St. George, Patron of England
A continentalCatholic visiting England' might imagine that we celebrated the Feast of our Patron Saint on March 17. The " sweet Saint of our Isle " whom we then commemorate is Patron not of England but of another island, whose sons and daughters in this country thus worthily honour the great Apostle of Ireland.
Having seen the honour we pay to St. Patrick, the visitor would be puzzled to find that although April 23 is marked in our kalendar as the " Feast of St. George, Martyr, principal Patron of England; a double of the first class with an octave," English Catholics with few exceptions treat their Patron with a lack of respect but little removed from the almost total neglect with which he is treated by their Protestant fellow-countrymen. It is time that we should catch the enthusiasm of our Irish friends and be inspired by their example to pay fitting honour to St. George.
" The Great Martyr " Of the history of St. George little is known, but what we do know proves him to have been an outstanding personality. whose heroism gained for him the title in the Eastern Church of " The Great Martyr." St. George is almost certainly to be identified with Nestor. a Christian noble and soldier, who with his friend and fellowmartyr, Demetrius, gave his life for the Faith in the Diocletian persecution.
In the East, and within a few generations of his martyrdom, the cult of St. George made rapid progress. He was regarded as the protector of the Byzantine Empire; and in Constantinople, on the day after his coronation, the Emperor rode in state to pay homage to St. George, whose banner was borne before him en all great occasions.
It was in the time of the Crusades that St. George's cult and fame first became familiar to Western Europe. At Antioch, during the first Crusade, the Christian forces, caught " between the devil and the deep sea ". and, hard pressed by the Saracens, were said to have been delivered by the intervention of a supernatural host led by St. George and St. Demetrius.
Thence onwards St. George was the patron of Crusaders, and a further impetus was given to his cult amongst the English when Richard Coeur de Lion in 1191 near Acre vanquished the Saracens through the Saint's intercession. As a result of the Crusades the cult of St. George rapidly in creased in importance. Knightly orders took him as their patron, and of these the greatest was "The Knights of the Blue Garter," the Order of the Garter founded by Edward III of England and composed of the most famous knights of Christendom.
Adoption by England
It is difficult to determine when St. George came to be adopted by England.
Possibly it may have been in the reign of Richard the Lion-hearted, but certainly in 1352 be is officially recognised as Protector and Patron of this country. After the victory of the English at Agincourt in 1415, Henry returned to ride in triumph through the streets of London, and on London Bridge passed beneath a great statue of the Patron Saint, which bore a scroll with the words " Honour and Glory to God alone." In thanksgiving for the victory the Convocation of Canterbury commanded the observance of St. George's Feast as a Double of the First Class.
The cult of St. George was not confined to soldiers. His feast was a day of holiday and rejoicing, particularly in Nor wich, where the April ceremonies of the Guild of St. George were famous all over the kingdom for their splendour and the beauty of their properties. This Norwich Guild was instituted in 1358, and was granted a charter in 1416 by Henry V.
Equally eloquent testimony to the prevalence of the cult is the number of "George" inns to be found all over the country, and the national devotion to the Saint is reflected in the plays of Shakespeare.
Now, if ever, is the time to revive the cult of Si. George so long neglected. Eng
land is in dire need of heavenly guidance
and intervention. Let us call upon our Soldier Saint not to keep us in the day of battle, but to preserve us from the battleto banish the clouds of war, and to give us peace with righteousness.
From Fr. Fletcher's Pen We cannot do better than end with a quotation from The Catholic Standard and Ransomer for April, 1895 they are the words of the founder of the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom: " Flower of Chivalry, St. George; red with the blood of thy martyrdom : mice protector of this kingdom,' and involsed.in the hour of battle. We, who hold the Faith in which and for which thou didst die, aro on the battlefield now. Fight for us, fight for the Faith. Thou art but a name to those who once venerated thy glorious fidelity. • It shall be ours to restore to thee thy long-forgotten honours. if 1411 forget thee, yet will not T.' We who are banded together to win back the Kingdom which once owned thee as protector; to win it back to the Faith, for which thou didst die rather than deny; we will keep thy feast as in the old days and seek thy patronage as our fathers did. The blood-red Rose of Martyrdom shall be the symbol of those who wear the lied Cross in the cause of Ransom. St. G'eorge and England! ' Rai-isomers, remember
that battle-cry of old and rally to it. Let none abide in their tents on St. George's Day, Mock to his standard wherever it is raised, and show yourselves worthy to wear the Red Rose of our warfare."
The date of the Willesden procession has been changed from May 30 to May 21. Will Ransomers please note this alteration.
Sunday, June 27, and Saturday, July 10, are the respective dates of the St. Albans and Chelsea pilgrimages.