St George – Patron Saint of England
Triangle, London, 2002, £7.99
(price at publication
The fact that England claims for its patron saint one who was not of British descent and who had never set foot in this land has often mystified us. It is perhaps additionally strange that St George’s popularity has not materially waned even in a more critical age, when one considers the fact that we know hardly anything about him with certainty.
Christopher Stace examines this phenomenon and comes to the conclusion that in the course of time St George has ‘changed’. First he was a comparatively unknown historical figure; then he became the subject of many fantastic legends (including the well-known story of the dragon); and finally he has become an ideal, a symbol of chivalry and knighthood.
The author points out that the actual existence of George is nowadays generally accepted, even though he admits that little is known of his life. He sees no reason to doubt the widely held view that he died as a martyr in the fourth century, and that his tomb at Lydda (now Lod) in Palestine could well be authentic. He attributes the spread of the story of slaying the dragon to the popularity of the thirteenth-century writing entitled The Golden Legend which was printed in England by Caxton in 1483.
But by then, he had already become a favourite saint in this country. Stace points out that St George had inspired the Crusaders, and that King Richard the Lionheart had brought his devotion back to England, where eventually he displaced Edward the Confessor as patron saint.
It is a fascinating study and presented in a compelling way. This small book is easy to read and a mine of information.
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