Of the Dragon’s Party: St George’s Day 2020

Jost Haller - Saint George slaying the dragon, Unterlinden Museum, Colmar
Unterlinden Museum / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Audio version at the end.

Although I love England, I have never subscribed to the kind of nationalism that wraps itself in the flag or becomes misty-eyed whenever confronted with a member of the Royal Family. Still less would I assert that ‘my country is the best/greatest/most important in the world’. Love can be clear-eyed and is at its truest when most humble. On St George’s Day, therefore, my patriotism is of the low-key kind that delights in the beauty of landscape and seascape, the basic decency of the English people, and makes no absurd claims about ‘greatness’. We are not in competition with one another. We are all God’s children, and I have no difficulty acknowledging that many bad things have been done in the name of England as well as many good ones.

St George has not always been our patron saint. He usurped St Edmund in the Middle Ages. As a result, we have some splendidly dynamic art – and a few problems. Take the legend, for example. Our Syrian hero comes upon a young woman being held captive by a dragon, so he decides to free her by slaying the dragon. Cue general applause. Rescuing damsels in distress is unobjectionable, surely. But is there something more to consider? Deep in the male psyche I suspect there lurks the desire to do deeds of derring-do, and rescuing those weaker than oneself is an excellent excuse for feats of arms. It has been the pretext for countless wars almost since time began. But did St George stop to ask the damsel whether she wanted to be rescued? And did he have to kill the dragon to achieve his aim? That is where the applause becomes a little uncertain and a dilemma appears.

So many misunderstandings begin with good intentions and a failure to see another’s point of view. We make assumptions and forget that others do not share them. We may not be in a position to start a war or arrange a ‘regime change,’ but most of us can give others the benefit of our advice, blithely unaware that it may not be as necessary or useful as we think. I did so myself yesterday and was justly rewarded by being treated as an old ‘has been’. Those who know and love Paradise Lost will agree that Milton was of the devil’s party without realising it. Today, as I celebrate St George, I think I’ll try to be one of the dragon’s party — more modest in my assumptions, more honest about my own fallibility and vulnerability . . . more English perhaps.

St George’s nationality is much debated, although the concept of national identity was fluid at the time of his supposed birth. He is often said to have been born in Cappadocia, but was he Greek? Was he Syrian? Did the dragon he killed live in Libya? The different stories serve to remind us that the Church is bigger than national identities. In calling him Syrian, I am simply following the martyrology we use here — a reminder of our country’s involvement overseas and the complex issues that stem from it.

Audio Version


8 thoughts on “Of the Dragon’s Party: St George’s Day 2020”

  1. Thank you for sharing. In these times it’s important to ensure that fake nationalist wearing a tin pot hat and carrying a flag are alerted that we will not allow them to pass. It important to let them know that it is we and not me.

    • On what basis are you qualified to judge the sincerity of anyones patriotism and if that patriotism is ordered towards the common good?

      How will you judge people swathed in their national flag. Will liberal minded Promanaders at the last night be included, or will ‘no passaran’ only include those you distain on other grounds?

  2. Agree absolutely. I have long felt that our patron Saint should be Hilda of Whitby who ruled wisely over a monastery of women and men.
    Bede describes Hilda as a woman of great energy, who was a skilled administrator and teacher. She gained such a reputation for wisdom that kings and princes sought her advice. However, she also had a concern for ordinary folk such as Cædmon who was a herder at the monastery. Bede writes, “All who knew her called her mother because of her outstanding devotion and grace”.

    Remind you of anyone?

  3. I am not enamoured if St George or nationalism, either, although there have been so many wonderful artistic representations of St George, like the one you have chosen, that we would be poorer with out him, but (sorry about the very long sentence!) I am using his feast to remember to pray for another George: Jorge Bergoglio, who certainly needs our prayers.
    And I do like MiceElf’s suggestion of St Hilda as a patron.

  4. Saw this lovely word today

    Today’s word is: ultracrepidarian

    Examples abound and range from the bloke in the mirror through to heads of state.

    ULTRACREPIDARIAN adjective and noun, 1800-29: from Latin (‘ne sutor’) ‘ultra crepidam’ (let the cobbler not go) beyond his last: 1) adj. Going beyond one’s proper province; giving opinions on matters beyond one’s knowledge. 2) noun.

    An ultracrepidarian person; an ignorant presumptuous critic

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