St George killing the dragon – painting by Paolo Uccello c. 1470. In Christian tradition, a “saint” means someone whom the Church recognises as having led a particularly good and holy life. There are lots of Christian saints. The Roman Catholic church recognises more than 10,000 of them. You can’t be recognised as a saint while you are alive. All saints are dead, and many of them have been dead for a very long time. Some Christian saints are associated with particular countries, or particular occupations or particular sorts of people. We call these saints “patron saints“ . For example, St Christopher is the patron saint of travellers, St Stephen is the patron saint of bricklayers, and St Joan is the patron saint of France. The patron saint of England is St George. Until recently, we English did not make a lot of fuss about St George. But things have changed in the last 20 years. English football fans now wave the flag of St George (a red cross on a white background) at football matches. And many people want St George’s Day (23 April) to be made a public holiday in England (but not in Scotland or Wales, of course, because Scotland and Wales have their own patron saints). The traditional story of St George says that he was a soldier in the Roman army at the beginning of the fourth century. He was arrested and executed because he refused to renounce his Christian faith. There is also a story that St George fought and killed a dragon, and thereby rescued a beautiful princess whom the dragon was about to eat. At this point, I must tell you, gentle listeners, that I think that there are big problems about having St George as patron saint of England. 1. The story of St George is, well, just a story. Most experts agree that he never existed. 2. If St George did exist, he was definitely not English, nor did he ever visit England, nor did he have any connection at all with England. 3. It is not good to kill dragons. There are hardly any dragons left in the world. An environmentally responsible saint would have created a national nature reserve where the dragon could live in peace and people could come and take photographs of it. 4. St George is also the patron saint of about 12 other countries, including Canada, Georgia, Greece and Lithuania. Poor St George is overworked and overstressed. He has too many countries to worry about. And what would he do if two of his countries started to fight one another? St Wulfstan, from a stained glass window in the parish church in Long Itchington. So I would like to suggest that England should have a new patron saint, and as it happens I know exactly the right saint for the job. His name is St Wulfstan. He was born in a village called Long Itchington, which is about 35 miles from Birmingham, exactly 1000 years ago in 1008. He studied in monasteries, and became a priest and in 1062 became the bishop of Worcester. Four years later, in 1066, one of the most important events in England’s history occurred. William of Normandy, known as William the Conqueror, conquered England and became king. His armies killed, or drove out or replaced all the important English people of the country – the nobles, and senior people in government and the church – and replaced them with French-speaking people from Normandy. All except Wulfstan. After a few years, he was the only English person in a senior position in the country. How did he survive? Why did William not replace him? We know that Wulfstan was respected because of his simple and holy lifestyle. For instance, he fasted for three days every week, and on the remaining days ate only bread, vegetables and fruit. But he was also a very capable administrator. He built numerous new churches. He helped to compile the great Domesday Book which recorded details of everything in William’s new kingdom – every town and village, every mill, every wood. He tried to help the poor and to protect people who had lost their homes and their lands to the Norman conquerors, but he also opposed rebellion against the new rulers of the country. He was deeply concerned about the trade in slaves between Ireland and the port of Bristol, and tried to persuade the king to prohibit it. The story of St Wulfstan is not, I agree, as romantic as the story of St George. St George suffered a martyrs death; Wulfstan died peacefully at the age of 89. But Wulfstan would have these advantages as patron saint of England: 1. He definitely existed 2. He was English. 3. He freed slaves, which is better than killing dragons. 4. He is the patron saint of vegetarians, which is very appropriate, because there are more vegetarians in England than in any other country in Europe. 5. He is not the patron saint of anywhere else, so he would have time to be a proper patron saint of England. What do you think? If you go to the website, you will find a poll where you can vote for either George or Wulfstan. Who would you choose as patron saint of England? St George St Wulfstan View Results Free poll from Free Website Polls Quiz – how well did you understand the podcast? :: File Download (7:25 min / 4 MB) Less
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