Burlington Bertie .
SPOTLIGHT: 20 April, 2007
A Lament for St. George's Day
St. George he was for England, |
And before he killed the dragon
He drank a pint of English ale
Out of an English flagon.
For though he fast right readily
In hair shirt or in mail,
It isn't safe to give him cakes
Unless you give him ale.
eltic expatriates from Scotland, Ireland and Wales who live in London know how to celebrate. They vaunt their national roots by celebrating their Saint's Day with pageantry and patriotism. The Irish in particular have transformed St. Patrick's Day into a Guinness fueled quasi-public holiday in London with a Paddy's Day Parade and Trafalgar Square festivities that bring central London to a joyful halt and 'morning after' hangover.
'Cry God for Harry, England and St. George' quoth Shakespeare's Henry V in exhortation to his troops before Harfleur in 1415. But where, half a millennium later, is England's warrior saint, St George the Dragon Slayer on April 23rd, his Saint's Day? Where are the city parades? On St. George's Day there are no joyful throngs of merry Cockneys promenading down Piccadilly or Pearly Queens dancing a 'knees up' in London's East End. London celebrates no public holiday for St. George. There will be no pause other than the obligatory tea breaks in the Whitehall corridors of power; no jolly Carnival parade from Thames-side Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square; no fireworks exploding in the night sky over Buckingham Palace. His Worship, The Lord Mayor of the city of London, will lead no colourful civic procession to Divine Service at St. Paul's Cathedral and thereafter to the City Guildhall for a Civic Luncheon of Roast Beef and 'Pride of London Ale'. The Lord Mayor of Westminster will not be donning his robes in his office suite overlooking Buckingham Palace to pop down to Westminster Abbey and pay his respects at the tomb of Henry V.
Covent Garden St. George's festivities. Mark UK Student Life
Ken Livingstone, the elected Mayor of Greater Londons (not to be confused with the Lord Mayors mentioned above), has allocated public money to fund an annual St. Patrick's Day Parade through London from Westminster Cathedral to Trafalgar Square. He has helped to transform Gay London's annual turnout in July from an unofficial protest march into Europe's most spectacular and colourful Pride Week. Under his benign leadership, London now celebrates a diverse collection of religious, cultural and ethnic festivals with pageantry, fireworks, song and dance. At all these events you will see our ebullient Ken prominently displaying himself for the cameras in the appropriate Event T-Shirt. His sponsorship of a London St.George's Day Festival is, however, less enthusiastic. And in the Houses of Parliament by the Thames at Westminster, our elected members are equally coy about St. George, fearing perhaps that a resurgence of English pride in St. George and his flag will add fuel to the glowing fire of Scottish separatism. The blue and yellow flag of the Brussels Eurocracy flutters from Government buildings on Europe Day in May, but the Cross of St. George is noticeably absent from those august flagpoles on 23 April.
Our 4th Century dragon-slaying hero of the early Church in Syria was not always mired in such a crisis of English national identity. Venerated by Richard the Lionheart, England's Crusader King, whose equestrian statue stands proudly outside the Houses of Parliament, his divine intervention was claimed in the defeat of the Saracens at the 1098 battle for Antioch, (its capture was crucial in the Crusaders' advance toward Jerusalem), he was declared the Saint of Battles and his English Feast Day declared at the Council of Oxford in 1222.
St. George he was for England, |
And right gallantly set free
The lady left for dragon's meat
And tied up to a tree;
But since he stood for England
And knew what England means
You mustn't give him bacon
Unless you give him beans
With Royal encouragement from warrior kings like 'Hammer of the Scots' Edward I, (1272-1307), and 'Hammer of the Gauls' Henry V, who trounced the French at Agincourt in 1415 after rallying his heavily outnumbered troops with the cry "For Jesus, Mary and St. George", his Day became an occasion for public jubilation. Henry's great-grandfather Edward III had already declared the Saint as patron both of England and his newly founded Order of the Knights of the Garter. His red-crossed banner that was worn as a tabard by 12th century
crusading Knights became the proud flag of England and symbol of the monarchy's most noble Order of Chivalry. But talk of the crusades is now considered offensive to some sensibilities and we must also be nice to the French.
Morris Dancers, Covent Garden St. George's Day. Mark UK Student Life
Overt veneration of St. George as England's Patron Saint was short-lived in historical terms. Like the rest of the church's patron saints he was a casualty of Henry VIII's split with Rome and the Reformist iconoclasm that his actions later unleashed. St. George was briefly restored to favour by his daughter Queen Mary in her bloody campaign to return the English to Catholicism, but her support for St. George's Day parades through London was probably a 'kiss of death' for the Saint from a monarch who liked to parade heretic subjects through the streets of London to the slaughter grounds of Smithfield where she burnt them alive at the stake.
When Cromwell and his Puritans came to town, he zealously divested Christian worship of all veneration of Saints and celebration of their Feast Days. So while many rural churches will fly the flag of St. George on April 23rd from their embattled towers without, there will be no special celebratory singing within. St. George's Day celebrations if any, will be muted in London's churches, most of which will be locked against vandals, except on Sundays.
A number of stalwarts will place a flag of St. George prominently in their front window and the Chairman of the Royal Society of St. George, (originally founded 1770 in New York as a charity to help impoverished colonists), will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall on Saturday 21 April, while the Covent Garden Cooperative livens up the piazza there with the dedicated help of the English Folk Song and Dance Society and Morris Dancing.
If you wish to celebrate St. George's Day in London, visit the Globe Theatre in Southwark. St George's Day is also, most appropriately, Shakespeare's birthday. The Globe is celebrating his birthday with a weekend of free events. Or, better still, make your way to that estimable London pub The George and Dragon. 151 Cleveland Street, W1P 5PH. Tel: 08713325293. Lizzie Winter runs a lively, typically English London pub and she has decorated it for the occasion. She is offering a special themed St. George's Day lunch from midday - 3.30pm on St. George's Day. I shall be there with Shophound Alexia to enjoy a pint or two of Ale and a hearty plate of Roast Beef of Olde England - which is surely more enticing and digestible than corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day, boiled Haggis and turnip on Burns Night or Leek pie on St. David's Day!
|St. George he is for England, |
And shall wear the shield he wore
When we go out in armour
With the battle-cross before.
But though he is jolly company
And very pleased to dine,
It isn't safe to give him nuts
Unless you give him wine.
The Englishman. G.K.Chesterton 1874-1936
Related Outside Links
Mayor of London St. George's day events.
Royal Society of Srt. George Society events.
The Globe Theatre, London Shakespeare Birthday Weekend Events.
George and Dragon Pubs near you
George and Dragon Pub and Restuarant. 4240 North Central Avenue Phoenix. Tel: +1 602 241 0018
George and Dragon Pub. 206 North 36th Street, Seattle. Tel: (206) 545-6864
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