St. George Ring

Your humble narrator is quoted by BBC Norfolk:

A 600-year-old gold ring engraved with St George and the Dragon sheds new light on the saint’s medieval followers in Norwich, an expert has told the BBC.

The ring, found by a metal detectorist in South Creake, Norfolk, dates from between 1350 and 1430.

Dr Jonathan Good, author of The Cult of St George, said the ring “attests to the popularity of St George” and may be linked to a guild devoted to the saint.

The ring was ruled to be treasure at an inquest in Norwich this week.

It is set to be acquired by Norwich Castle Museum.

Dr Good, who is associate professor of history at Reinhardt University, in Georgia in the US, said the ring “could have have owned by a guild member. It could have been a way of them showing their dedication”.

More at the link. Related: St George medieval ring sold for £7,000 at auction.

More On Saint George

Samantha Riches, another expert on St. George, has a new book out on the figure, which was reviewed in The Spectator:

What did St George do? Killed a dragon, as everyone knows. And yet, as Samantha Riches points out, no mention of the dragon is made before the Norman Conquest. Nor is the pairing ‘England and St George’, invoked by Shakespeare’s Henry V, much noted outside Britain. Foreigners do not know that the English think St George is theirs alone. Many other nations are keen on him — Ethiopia, with a 13th-century church carved out of rock for him, Egypt where the Copts rejoice in him, or of course Georgia — and they all tell local versions of his legend.

One quite untrue tale is Edward Gibbon’s identification of him, which Riches soon dismisses, as a Cappadocian salesman of questionable pork to the Roman army who rose to be archbishop of Alexandria and was murdered in AD 362 by an angry mob because of his heretical Arianism. Gibbon’s version, which can hardly have been quite honestly made, was forcefully refuted, Riches notes, by Dr Samuel Pegge in a paper to the Society of Antiquaries in 1777. Yet it still gets trotted out, partly because Ralph Waldo Emerson, without the slightest effort to check, retailed it in English Traits.

George was said to have been martyred in AD 303, and, we learn, there are mid-fourth-century Syrian church inscriptions marking devotion to him. Perhaps it is because nothing was known of his life apart from his martyrdom that he has attracted such varied legends. Riches has spent more than two decades studying them, and happily considers the most unlikely connections. This is where, I think, we run into a spot of trouble.

One of St George’s analogues — as the folklorists like to call such lookalikes — is a figure in Islamic cultures called al-Khidr, a name sometimes translated as the Green One. He is associated with a fountain of youth, with regeneration and healing. Palestinian Muslims recognise the Christian representation of St George at Beit Jala, for example, as al-Khidr.

Ten Saint Georges

From my collection:

An Ethiopian restaurant we used to patronize in Minneapolis served this. It was pretty good.

I bought this at the Har Mar Mall in St. Paul. An ex-Soviet immigrant was selling off his extensive pin collection. St. George is the patron saint of Moscow.

From the same dealer. St. George is not always shown slaying the dragon!

I took this photo at the Heinz Memorial Chapel at the University of Pittsburgh.

From Soldiers’ Tower at the University of Toronto.

A medieval pilgrim badge made of lead.

A moderne St. George on a coin struck to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V in 1935. I love this one.

From my friend Mike Ryan.

From my friend Corinne Scott.

But this is not St. George; it is St. Michael. You can tell on account of the wings.

Now In Paperback!

My book, the Cult of St. George in Medieval England, was published by the Boydell Press in 2009. Based on my dissertation, it examines how the cult of St. George got to England, and why this saint, of all the possible contenders, became the patron saint of the kingdom. I’ve just received word that Boydell has released it in paperback, which makes it a lot cheaper, even more so if you use the attached discount form! 

A Trip to Minnesota

As referenced below, I was invited to the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library this past week to give a talk on my current research, on the convergence between St. George and Al-Khidr, the revered Muslim wali. The HMML is hosted by St. John’s University, which itself was founded by St. John’s Abbey, which has become one of the largest monasteries in the United States. The abbey church, at the center of the campus, is a fantastic modernist structre by Marcel Breuer.

This church was built to realize the reforms of Vatican II. As you can see, the altar is in the center of the choir, not against the east wall.

The old abbey church has been decommissioned and is now the Great Hall.

I was pleased to learn that this style was called Beuronese. But if St. John’s is known for anything artistic these days, it is for the St. John’s Bible, the first manuscript bible sponsored by Benedictine monks since the invention of printing. It has only recently been completed, but it is not yet bound. You can view four spreads of pages in the university’s Alcuin Library (no photography allowed, alas). Here is the building from the outside, also designed by Marcel Breuer:

There is also a curious sculpture on the drive in. It’s called “Lean on Me” and was constructed by a team of 300 volunteers under the direction of artist Patrick Dougherty out of willow and ironwood over a period of nineteen days in 2012. It was inspired by the Stella Maris Chapel on the far side of Lake Sagatagan, a lake in the middle of campus.

The HMML itself has recently been renovated. They set me up with a nice carrel to use while I did some research in their collection.

The HMML possesses a significant number of rare books, and microfilms of thousands more. They specialize a number of areas, especially in records relating to the Knights Hospitallers, a crusading order established in Jerusalem in the early twelfth century, and which subsequently held the island of Malta until Napoleon evicted it in 1798. This “Order of Malta” still exists as a Catholic charitable organization, which you can join if you are sponsored by members of the order.

Here are two images of my favorite saint from the HMML collection:

This fine woodcut of George engaged in his favorite activity is from Petrus de Natalibus, Catalogus sanctorum et gestorum eorum ex diversis voluminibus collectus (Lyon, 1519). Arca Artium, Kacmarcik Collection, BX4654.N3 1519.

Alas, I did not realize this picture was somewhat blurry when I took it. It is from Jan Goeree, Godtvrugtige Almanach of Lof-Gedachtenis der Heyligen (Amsterdam, 1730); Arca Artium, Kacmarcik Collection, BX4659.N4 G6 1730 and features an episode from St. George’s Passion that I have never seen depicted in art before. At one point during his interrogation and torture, George makes as though he is ready to sacrifice to pagan gods, but when he gets to the temple, he simply stamps his foot on the ground and the statues fall over and break. (Normally George is depicted slaying a dragon, or undergoing some gruesome torture.)

My talk went well, and I am indebted to Daniel Gullo, Matthew Heintzelman, Julie Dietman, William Straub, Jan Vandeburie, and Fr. Columba Stewart for their kindnesses.