Monday, 14 June 2010
Origin of the flag of St George
The "Sun" newspaper in the UK is giving away St George flags, the red cross on a white background. It is flying on cars, out of windows and even appearing painted on faces. A pair of medieval English football-supporting "Crusaders", with swords, have been pictured stepping out of a South African helicopter, bearing the English insignia.
In fact, this flag is originally the flag of Genoa, not of England and indeed it is still used by Genoa today.
Apparently, the real patron saint of England is Edward the Confessor not St George. St George only received that title when St George's Windsor was built as part of the celebation of chivalry (which is "Christian power in arms", a strange concept). When French/English King Richard III in 1190 needed safe transport across the Mediterranean to fight the Crusades, he needed a flag that would give him safe passage from pirates. The story is that he did a deal with the King of Genoa, which dominated the sea, to borrow his flag, and it stuck. That is why St George, who is an Eastern saint, is still ours.
The "Genoa" flag is really a sign of the close relationship down the centuries of England and Italy in fighting for Christianity (although the Crusades were not its finest hour). This flag, with added diocesan badge is also the flag of the Church of England. That, too, is an illustration of the close relationship between that Church and Italy. For it was Pietro Vermigli ("Peter Martyr") who founded it along with Cranmer, and the first official service of the Church of England was held in the Italian reformers' church in London, under Edward VI.
As for Shakespeare, who was born and died on St George's Day, 23 April, there is no writer who has more closely connected Italy and England in the public mind.
See the history of the English flag here.