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BY GEORGE, THE CELEBRATION OF “TOWN’S” TRI-CENTENARY COULD RUFFLE FEATHERS.

Caldwell Taylor

 The Grenadian capital prepares to celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of its birth, and the thought of this tall milestone has brought a medley of hoary details to my mind . For instance: the fact that “Town’s” patron saint is none other than St George, the “Redcrosse Knight” behind whose banner (a red cross on a white  background) the Crusades- Christianity’s  epic confrontations  with Islam-were prosecuted. The Crusades were waged between 1096 and 1270 and the Crusaders and their Muslim enemies fought  for control of Jerusalem, which is sacred to Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  The word ‘crusade’ is freighted with many centuries of hatreds and animosities and the proof of this can be  seen in the firestorm which  erupted in the Muslim world in the wake of U.S President George W. Bush’s call (September 2001) for a “crusade”  against terror. In the Muslim mind crusade stands for Christian  cruelty and St George is remembered as the arch-crusader.

 St George is superman and myth. He is the “magnificent martyr”, the chivalrous deliverer of damsels in distress and fearless dragon slayer whose cult sprinted from  battlefields in the East, to capture the hearts of Christians across Europe.   Born in Palestine to parents who had come from Cappadocia (located in modern-day Turkey), George converted to Christianity and grew up to become one of its great defenders. It is believed that George died on April 23, 303 while valiantly resisting the “enemies of Christ”. George’s death gave rise to a cult around his ‘heroic’ memory. The Vatican eventually was won over by the primal energy of the cult and George was declared a Christian saint in 496.  

Sainthood brought new meaning and new impetus to the story of the Palestinian fighter for Christianity, as Christians every-where entrusted George with their safety and security: They  wore icons of the saint over their clothing, especially when  undertaking delicate and dangerous missions.

 The cult of St George reached England and it took root by the eighth century. On English soil George’s following grew with each passing day and in the year 1222 the Synod of Oxford felt compelled to  declare George’s feast day (April 23) a lesser holiday.

 George’s great fame expanded with the publication in 1265 of the Golden Legend, an anthology of hagiographic readings on the lives of Christian saints.  Three generations later King Edward 111 would create the Order of the Garter (1348) , installing  St George as the Order’s patron and protector. Edward 111 went on to call St George “ the  invincible athlete of Christ”  and raised him up as  patron saint of England.   

By the time Henry V had trounced the French at Agincourt in 1415  St George had emerged as a talisman around which English national feelings congealed. In the wake of the Agincourt victory the English Church decreed that George’s feast day should be celebrated with the religiosity and zeal that obtained at the celebration of Christmas. 

 Being at the core of the rites and rituals of English politics and religious life meant the St George had phenomenal range and portability : he went everywhere and could be taken anywhere.  And so St George ‘came out’ to the West Indies to rally English forces as they fought French (and other European imperialisms for supremacy  in our part of the world.  It was certainly a great moment for the English/British when Grenada was ceded by the French under the treaty of Paris. According to the 1763 treaty the country called Grenada consisted of the following islands:  Grenada, Carriacou, Petite Martinique, Tobago, St Vincent (and Grenadines) and Dominica.

 ‘Greater Grenada’ constituted a significant addition to the empire and it was fitting  to name the country’s chief port after  the patron saint of England.  It is worth telling that Grenada’s chief port did pay its dues. For example, during the last quarter of the eighteenth century St George’s decanted into the bowels  of ships bound for England goods valued in many of millions of pounds sterling, causing Governor McCartney to  boast in a June 20, 1776 letter to Lord Germain in the Colonial Office:

 “Grenada exports more produce to Great Britain and Ireland and consumes within itself more British and Irish commodities than any other West India islands, Jamaica alone excepted” (my emphasis)  

“Town” began life under French rule and was then named Fort Royal. Fifty years or so later La Grenade passed to British hands and the coming of the British meant the coming of English, among other things. Therefore, La Grenade became Grenada and in an anglicizing frenzy in February 1764 Grenada’s principal port, Fort Royal, was renamed for England’s patron spirit.  Grenada’s second town was renamed in honour of the British prime minister of the day –[George] Grenville.  

 St George is no more the saint he used to be. Indeed, there are those who argue that he has long passed his “ Best before” date; they say he is  simply too polarizing in a time when the world is in dire need of ecumenical spirits.  St George’s career remains  anathema to Muslims  and those who hoist the banner of this once-marauding saint run the risk of disturbing diplomatic and others feathers.  

             

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