Saint George. The patron saint of England. He who killed the dragon to save the maiden…
You know all of that.
But what links does St George have with England? Is there a better choice?
Quite frankly, we know little about Saint George.
There seems to be an opinion that he was a Roman officer, possibly of Greek or Syrian descent. Then there are various versions…but it seems he was executed for his Christian faith. He died around the year AD 300. Not much to go on, is there?
The dragon story?… was first recorded in the 11th Century. Even the lance that he used to slay the dragon had a name…Ascalon. (It was always the call sign of any aircraft Churchill flew in, during WW2)
Of course, now we have a problem…
Dragons aren’t real.
So it’s nothing more than a good story.
Shakespeare’s immortal line from Henry V gets the blood flowing, “Cry God for Harry, England, and St George.”
That helped reinforce the idea of the English being fighting folk and St George being a fella to get behind.
It’s all stirring stuff.
But could there be a better candidate for Patron Saint of England than St George???
Now…if you visit Saint Cuthbert’s Wikipedia page, the first thing you will see is a drawing of Cuthbert with the caption, “Cuthbert discovers a piece of timber.” I will be the first to admit that finding a piece of timber isn’t quite so exciting when compared to slaying a dragon.
But there is a more compelling argument.
He was then elected Bishop of Lindisfarne…”Holy Island.” After a few months, he returned to his cell on Inner Farne Island, where he died on the 20th March 687. He was buried on Holy Island the same day.
Not very exciting so far, is it?…bare with me.
After St Cuthbert’s Death
They decided to open his sarcophagus 11 years after his death – not sure why – and it was found his body was perfectly preserved. He was reburied in a highly decorative oak coffin (now known as St Cuthbert’s coffin.)
“Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race … The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.”
The first Viking raid took place on Lindisfarne.
Now despite the contemporary account above, St Cuthbert’s remains survived the attack. The monks did not.
The raid was the first of many. By 866, they had taken York. By 873, the Vikings were moving into Northumberland. In 875, the monks fled Holy Island, taking the coffin and remains of St Cuthbert with them.
The monks spent a LOT of time dodging the Viking army. Finally, they ended up in Durham where Cuthbert’s remains were finally reburied and a new white church built around them. The monks swore it was Cuthbert that kept them safe and told them the path to take. The new white church went on to become the present Cathedral.
Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, then had a vision of Cuthbert that told him to fight the Vikings and kick them out of England. Which he did a reasonable job of.
When Durham Cathedral was finally finished in 1104, they moved the body again and…because they liked that sort of thing…opened up the coffin once more. There, they discovered a book—the Gospel of St John, measuring just 5.4 x 3.6 inches. Now known as St Cuthbert’s Gospel, it resides in pride of place in the British Library. It is the oldest Western book in the world that still has its binding.
The shrine became the primary pilgrimage site in the north during the middle ages.
At the Battle of Neville’s Cross, the Prior of the Abbey at Durham received a vision of Cuthbert, just like Alfred the Great before him. The image told him to take the cloth of the saint and raise it on a spear at the battle as a banner.
The English won…and captured the King of Scots.
Afterwards, whenever there was a battle against the scots, the first thing the English would do was to send a rider to Durham to collect St Cuthbert’s Banner from the shrine. It would always fly at the head of the army. This practice latest until the reformation when the shrine, relics, and banner were destroyed by a bloke called Henry.
Who should be the real patron saint of England?
Saint George? A bloke who we know little about, who never set foot in England and is best remembered for a fictitious story?
Saint Cuthbert? Who survived Viking raids, inspired Alfred the Great in his quest to unify England, and whose banner went to war countless times against the Scots?
Seems like a no-brainer to me.