Wednesday, April 23, 2008


It's that time of year again. The one where those of us living south of a certain border, and west of another one, think about the complex weave of myth and history that shapes our national story. Or not, as the case may be.

This time last year I found myself in deep water with the Daily Mail after Ekklesia published a report, largely written by me, suggesting that the stories built up around the largely (possibly wholly) legendary figure of St George around the time of the Crusades were not the only ones - indeed, St George, who was probably Turkish, and is patron saint of many nations and regions other than England, was first known as a Christian citizen who laid down his arms to challenge the Roman Emperor's persecution of believers and others.

Not exactly a militarist of nationally exclusive icon, more a universal symbol of noble dissent, we suggested. Unsurprisingly, tabloid commentator Richard Littlejohn strongly disagreed, though there was no sign that he had read, let alone thought about, the issues. That's one of the things that happens with the stories we tell about our national inheritance. They become emotional ballast to suppress, rather than encourage, more difficult reflection.

This year artist Scott Norwood Witts has unveiled a thoughtful and moving painting called 'St George and the Dead Soldier' at the Catholic Cathedral in Southwark - where there is a week-long festival going on, as well as remembrance of William Shakespeare (whose day this also is) at the Anglican cathedral which was the bard's parish church of St Mary.

Norwood Witts says that ‘St George and Dead Soldier’ was stimulated by the current deployment of British forces overseas and also by the historical misrepresentation of St George. He comments: “The patron saint of soldiers and England is shown battle weary, identifying another fatality of war - exploding the contrived mythical identity developed during The Crusades, to reveal a man in mourning.”

The artist has previously exhibited at the American Church in London and the Carmelite Friary in Kent. Other commissions have included altarpieces at Dover Castle and the Royal Garrison Church at British Army HQ, Aldershot.

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