On one level, this post is a shout out to my teenaged son, Frye, whose patron saint is St. George.
So it is no surprise that he was a bit miffed when he heard the news — I believe the Daily Mail broke the story — that the modern Church of England is considering dropping St. George (the soldier lancing the dragon in all of those Eastern icons) as England’s patron saint. As reporter Steve Doughty wrote:
His dragon-slaying heroics have kept his legend alive through the centuries. But the Church of England is considering rejecting England’s patron saint St George on the grounds that his image is too warlike and may offend Muslims. Clergy have started a campaign to replace George with St Alban, a Christian martyr in Roman Britain.
The scheme, to be considered by the Church’s parliament, the General Synod, has met a cautious but sympathetic response from senior bishops. But it clashes with the increasing popularity of the saint and his flag in England.
I was in Oxford when this story broke in the British press and, of course, the tabloid’s timing was fantastic because the flag of St. George was flying everywhere during the World Cup.
I had a chance to talk with several friends of mine about the proposed swap, including a trained Anglican theologian or two. They all agreed, interestingly enough, that the change made sense and that St. Alban, as the nation’s first Christian martyr, would actually be a more appropriate choice. Several people said something like this: “I’ve never understood what the deal was with St. George in the first place.”
The link is a bit strange and there are, meanwhile, historians who claim that St. George never actually existed. Here is how the original Daily Mail story handled that background material, including a nod to the fact that the flag with the huge red cross has become identified with some nasty elements of English life.
The image of St George was used to foster patriotism in 1940, when King George VI inaugurated the George Cross for civilian acts of the greatest bravery. The medal bears a depiction of the saint slaying the dragon. However, George has become unfashionable among politicians and bureaucrats. His saint’s day, April 23, has no official celebration in England, and councils have banned the St George flag from their buildings and vehicles. …
The saint became an English hero during the crusades against the Muslim armies that captured Jerusalem in the 11th century. An apparition of George is said to have appeared to the crusader army at the Battle of Antioch in 1098. His dragon-slaying legend is thought to have begun as an allegory of Diocletian’s persecution of Christians.
However, my friends from various locations in the old British empire made one other point that I have yet to see underlined in the tabloid press. Is it safe to say that this change is all about getting the blood-red symbol of the cross off the flag in an era — especially after the cartoon crisis and its flag-burning riots — in which people are a bit tense?
In the St. Alban’s flag, a diagonal yellow cross is placed on a blue background. In other words, it looks more like a large X than the symbol of the Christian faith. For many, this would be a step in the right direction. The Evening Telegraph in Coventry noted:
Motasem Ali, of the Bangladesh Islamic Society, said: “St George is a concern in our community, especially with the present crisis in the world and the UK.
“All religions should be the same, teaching us how to maintain peace and harmony. The Christian authorities should think about it. The image of St George can create more problems in our community. If he was dropped, that would be one step forward.”
But what will happen when someone tries to step forward and claim the credit, or take the blame, for this change?
My British friends — who all thought the change was logical — thought there was no way it would pass. St. Alban may get bumped up a few notches in the public eye, they said, but there was no way the flag of St. George was going to be lowered for good. That would simply create too much heat among the masses.
What kind of heat? Here is a sample, a rather tongue-in-cheek blast from our friend Rod Dreher over at the Crunchy Con blog:
Lord have mercy. These people. … Look, why don’t these sherry-sniffing buttercups just surrender now and spare their enemies the indignity and tedium of having to beat up a bunch of sniveling jellyfish? I swear, you could arm the choirs of the ten Bible churches closest to where I sit deep in the heart of Texas with pool noodles and bullhorns, and they could run half the marmalade-spined clerics of the Church of England over the White Cliffs of Dover like a herd of shrieking Gadarene schoolgirls.
I am sure that stronger language would be used in pews and pubs.