England’s National Day
The Scots have a holiday on St Andrew’s Day: his bones are supposedly in Fife. The Irish have a jolly knees-up for St Patrick: they baptise the three-leaved shamrock in gallons of Guinness. The Welsh don’t have a day off on St David’s Day, but at least they remember the Celtic monk Dewi. And the English?
St George was not one of us. But that should be of no consequence: the Scots seem happy with their Jewish patron; the Irish with their Welsh one. George was born in Cappadocia (now Eastern Turkey) and was martyred in Israel (now Israel, despite the efforts of some). Born of Christian parents during the late third century, he became a soldier – a loyal and successful one – in the army of Emperor Diocletian. When in AD302 the Emperor issued an edict that every Christian soldier in the army should be arrested and every other soldier forced to offer a sacrifice to the Pagan gods, George refused. He was neither going to bow the knee to false idols nor honour religious tyranny. Just as the English were eventually to do, George rejected the notion of Divine Right and king worship. He renounced the Emperor’s edict and declared before his fellow soldiers that he was a Christian and would worship only Jesus Christ. Diocletian had George tortured by laceration on a wheel of swords. He was eventually beheaded for his faith, a witness which caused others to convert to Christianity, who were then in turn martyred for their faith in Christ.
In 1222, the Council of Oxford declared 23rd April to be St George’s Day and he replaced St Edmund the Martyr as England’s patron saint in the 14th century. In 1415, 23rd April was made a national feast day. It is perhaps no surprise that his story should inspire the English, who endured centuries of persecution at the hands of their own religious fanatics. And His Grace surely knows. It is a messy and murky history. But the settlement came at the beginning of the 18th century, since which time England has been a nation of liberty, increasing incrementally with each generation, and that liberty has been a beacon of light to the modern free world.
As far as His Grace is concerned, St George’s Day should be a national holiday in honour of all that England has bequeathed to the world (including Shakespeare, whose birthday [and death-day] is also remembered [at least in Stratford-upon-Avon]). And while His Grace is in a patriotic mood, he wishes it to be known that all public buildings ought to display prominently and permanently a portrait of Her Majesty. All schools, hospitals and town halls ought to make a very public display of affection for and allegiance to the Sovereign Head of State, especially in her Jubilee year. Civic pride must be restored: ‘citizenship’ must be supplanted by an appreciation of such notions as loyalty, allegiance and respect for liberty and the traditions of liberal democracy. In addition, the BBC, as the State broadcaster, financed by a compulsory tithe of Her Majesty’s subjects, ought to reinstate the daily rendition of the National Anthem.
Let us declare a national holy-day and thank God for this sceptr’d isle – its past, its present, and the glorious future that awaits it under God’s good providence. Let us celebrate England’s great constitutional statutes: Magna Carta 1215, the Petition of Right 1628, the Bill of Rights 1689, and the Act of Settlement 1701. Let us wear red roses, and proudly display our crosses. St George is a fitting symbol for the freedom – including religious freedom – for which England has stood since pre-Reformation times. And, lest we forget, many in the world are still paying for their witness to the gospel with torture and death, and by their witness others are being saved daily. So, as we celebrate St George, let us pray for the unsung saints who are still giving their all for Christ, and for the ultimate victory of the gospel of salvation for all people humility, truth and grace.
Cry “God for Elizabeth, England and St George!”