UPDATE

An update to a recent post: according to an article in the Daily Mail, the depiction of St. Michael as used by the Order of St. Michael and St. George was changed in 2011 to make the devil more light-skinned. Click the link to see before and after images of the new design. But people like Sir Michael Palin, KCMG, are still opposing it currently because it’s too reminiscent of the death of George Floyd and police brutality in general. 

Time to make Satan more dragon-like, I guess. Or would that also be bad? Would it be reminiscent of the gratuitous killing of wild animals that Tony Blair tried to curtail with his anti- hunting laws? Then they could go after St. George, too!

I suppose I shouldn’t give them any ideas…

“Kindly Call Me God”

The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George was established in 1818 by the Prince Regent, who two years later became King George IV. It was an aspect of Britain’s meddling in the Mediterranean following the defeat of Napoleon, and used to recognize British allies in the region. People are now appointed to it for “extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country” or “important or loyal service in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs.” For instance, those prime ministers of Canada who received knighthoods (e.g. Abbot, Thompson, Laurier, or Borden) were mostly Knights Grand Cross or Knights Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.* It has everything one expects in a British order of chivalry: a chapel (in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London) with stall plates, crests, and banners, elaborate costumes, regalia, and rituals, a motto-circlet for a member’s coat of arms, and various officers with quaint names (e.g. chancellor, King of Arms, or Gentleman Usher of the Blue Rod).

Badge and Star of a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Wikipedia.

I do not know why the order was dedicated to St. Michael and St. George in particular (nor why a winged lion – the symbol of St. Mark – appears on the order’s collar).† Obviously Michael and George are warrior saints, although the Order is more for diplomats than soldiers. In its regalia the order seems to alternate between depicting St. Michael and St. George, as shown above in the sketch of the badge and star of a Knight Commander: St. George is on the badge, St. Michael on the star. 

Star of a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Wikipedia.

Here is a better rendition of the Order’s star, in this case for a Knight Grand Cross. Note that in this one St. Michael actually has wings, given that he is an angel. Note also what St. Michael is standing on, which became controversial this past week. From the Guardian:

Campaigners are calling for the redesign of one of Britain’s highest honours personally bestowed by the Queen because they say its badge resembles a depiction of a white angel standing on the neck of a chained black man.

The Order of St Michael and St George is traditionally awarded to ambassadors and diplomats and senior Foreign Office officials who have served abroad. 

The imagery on the award’s badge portrays St Michael trampling on Satan, but campaigners say the image is reminiscent of the killing of George Floyd by white police officers in the US that led to worldwide protests.

Both St. Michael and St. George kill dragons, but because St. Michael specifically killed the “old serpent, that is called the devil, and Satan,” his dragon is often more humanoid than St. George’s dragon.** An old post on this blog intended to illustrate different versions of St. Michael’s coat of arms also illustrates the variety of creatures that he subdues, some of which look like proper dragons, others of which look more like men (although grotesque). It is unfortunate that the Order’s standard depiction of the dragon is both humanoid and dark, while St. Michael himself is light-skinned, which is not a model we want for contemporary race relations. And in general, it is most unfortunate that one of the side effects of mediating reality through sight, as humans do, is that in many cultures lightness is “good” and darkness is “bad.” If you’ve got light you can see, if you don’t you can’t – thus does light come to be identified with knowledge and awareness, and darkness with ignorance and insecurity. Note the Roman anxieties about nighttime, reflected in their laws. Furthermore, in a time before the widespread availability of bleach it was expensive and difficult to keep white garments looking white, thus is whiteness associated with status and cleanliness. Such things have, unfortunately, influenced the reception of human skin tone. Although the amount of melanin in one’s skin is purely an evolutionary artifact of one’s ancestors’ exposure to sunlight, those with lighter skin found it flattering to believe that they were morally good in a way that those with darker skin were not. (Traditionally, among white people darker skin also indicated that one worked outdoors, and thus had less status than someone who got to stay inside – only with the advent of jet travel to sunny climes in winter did suntans become fashionable for white people.) In this way did Early Modern Europeans come to justify their version of slavery – it might be bad, but it’s not quite as bad to enslave those people, who are clearly morally inferior. It is true that in the European Middle Ages, some saints were regularly depicted as black, showing that Europeans knew about the subsaharan phenotype and that they believed that its possessors were capable of sanctity and salvation. But it is also true that they regularly depicted the devil and his minions as black, in a general reflection of the cultural significance of that color. Courtesy Paul Halsall, here are two images illustrating this phenomenon:

I think that this artistic convention has seen its day, and I am absolutely not against redrawing the dragon as it regularly appears in the insignia of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Make it more dragon-like, or keep it humanoid and make it some other color – green or red, perhaps. Heck, make St. Michael himself black! There’s no reason why he can’t be. It’s not a bad thing to dissociate “white” from “good” and “black” from “bad.”

