St. George, Again

From the Telegraph:

In 1222 the Council of Oxford declared April 23rd to be St George’s Day. However, it wans’t [sic] until 1348 that St George became the Patron Saint of England.

St George’s cross emblem was adopted by Richard The Lion Heart and brought to England in the 12th century. The king’s soldiers wore it on their uniforms during battle to avoid confusion.

From a more respectable academic work on the topic:

Olivier de Laborderie is quite correct in showing that Richard had nothing to do with the famous St. George’s cross. When the English King Henry II and the French King Philip Augustus met at Gisors in 1188 to plan the crusade, they decided that the English were to wear white crosses and the French to wear red ones. Although it might be tempting to think that Richard was still declaring St. George the patron saint of the English crusaders (since, as we have seen, George appeared to the crusaders at Jerusalem wearing a “snow-white” cross), it is far more likely that the crosses of the participants in the third crusade, which are identified only by their colors, were simply an easy (and arbitrary) means of telling who belonged to which army.

[Note: Knowing that the red cross later became the English national emblem, some historians have assumed that the council at Gisors must have assigned red crosses to the English and white ones to the French, but other contemporary sources, such as Roger of Hoveden and Ralph de Diceto, agree with Roger of Wendover about the colors of the crosses. John Rous (1411-91), the Warwickshire antiquary, recognized the significance of the decision at Gisors: “From this it may be conjectured that the English did not then hold St. George as their patron, or at least they did not then carry the arms corresponding to him.”]

In a similar way, the Council of Oxford in 1222 probably did not elevate the feast of St. George to being a minor holiday, thereby acknowledging George’s patronage of England, contrary to almost everything written on the cult in England. This point has been questioned by a number of people, including C.R. Cheney. There is a list of feast days allegedly promoted by the Council, but Cheney notes that of the seventy manuscripts of the canons published by the Council, not one contains the list of feast days. The list itself, moreover, commemorates St. Edmund Rich, who was not canonized until 1247, so it is probably spurious. Indeed, the first certain piece of legislation prescribing festa ferianda for the entire province of Canterbury, in 1362, does not mention St. George at all.

More Saint Georges

Dr. Roger Simpson, a parishioner at St. George’s Tombland, Norwich, sends some more pictures from his church. As one might expect, St. George is depicted quite a few times in the building, and in different media.

1. Near the kitchen, a wooden plaque of Flemish or North German origin, from the mid-sixteenth century. I always like these ones: not only do we have an equestrian St. George and a dragon, but also the princess, her sheep, and the walls of their city Silene.

Photo: Paul Dennis, churchwarden.

2. On the south porch, a roof boss from c.1485, showing a scarlet-coated St. George slaying the dragon.

Photo: Paul Dennis, churchwarden.

3. In the south aisle, a stained glass memorial window by C. C. Powell, c. 1907. Here we see St. George’s distinctive red cross on his surcoat and his banner, along with Gothic-style initials for “Sanctus” and “Georgius.” Very nice!

Photo: Paul Dennis, churchwarden.

Dr. Simpson writes that “St George Tombland is a medieval church just across the road from the Cathedral. It is Anglican and ‘High’, and is still a working church. Services are held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, and of course there is a Sung Eucharist on Sundays. I am one of a group that helps to keep the church open for visitors also most days a week.” I am glad to know this. Norwich has a lot of churches in its city center; my hunch is that many of them were built with profits from the wool trade in the late Middle Ages, when sponsoring a church was deemed a good deed, regardless of the size of the population it was to serve. (The Reformation put an end to such a practice, deeming it wasteful.) Whether or not there was an actual demand for all of them in late-medieval Catholicism, there certainly isn’t one now, when all of 2% of the English population attends Church of England services on a weekly basis. Many Norwich churches, therefore, are maintained as museums by the Norwich Historic Churches Trust, and have been converted into cafes, flea markets, etc. The two churches of St. George, however, remain open for Anglican worship (and for visiting at other times, courtesy volunteers from the parish).

St. George in Norwich

As referenced in our previous post, St. George was a very popular saint in medieval Norwich (the county seat of Norfolk, England). The city boasts two medieval churches dedicated to him (St. George’s Tombland and St. George’s Colegate), and the Norwich Guild of St. George, to which many prominent citizens belonged, sponsored an elaborate “riding” of St. George every year on the saint’s feast day, which culminated in a staged battle between actors playing St. George and the dragon. This dragon was named “Snap,” and at least once he was equipped with gunpowder in order to produce the effect of fire breathing. A dragon costume for Snap is on display in the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, which I saw some years ago but didn’t take a photo of. Thus, I was pleased to receive just now, from Dr. Roger Simpson of Norwich, some photos of a modern Snap:

Photo: The Rev. Canon John Minns.

Photo: The Rev. Canon John Minns

Dr. Simpson writes that this model, used in parades in Norwich, used to be stored in the redundant church of St. Gregory. A year ago St. Gregory’s was converted into an antique market, and the regular removal and return of Snap was proving cumbersome. Thus was he rehoused in St. George’s Tombland – a most appropriate new venue! He “sits above the kitchen in the north aisle and stares at the pulpit.”

UPDATE: Dr. Simpson sends three more photos, of the occasion when Snap arrived at St George Tombland.

The first photo shows Canon Minns and Peter the Verger installing Snap on top of the kitchen. This also illustrates the size of the dragon.

Photo: Derrick Dack.

Canon Minns (Father John) poses with Snap.

Photo: Derrick Dack.

A detailed look at the dragon’s head and body.

Photo: Derrick Dack.

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.