Shops in Emsworth are hanging out the bunting and expecting big crowds for their annual St George’s Day celebrations.
In the year of the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee, St George’s stock is running high, but it was not always thus.
For years, the red and white flag of England’s patron saint was associated by many with football hooligans. And in spite of his rising kudos, his marketing people still haven’t managed to negotiate a bank holiday.
It’s not easy being a patron saint. Quite apart from the agonising death stuff required for martyrdom, when you pass the pearly gates and get canonised the indignities are just beginning.
St George himself bumped St Edmund the Martyr off the top spot in the 14th century, rough treatment indeed after Edmund’s sterling contribution as a human dartboard.
And then there are the unforeseen commitments. A host of technological breakthroughs since the age of strapping Christians to wagon wheels result in an ever-increasing list of activities needing saintly protection.
Thus St Veronica, who caught an imprint of Jesus’s face on her veil, finds herself volunteered as patron saint of photography, with snappers praying for intercession when memory cards freeze.
Sainting remains a sexist profession with only a handful of women winning the big-hitter post of national patron saint. (Sweden as ever, is forward-thinking with its choice of St Brigit).
St Patrick, it’s true, has enjoyed steady success due, in part, to a lucrative sponsorship deal with Guinness. But the price he pays is an enduring and degrading association with oversized green felt hats.
You would think that Santa Claus, of all saints, could do no wrong. But let’s not forget that St Nicholas, as he was originally known, is also patron saint of Greece. Now there’s a country where I don’t see a whole lot of intercession going on. Perhaps he had his hands full with Portsmouth, another place he’s patron of.
So I hope St George enjoys his moment of glory. But if any of his fans are tempted to use his celebrations for xenophobic purposes, let us not forget he was born in Turkey, died in Palestine and worked for the Roman Army.