Ethiopian St. Michael. Pinterest.

***

The post title is from a joke about the supposed arrogance of membership of the Order, deriving from the post-nominals for the three grades: CMG (Companion), KCMG (Knight Commander), and GCMG (Knight Grand Cross), which are jocularly interpreted to mean “Call me God,” “Kindly call me God,” and “God calls me God.” 

* Though note that Sir John A. Macdonald was a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath, and you can see his stall plate in Westminster Abbey. He was appointed to the Bath just before the Victorian expansion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George beyond its Mediterranean origins.

† UPDATE: The seven Ionian islands, under British protection from 1815, had been part of the Venetian Republic until the 1790s; St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice. According to The Gazette, the Order’s badge:

showed St George for England on one side, with the Archangel St Michael trampling on Satan on the other, in an allusion to Napoleon being crushed by the allied powers. Both saints were surrounded by the motto auspicium melioris aevi, which is usually rendered as ‘token of a better age’, and perhaps reflected [Secretary of State for War Henry] Bathurst’s hope for the future of his Mediterranean enterprise when he signed the founding patent in 1818.

** Revelation 12:7-9: “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

Happy St. George’s Day!

I am grateful for everyone who sends me images of my favorite saint. This post features a year’s worth, plus some others I found while cleaning out my office.

An Ethiopian miniature at the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library.

St. George on a war memorial at my high school.

Facebook.

Facebook.

Facebook.

From Robert Black.

The bookplate of a German doctor named George; note also the proper symbol of medicine!

Looks French and fifteenth century. You know the artist has great esteem for St. George, dressing him in blue, the most expensive color.

I love it when the dragon is surrounded by the human bones of its previous victims, like the killer rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

From Wayne Glowka: St. George’s Gate at Windsor Castle.

From the Bibliothèque nationale de France. That’s quite the harness.

A proper icon of St. George will be surrounded by a ring of pictures of all the tortures he suffered.

St. George (right) and St. Theodore on either side of a crucified Jesus. Yes, this composition features numerous anachronisms.

The original icon of St. George as a young soldier.

An illustration in the style of a fifteenth-century woodblock. I love the crescent over the princess’s head. 

I can’t remember where this one came from but it seems Persian in influence. St. George generally gets a white horse, and usually isn’t shown with a beard. Plus, that fiery cape is novel. (So is it really St. George?)

I like the composition of this one.

Don’t know where this one came from but it looks pretty nineteenth century and Romantic.

The label of an Italian Sangiovese wine from Di Majo Norante. (“Sangiovese,” I discover, is not the name of a saint, like San Francisco – it derives from Latin sanguis Jovis, “the blood of Jupiter.” This makes sense, because otherwise they would illustrate it with a “San Giovese,” not San Giorgio.) I bought a bottle of this for each member of my dissertation committee.

A gift from my brother-in-law. Thanks!

Why should the Scots and Irish be the only ones with whiskies? And who better a patron than St. George?

From a friend of my dean Wayne Glowka, taken in a museum in Sofia, Bulgaria.

A photo from my brother-in-law, taken in Wartburg Castle.

From my friend Chris Berard: St. George and the Dragon 12th C, Byzantine Empire, Walters Art Museum.

 

From the “Byzantine Empire, Crusades and Caliphates in the Medieval World” exhibit (also courtesy Chris Berard).

From Kevin Harty, St. George in stained glass at Princeton University.

Regretfully, I can’t remember who sent me this one. Apologies!

Ditto.

From Chris Berard: Lady Chapel of Rochester Cathedral (c. 1910-18)

“To commemorate the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, this embroidery was worked by the Royal School of Needlework for the makers of Capstan Cigarettes” (magazine advertisement, 1953, gift of Ron Good).

A pop-up birthday card from my family. 

From the Anglican cathedral in Montreal.

From the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

A Georgian St. George.

The front of a replica hockey sweater, courtesy Ron Good. It features the current coat of arms of Russia, and the name “Russia” in old-school Cyrillic, a detail I love.

An a parody of the current Russian coat of arms, illustrating an occasional occurrence under Putin.

From a rood screen in Cawston, Norfolk.

St. George statue outside Prague Cathedral. Photo: Maureen Boulton.

A 12th-century St. George Fresco from Svaneti region in Georgia. 

From Kevin Harty: “In Barcelona there is a hot chocolate shop called The Dragon of Saint George (Jordi  in Catalan).”

From Kevin Harty: San Jordi de Monserrat

I took this one in St. Augustine, Florida some years ago.

