Τρίτη, 23 Απριλίου 2013

St. George, Patron of England


St George is the patron saint of England and among the most famous of Christian figures. But of the man himself, nothing is certainly known. Our earliest source, Eusebius of Caesarea, writing c. 322, tells of a soldier of noble birth who was put to death under Diocletian at Nicomedia on the 23 April, 303, but makes no mention of his name, his country or his place of burial. According to the apocryphal Acts of St George current in various versions in the Eastern Church from the fifth century, George held the rank of tribune in the Roman army and was beheaded by Diocletian for protesting against the Emperor's persecution of Christians. George rapidly became venerated throughout Christendom as an example of bravery in defence of the poor and the defenceless and of the Christian faith.
George was probably first made well known in England by Arculpus and Adamnan in the early eighth century. The Acts of St George, which recounted his visits to Caerleon and Glastonbury while on service in England, were translated into Anglo-Saxon. Among churches dedicated to St George was one at Doncaster in 1061. George was adopted as the patron saint of soldiers after he was said to have appeared to the Crusader army at the Battle of Antioch in 1098. Many similar stories were transmitted to the West by Crusaders who had heard them from Byzantine troops, and were circulated further by the troubadours. When Richard I was campaigning in Palestine in 1191-92 AD he put the army under the protection of St George.
Because of his widespread following, particularly in the Near East, and the many miracles attributed to him, George became universally recognized as a saint sometime after 900. A lesser holiday in honour of St George, to be kept on 23 April, was declared by the Synod of Oxford in 1222; and St George had become acknowledged as Patron Saint of England by the end of the fourteenth century. In 1415, the year of Agincourt, Archbishop Chichele proclaimed St George's Day as a great feast and ordered it to be observed like Christmas Day. In 1778 the holiday reverted to a simple day of devotion for English Catholics.



The banner of St George, the red cross of a martyr on a white background, was adopted for the uniform of English soldiers possibly in the reign of Richard 1, and later became the flag of England and the White Ensign of the Royal Navy. The fame of St George throughout Europe was greatly increased by the publication of the Legenda Sanctorum (Readings on the Saints), later known as the Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend) by James of Voragine in 1265. The name 'golden legend' does not refer to St George but to the whole collection of stories, which were said to be worth their weight in gold. It was this book which popularized the legend of George and the Dragon. The legend may have been particularly well received in England because of a similar legend in Anglo-Saxon literature. St George became a stock figure in the secular miracle plays derived from pagan sources which continued to be performed at the beginning of spring. The origin of the legend remains obscure. It is first recorded in the late sixth century and may have been an allegory of the persecution of Diocletian, who was sometimes referred to as 'the dragon' in ancient texts. The story may also be a Christianised version of the Greek legend of Perseus, who was said to have rescued the virgin Andromeda from a sea monster at Arsuf or Jaffa, near Lydda (Diospolis), where the cult of St George grew up around the site of his supposed tomb.
In 1348, George was adopted by Edward 111 as Principal Patron of his new order of chivalry, the Knights of the Garter. Some believe that the Order took its name from a pendant badge or jewel traditionally shown in depictions of Saint George. The insignia of the Order include a Collar and Badge Appendant, known as the George. The badge is of gold and presents a richly enamelled representation of St George on horseback slaying the dragon. A second medal, the Lesser George, also depicting George and the dragon, is worn attached to the Sash. The objective of the Order was probably to focus the efforts of England on further Crusades to reconquer the Holy Land. The earliest records of the Order of the Garter were destroyed by fire, but it is believed that either in 1348 or in 1344 Edward proclaimed St George Patron Saint of England. Although the cult of St George was suppressed in England at the Reformation, St George's Chapel, Windsor, completed in stages from 1483 to 1528, has remained the official seat of the Order, where its chapters assemble. The Monarch and the Prince of Wales are always members, together with 24 others and 26 Knights or Ladies Companion.
Much later, in 1818, the Prince Regent, later George IV, created the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George to recognize exemplary service in the diplomatic field. The Order was founded to commemorate the British protectorate of the Ionian Islands and Malta, which had begun in 1814. Originally membership was limited to inhabitants of the islands and to Britons who had served locally. In 1879 membership was widened to include foreigners who had performed distinguished service in Commonwealth countries. The Order was reorganized by William 1V into three classes: Knight Grand Cross (GCMG); Knight Commander (KCMG); and Companion (CMG). Nowadays there are women members of each class with the title 'Dame'. The medal of the Order shows St George and the Dragon on one side, and St Michael confronting the Devil on the other with the inscription,'auspicium melioris aevi' ('augury of a better age'). The Chapel of the Order is St Paul's Cathedral.
The legend of St George and the dragon took on a new lease of life during the Counter Reformation. The discoveries in Africa, India and the Americas, in areas which maps had previously shown as populated by dragons, presented vast new fields for Church missionary endeavour, and St George was once again invoked as an example of danger faced and overcome for the good of the Church.
In 1940, when the civilian population of Britain was subjected to mass bombing by the Luftwaffe, King George V1 instituted the George Cross for 'acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger'. The award, which is second only to the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration, is usually given to civilians and can be given posthumously. The award consists of a silver cross. On one side St George is depicted slaying the dragon, with the inscription, 'For Gallantry'; on the other side appears the name of the holder and the date of the award. For lesser, but still outstanding acts of courage, the King created the George Medal. This also is a silver cross, with on one side the reigning monarch and on the other St George slaying the dragon. The island of Malta was awarded the George Cross for its heroism in resisting attack during World War 11.
St George is also, of course, venerated in the Church of England, by the Orthodox churches and by the Churches of the Near East and Ethiopia. The supposed tomb of St George can still be seen at Lod, south-east of Tel-Aviv; and a convent in Cairo preserves personal objects which are believed to have belonged to George.
St George is still venerated in a large number of places, by followers of particular occupations and sufferers from certain diseases. George is the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany and Greece; and of Moscow, Istanbul, Genoa and Venice (second to St Mark). He is patron of soldiers, cavalry and chivalry; of farmers and field workers, Boy Scouts and butchers; of horses, riders and saddlers; and of sufferers from leprosy, plague and syphilis. He is particularly the patron saint of archers, which gives special point to these famous lines from Shakespeare's Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1, l. 31:
'I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit; and, upon this charge
Cry God for Harry, England and St George!'