Bank Street Unitarian Chapel

Open Hearts Open Minds


A Short Reflection for St George's Day

based on words delivered by Stephen Lingwood

on 23rd April 2017


If you're ever in Manchester Anglican Cathedral I would strongly recommend that you make your way to the back of the cathedral and into the tiny Fraser Chapel. That is the place I always head when I go there. In this tiny space there is a single pew and an altar, and at the back of the altar is a piece of art.

It's called the Trinity Reredos by the contemporary artist Mark Cazalet and it was installed in the cathedral in 2001. On one side of reredos is an image of St Denys, and in the centre is a depiction of the Trinity. Those images are both very interesting and worth contemplating. But today, I want us to think about the image on the left: the image of St George.

St George, a modern Englishman, a black Englishman, wearing an England football shirt, is seen breaking the chains of the dragon. The dragon does not look fierce or scary, but sad, world-weary, weighed down. George liberates the dragon.

I don't know what that image might mean for you. I think it's worth thinking about. I find it a refreshing twist on an old story.

Today is St George's Day, the patron saint of England, the national day of England. And I think this is not an opportunity we should let slip by to celebrate England and the English. We should not give up this day to the racists and the fascists. This is our day, and we should not hesitate to celebrate a progressive, open and compassionate vision of our country.

There are good reasons for doing so. We should celebrate today that St George is an immigrant. We know almost nothing about the real man we call St George, but we know for certain that he wasn't born in England. St George is an immigrant to this country, and we should today celebrate an England that has been defined by immigration from the very beginning. Englishness is defined by immigration, not some sense of racial purity.

St George is also the patron saint of Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Portugal, Lithuania, Greece and Germany! Today we can celebrate an Englishness that is internationalist and open to the world.

The English people have been great pioneers of democracy, slowly fighting for the right to vote for more and more people. Chartists, Suffragettes, and others provide us with the stories that tell us about Englishness.

But mainly today I want to return us to the image of George and the dragon from the Mark Cazelet piece. Here is an image of the icon of England acting with compassion. I believe at its best this country is a compassionate country. Though it has been harder to believe that in recent years and months.

Where has our compassion gone? As we turn away refugee children, as those who are different have suffered abuse and attack, as we align ourselves with the worst extremists and despots around the world, where has our compassion gone?

I believe we are better than this. My prayer this day, is that England follows this George. That we set the captives free, bind up the broken-hearted, and live by compassion.

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