One of the Toronto subway stations is designated St. George. love the typography. I took this in October when I was there.

A shop on Bloor Street in Toronto.

This is Cape St. George in Newfoundland.

And here is a postcard from St. George island in Florida, which we visited back in 2014.

Kevin Harty sent me this card featuring a detail of Jaume Huguet, Sant Jordi i la princesa, from the third quarter of the fifteenth century, on display in the National Museum of Catalonia.

From Kevin Harty.

A chauvinistic belt buckle, from Kevin Harty.

From Kevin Harty.

From the Barcelona Hard Rock Cafe, from Kevin Harty.

I believe I got this one at Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Ill.

Another one from my collection from long ago.

My loving daughters make cards for me.

This one may be seen in the Children’s Discovery Museum, Chattanooga, Tenn.

From Daniel Mitsui. I love how this one does not show St. George in the act of spearing the dragon, but the princess leading the dragon with her girdle (which tamed the creature) back to Silene. 

Here’s a topical one that appeared recently on Facebook.

Ditto

From my fencing colleague Tim Furnish: the Saint George’s Parry.

St. George’s Cross flag (for both England and Genoa), flying from Cabot Tower, Signal Hill, St. John’s, Nfld.

St. George at the Met

My friend Chris Berard sends me some images of St. George from the exhibit The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Thanks Chris – a great Christmas present!

This one came to the High a few years ago. It shows Maximilian I as St. George.

Albrecht Dürer!

Another one!

Hans Burgkmair (1473–1531)

“South German, possibly 1460-70”

Merry Christmas to all readers of First Floor Tarpley!

St. George’s Day Today

From my Orthodox friend Alex Nikas, news of a calendrical expedience:

Greek Orthodox to Celebrate Saint George’s Day on April 29

The annual celebration of Saint George on April 23 is one of the most important feasts in the Orthodox calendar. Almost all Greek households have someone called Georgios or Georgia among close or distant relatives or friends.

However, this year Saint George’s day coincided with Holy Tuesday.

According to the Christian calendar, whenever April 23 is within Lent, and therefore during the fasting period, Saint George’s day is moved to immediately after Easter.

This year Georgios and Georgias all over Greece and abroad will celebrate their name day on Monday, April 29.

This happened in England in the year 2000, when Easter fell on April 23; the Church of England moved St. George’s Day to May 5 (I think). I can state authoritatively on the basis of my own research that the English royal court moved the feast of St. George in the late Middle Ages if it conflicted with Holy Week.

Happy St. George’s Day!

For St. George’s Day (April 23), some images of the saint. My thanks to everyone who sends me these!

1. Courtesy Wanda Cronauer, a Greek St. George in action, from the Jerusalem Art Museum. I have never seen an oval-shaped icon before (if this is an icon).

2. Also from Wanda Cronauer: a sculpted St. George with plate armor and a flowing cape, in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

3. I took this photo at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2014, and I found it in their online catalogue. This ivory St. George was made in Cologne or Burgundy, although the AGO does not proffer a date when.

4. Here is a bas-relief St. George in Venice. My friend Anne Delgado sent me this.

5. Ditto.

6. My friend Brad Adams and his son beneath Donatello’s St. George sculpture in Florence.

7. Brad also sent me this St. George (and graffiti) from Venice.

8. My friend Todd Harper took this photo at Montepulciano, Italy, last June. It is by Angelo Righi (Orvieto, 1587-1603). The dead bodies in addition to the dragon are a nice touch.

9. My friend Malcolm Mercer sent me this photo of a medieval wall painting at Hungerford, Berks.

10. An illustration by Kay Neilson from the book Red Magic: A Collection of the Worldʻs Best Fairy Tales from All Countries (1930), sent by my friend Chris Berard.

11. From the Birmingham (Ala.) Museum of Art, sent to me by Ken Wheeler. The dragon’s teats suggest that it’s female; Samantha Riches has a lot to say about the gendering of this legend in her St George: Hero, Martyr, Myth (2000).

12. “Klosterkirche St Georg und Martin, Weltenburg, Lower Bavaria, Bavaria, Germany” – shamefully, I cannot remember who sent me this.

13. An Ethiopian St. George on display in the Creation Museum (Petersburg, Ky.), courtesy Ruth Mattson.

St. George at the UN

Chris Berard.

My friend Chris Berard sends me a photo he took on a recent trip to New York City. This St. George statue is relatively famous: Zurab Tsereteli’s Good Defeats Evil (1990), located north of the entrance to the United Nations’ General Assembly Building. Given the Georgian nationality of the artist and the date of the installation, it would be tempting to see this statue as symbolic of the defeat of Communism, but the “evil” represented here is the Cold War itself – the dragon’s body is made up of pieces of US Pershing and Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles.

