his unjust rule.

Now I’m impressed.

Maybe this George is worth giving attention to afterall.

I hear that he has long been revered, not just here, but in many parts of the world.

May we and would-be Diocletians continue to remember him.

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Elspeth on Elections – Council 2013

My analysis (yes I’ve had an extra day) is quite different from any local and national paper I’ve read – and it’s not all about a leader whose name recalls a Count Duckula Episode*

The English county election results this week have been exaggerated by the press. They all focus on UKIP, blurring the overall picture. A letter to the Independent said that the press’s coverage of the Purple Party caused their profile to be raised and helped them win votes – why couldn’t they have focussed on other parties, particularly the Green one? And what might our outcome have been then?

The i helpfully published a nifty before and after map of all the counties going to the vote, with statistics about changes (which didn’t add up and some misprints). It was clear that UKIP actually lost seats and its entire presence in places where it once held them – Bristol, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire. Leics is not +2 for UKIP – it’s merely maintained its 2 seats; Staffs lost one seat.

UKIP won no overall control of any council and in all cases was considerably under the minimum seats needed to do so, even where they came second (eg Norfolk, Lincs, Kent) were a third of the requirement needed to gain control. Mostly UKIP came 3rd-5th place winning only 2-4 seats, and did not feature everywhere – there’s none in the North save North Yorks, or in Bristol, or Essex, where other parties grew.

I suspect that disaffected Tory voters would feel uncomfortable choosing a left wing party and there is, save the BNP (who lost its only council seat), but one for them to pick; and nor would they want to choose the other half of the coalition, the Yellows.

I picked a couple of counties to analyse in detail (from their own council interactive websites), and found that only a few actual UKIP seats had been won, and that these had been Purple previously. I also noted that it happened in areas where only red, blue and purple stood – I don’t remember any Greens or independents or small parties candidates in anywhere UKIP were most successful.

The Greens have long been in my view the 4th party (which reminds me of the AA advert that called themselves the 4th emergency service). They held on to their presence in all of their councils bar Cambs, doubled their number in Bristol and Worcestershire, and introduced themselves in Essex, Warwickshire, and Cornwall. They lost a couple from their hotbed in Norwich, but gained back the seat held on to by defecting local leader. But the Greens put up only a small proportion of seats, whereas UKIP were widely represented.

I also see a welcome rise in independent candidates; already the majority in Cornwall and Anglesey (the only non English election); they are now top in the Isle of Wight, 2nd in County Durham still by a large margin (though smaller than it was) and North Yorkshire; and sizable in Lincolnshire above the Lib Dems, although coming 4th overall.

I note a huge loss for the two parties in government, both in seats and county favourites which I’d like to think shows disillusion with them. I am glad that the colour of the political map has changed – there are three red counties instead of one, 10 less blue and 12 (not 4) not being under no overall control – which is how I would like to see politics done.

I am concerned that UKIP has been chosen (note I do not spell it the annoying Guardian way) by several as its protest vote, hoping it took seats from Tories and Lib Dems whilst not swapping them for a recent government which frustrated even its own supporters. As I said above, there was not always anyone else to put an X beside. And I think that’s why 70+% of the population once again did not vote. Do they feel all parties are bad, none are different, that their voice won’t be heard, whoever’s in power?

I’ve seen little focus on the silent majority in news reports. I feel that having to pick this or that and not being able to say ‘none of the above’ or suggest anything else makes voting very limited, especially with first past the post voting system that favours the two original parties.

I am dismayed by the presumption (which I do not fully believe) that all these purple crosses mean that the public want more severely right wing policies. When it’s already so right wing it’s farcical if it weren’t so dangerous and frightening, when you wouldn’t believe it if you put it in fiction, some are asking or harder welfare rules (how could there be?!) and tougher stances on immigration.

I read UKIP’s policies as I am a fair minded person – as I did for 9 parties, not keen that they should plant cookies on me and think I am in any way a supporter. The “milder BNP” epithet still stands. Some of their tax ideas were interesting, but badly put with poor sentences (now I feel I’ve set myself up!). I definitely detected a Thatcherite “everyone pays the same” over income tax – something which lost her even staunch Blue sympathisers. And as for Trident… I wondered if I were reading an anti Green party parody instead of a serious manifesto.

What I do hear is that racism should not be linked to national pride or wanting a sense of identity. It is true that we have lost our sense and right of being a distinct nation apart from our Celtic neighbours, who have gathered more strength in that. I have heard the comment that it’s racist to be an area where there’s no other nationalities and ethnicities – but that seems to be reverse racism, attributing judgement and narrowness, as if positive discrimination is to be applied to where people live. We should never feel awkward, discriminatory or lesser for having more indigenous people than not.

But UKIP and its cousins (BNP,  English Democrats) are linking multiculturalism to our problems, making outsiders causes to be repatriated rather than seeing them as potentially enriching. Remember the freedom we’d like to move abroad, especially if we needed refuge.

The work ethic that the right wing wants clashes with what they say about foreigners. They want us to get any job and work hard, but they’re cross when immigrants do it instead of original peoples; and don’t see that the very work ethic they wish to promote to benefit claimants creates a culture of poor working conditions, even kinds of slavery. No, getting round minimum wage and working an unhealthy amount of hours is not acceptable, and if one person accepts a bully’s terms, so will the next… And life is not about toil and the taxable income you generate, or submission to hierarchy…

I am glad the ruling parties have got a message that people are turning from them. I am glad there is more shared power and co-operation (what I’d hoped from the 2010 general elections) in the county councils. I am glad more independents are gaining voices.

I’m alarmed that several have chosen to vote for a further right wing party, and that (looking at comments online) that some do support harsher regimes (which don’t affect them, of course).

But I am sorry that we have a system where so many don’t feel it’s worth their while going to the booths – and that’s the statistic that should speak the most. It’s what can’t be said in a ballot box that really counts.

* a 1990s cartoon:  episode No Sax Please, We’re Egyptian  “I am the One they call Nigel”

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