It is St George’s day today.
Patron saint of old England.
(It has an interesting perspective from Scotland of course.)
Despite the apparent rise in popularity of the day as a significant celebration in England, a survey quoted on Radio 4 this morning claimed that only one third of people in England were aware of the day, 40% did not know why St George is our patron saint and only 10% would happily fly the flag of St George.
The same commentator suggested that much of what we associate with St George is in reality a Victorian invention- killed by the Howitzers of the first world war. An idea of martial muscular Christianity, allied to the service of empire.
More recently, the flag of St George seems to have been associated strongly with football and the National Front. Laddish yobbishness and fascism… not something thing that I can feel any kinship or identity with whatsoever.
St George killed no dragons. Neither was he English. Rather he was a thought to be a third Century roman soldier who refused to participate in the killing of Christians, resulting in his own death. He was a man who lived in the shadow of Empire, whilst following a different way of being, taught to him by Jesus.
So those words of Blake written on the flag of St George above- about the building of Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land- or at least amidst it’s dark satanic mills- I always find them slightly ridiculous because of their association with England as Empire.
But it might be possible to read the words in a different way of course. Perhaps truer to Blake’s original meanings.
Because there is another England.. something deeper that is still precious to me, and so today, on the day of St George, patron saint of old Albion- I want to celebrate something English- particularly as we approach another election.
An England of protest and struggles against power by the working man. An England of the Peterloo Massacre where people died so that you and I can participate in free and fair elections (although to be fair it was a while longer before women had the same rights.)
An England where tolerance, fairness, respect and gentility are valued. And where there are infringement and disagreements, then there are folk songs…
As a further celebration of Englishness of a kind that I can celebrate, here is one of his songs called ‘Let the Grand correction commence’.