TODAY is St George’s Day, and a number of Ekklesia’s supporters and readers have referenced the report we first produced in 2007 (re-issued in 2009 and 2010), calling for the ‘rebranding’ of St George away from a narrow and often reactionary or racist English nationalism, and towards the surprisingly diverse, global and even subversive traditions associated with this mythic figure.
At the time we were attacked by the Daily Mail and others for daring to suggest that when you study the mythology in depth, you discover that England “actually shares the patronage of St George with Turkey (his attributed birthplace), Syria (his probable nationality), Palestine (where he served), and Portugal, Aragon, Catalonia, Lithuania, Germany, Greece, Moscow, Istanbul, Genoa and Venice (where he is also honoured as a saint). On closer examination, [he] turns out to be a global icon, not a local hero.”
Then, of course there is the suggestion by some Muslim scholars (which we did not specifically reference at the time) that a servant of God mentioned in the Qur’an as an associate of Moses refers to the figure of al-Khadr, who is identified with St George.
In the 1,700 years or so since his death, the figure of George has indeed become identified with many others, some historical and some figurative. His composite personality combines several Hebrew scriptural and other ancient references, too. Significant among these is the soldier who put aside his weapons to confront the Emperor in Rome over his persecution of a religious minority.
All of which goes to show that there is much more at play in our mythologised past than dragons, and one nation’s regrettable tendency towards backward and inward-looking nationalism.
Churches and other faith communities deal regularly in narrative. Here is one they could helpfully rediscover and recreate according to traditions that illustrate the interconnectedness of the human family, including its religions, as against continued attempts to divide us and to elevate a patriotism of privilege.
You can read St George’s Day in a changing, global era: a positive proposal on Ekklesia’s archive site (pre-2021).
© Simon Barrow is director of Ekklesia. His new book, Against the Religion of Power: Telling a Different Christian Story, is due for publication in the summer of 2023. His columns can be found here (and archived ones here). Twitter: @simonbarrow