It occurs to me that I’ve seen this image before, at the George W. Bush Library and Museum in Dallas. There, it is rendered on a copper shield with cloisonné enamel artwork, by the same artist. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze presented this piece to Pres. Bush, presumably before 2003, when Shevardnadze was ousted from office as a result of the Rose Revolution.

Novi Georgii Sancti

My thanks to everyone who sends me images of St. George. Here are some newly-acquired ones:

From Arkadi monastery in Crete, courtesy of my friend Christina Heckman: a seventeenth-century “Hagios Georgios o Kephalophoros,” that is, St. George the Celphalophore. I have never heard of St. George as a cephalophore (own-head-carrier) – and note that he has sprouted a new head.

Also from Christina Heckman at Arkadi: St. George the Trophy-Bearer, complete with the pitcher-bearing boy.

From my friend Daniel Holmes at the British Museum. My guess is that this one is fifteenth-century and German.

My friend Kevin Harty enjoyed a trip to Spain and Portugal over Thanksgiving break, which included a visit to Casa Botines, a modernist building by Antoni Gaudí in the city of Léon, Spain.

Over the main entrance, a St. George killing what looks like a Komodo dragon.

From Ronald Good: a classic Orthodox dragon-killing icon, reproduced on a funeral card.

Another prayer card from Ronald Good, this one designated “Hl. Georg Das Drachenwunder – Ikonen-Museum, Recklinghausen.”

St. George Goes to War

One reason why the St. George legend has such staying power is that the dragon can stand in for any bad thing. As we celebrate the centenary of the end of the First World War, here are a couple of examples of how he was employed in the propaganda of both sides:

Pinterest

This one, by an unknown artist, was published in London by Spottiswoode and Co. in 1915 for the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee.

Wikipedia

And this one, by Maximilian Lenz, was published in Vienna in 1917 for the sixth war bond campaign of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In both cases one’s own army is cast as the good St. George, and the enemy as the evil dragon. I suppose it’s a good thing that British and Austro-Hungarian troops did not face each other directly all that much, otherwise St. George might not have known what side to take! (Last Saturday, Sasha Volokh asked, in seriousness, what happens when two powers dedicated to St. George fight against each other, e.g. Russia and Georgia in 2008. I said that I did not know, but I suppose it only really matters if people actually believe in the power of saints as heavenly intercessors and not just as mascots or symbols – and even then I suppose it’s no different from both sides believing in God and praying to him for victory.)

These posters raise a serious point though. I like St. George, obviously, but sometimes the legend does promote self-righteousness. We all like to believe that we’re in the right, and the other side is in the wrong, but we must keep in mind that this might not always be the case! But since there can be no compromise between good and evil, the Manichaeism on display here, I think, would tend to discourage people from seeking a negotiated settlement, and to encourage them to keep digging, even though they’re already in a hole.

A New St. George

I was pleased to discover another St. George just now in the office of my colleague Judith Irvine:

As you can see from the Amharic script, this one is Ethiopian, and is part of a long parchment strip that includes other images. St. George’s cape is wacky, and he seems to be disproportionately drawn, but I like how this image doesn’t just have the hand of God coming out of the sky, but the face of God himself! St. George keeps his eyes on God, and his spears still hit the dragon right in the mouth (“Use the Force, Luke”). It’s interesting how he’s using throwing spears, and not a lance, as he’s usually depicted.

Addendum: Another discovery:

Wikipedia

The ribbon of Saint George is a widely recognized symbol of remembrance of the Soviet people who fought in the Great Patriotic War, WWII. The ribbon consists of a black and orange bicolour pattern, with three black and two orange stripes. It appears as a component of many high military decorations awarded by the Russian Empire, and the current Russian Federation.

The stripes signify the fire and fog of war. While the symbol is primarily related to WWII, it has recently become more associated with Russian nationalism. The symbol was promoted by the post-soviet Russian state as a way to unify people and remember and respect those that fought.

It was also promoted in 2005 as a response to the liberal Orange Revolution in Ukraine. That year, Russian state media along with youth organizations launched the campaign ahead of World War II memorial celebrations. The ribbon was associated with units who were awarded the collective Guard battle honours during the conflict, due to the usage of the color scheme in the Great Patriotic War victory medal awarded to all personnel, civilian or military, who aided the war effort.

In Russia, the ribbon of Saint George is also used by civilians as a patriotic symbol and as a symbol of public support to the Russian government, particularly since 2014. In Ukraine and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), the symbol has become widely associated with Russian nationalist and separatist sentiment.