What about celebrating St George the Immigrant?

As Ekklesia's 2007 report "When the Saints Go Marching Out', reissued in 2010 (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11944) pointed out, and as others have subsequently affirmed, St George is not primarily "an English Saint", as popular assumption has it, but a Middle Eastern one with international, multicultural associations and a founding story about resistance to the persecutory impulse of Empire.

Recovering these 'alternative traditions', which actually ought to be central to our cultural narratives in England and beyond, is an important part of challenging the xenophobia that has been creeping into some European societies, especially around issues of migration.

This year (2014), there were moves on social media to celebrate the life of St George the Immigrant on 23 April, with the hope that this might begin to be more widespread in future.

According to tradition, St George's father was born a Greek, travelled to the city of Lod in Palestine, where he served in the Roman army and married a local girl. As a young man, he himself emigrated to Turkey, and did very well for himself, rising to the high rank of Tribunus, before his clash with the Emperor over the persecution of Christians and others.

It is somewhat ironic, then, that St George has become, in some circles, a symbol for a certain kind of 'English' xenophobia. In fact he should be the Patron Saint of Immigration.

It needs to be asked how well our country would function if every single person of non-indigenous origins made no contribution for even a single day, one campaigner asked on Facebook, suggesting that people in this category might take up that challenge.

The initiative (https://www.facebook.com/events/345128585623585/) continued: "Immigration has become more of a political flashpoint than ever. There are deliberate cynical efforts by the scaremongering tabloid press to mix up a whole range of separate issues like asylum seekers, European free movement of labour, visiting workers, foreign students, illegal entry, counter-terrorism border controls, rights of residence, not to mention race, religion and culture, and lump the entire topic under the demonised heading of 'runaway, out of control, tidal wave of Immigration!'

"The truth, as has been shown many times, is that immigrants bring great economic benefits to the UK, as well as making huge positive contributions to the social fabric."

Could rethinking St George be part of the struggle to reclaim people movements, migration and intercultural exchange as positives rather than negatives in England and well beyond? It is worth thinking about.

* When the Saints Go Marching Out: Redefining St George for a new era (Ekklesia report): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/rebrandingstgeorge. Reissued in 2010 as 'St George's Day in a changing, global era: a positive proposal': http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11944

* More on St George from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/stgeorge

* More on migration issues from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/migration

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© Anna Schwoub is a writer and academic from Northumbria specialising in the link between culture, religion and social change.

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