(This is a transcript of my Thought for the Day on the subject, for BBC Radio Leicester)
A friend of mine recently asked me, “Do you feel British or English?” I said, “both”.
He then said, “OK, as an Asian Muslim, I can understand that you feel British but can you really be English? Doesn’t that imply being white, and maybe a little bit Christian, as well? I mean, your parents are not from this country, even if you were born here…”
This made me think that St George, the patron saint of England, the very symbol of Englishness, was actually not from this country!
St George was born of Turkish and Palestinian parents, and is also the patron saint of other countries, including Palestine. The legend of this great saint was brought to the British Isles by crusaders returning from the Holy Land. And hundreds of years later, English people of all faiths, and no faith, have embraced the characteristic red cross on white background.
To me, St George is a good symbol of an inclusive English identity for our modern, global village. And not only St George, but also other icons of Englishness such as the Royal Family, tea, and fish & chips – all with significant influences from abroad.
How apt for this very tolerant nation and, especially, for this very tolerant city – Leicester. Where diversity is seen as a strength and not a weakness.
Happy St George’s Day!
3 thoughts on “St George, a Very Modern Saint”
I would say that the Royal Family is a symbol of Britishness rather than Englishness, especially as their family tree includes a strong Scottish bloodline, but not much of an English one. You only need to look at parts of Scotland and (especially) the protestant areas of Northern Ireland, where the Royal Family is just as popular as it is in England.
Thanks Dilwar. Yes indeed, these stories of St George and others need to be shared. We need to all reclaim that red cross on a white background – it doesn’t belong to the far right and we all have a duty to make sure they know that.
Geof, whilst that is true, the Royal Family is the Head of State and Head of the English Church which is an offically estblished Church unlike the Scottish and the Welsh. So I can see that being seen in that light. It is also because the idea of England as a country of laws is entwined with the Church and the Monarchy – being a creation of Alfred. It is interesting that I find family members and friends find it easier to say that they are Scottish than the resistance that I have recieved from others in describing myself as English, which actually is an association that I prefer to than imperial Britain!
On an aside, the burial place of St George, or rather many burial places of St George in Turkey and Palestine are venersated by many Muslims. In fact he is referred by some as the figure of Khidr the gnostic or Prophet mentioned in Muslim sources – which literally refers to the legend of the green man – which again is said to be the origin and source for the Green man – the figure on English folklore.
Thanks for the post!