St George between East and West

  • Jerry Brotton


The connection between St George and Englishness is firmly rooted in most discussions of the iconography of nationalism. It stretches from Shakespeare through to the recent revival of the red-cross flag as the defining symbol of England in the wake of political devolution in Scotland and Wales. The history of the saint’s migration from eastern Christian and Ethiopian traditions in late Antiquity into England during the Crusades and development into a national patron saint has attracted much broad historical discussion.1 But relatively little critical attention has considered the ways in which this cultural transmission mediated specific tensions between Christian European and Islamic cultures to the east of Europe during one of their most competitive periods of artistic and intellectual engagement, from the late fifteenth century onwards. This is partly because cultural historians and literary scholars have only recently started to consider such cultural exchanges as meaningful to the wider development of the European Renaissance.2 I want to suggest that this renewed sensitivity to the ways in which icons and images circulated between Christian Europe and the predominantly Islamic communities to its east offers a different perspective on the ways in which St George signified to various communities, both Christian and Muslim, and that the nationalist perspective is just one, somewhat anachronistic dimension of the saint’s significance which tends to limit our understanding of the way such figures looked eastwards and westwards in the global early modern world.


Sixteenth Century Late Antiquity Islamic Culture Patron Saint Intellectual Engagement 
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© Jerry Brotton 2005

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  • Jerry Brotton

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