St George’s Day: Church and State

“Hail thee, Festival Day” (Irregular)

A corollary to having a variable date for Easter is that in some years, festivals of the church which fall on a Principal Feast or Principal Holy Day are transferred to the first available day. This year, a degree of confusion was caused by the different ways in which St George’s Day was marked by church and state.

Churches

The Church of England holds that no saint’s day may be celebrated during Easter Week (i.e. the week following Easter Day), as in 2019 in relation to the Festival days of George, Martyr, Patron of England, which is normally celebrated on 23 April, and of Mark the Evangelist on 25 April. Under the rules in Common Worship (scroll down):

“When St George’s Day or St Mark’s Day falls between Palm Sunday and the Second Sunday of Easter inclusive, it is transferred to the Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter. If both fall in this period, St George’s Day is transferred to the Monday and St Mark’s Day to the Tuesday.

When the Festivals of George and Mark both occur in the week following Easter and are transferred in accordance with these Rules in a place where the calendar of The Book of Common Prayer is followed, the Festival of Mark shall be observed on the second available day so that it will be observed on the same day as in places following alternative authorized Calendars, where George will have been transferred to the first available free day.”

Similar provisions apply in the Roman Catholic Church. The Liturgy Office of the Catholic Church in England and Wales states: “[w]hen the celebration falls in the Easter Triduum, on a Sunday of Easter, or in the Easter Octave it is transferred to the next available day — generally the Monday of the Second Week of Easter”. This year the Roman Catholic Church will celebrate St George’s Day on Tuesday, April 30th, since St Catherine of Sienna will be celebrated on 29th. As the Liturgy Office indicated in its notes on Liturgical Calendars, the Feast of St Catherine is Regional and celebrated throughout Europe, whereas that of St George is of National importance — amid the on-going Brexit debate, this is an instance in which one of the patron saints of Europe (and Italy) takes precedence of that of the English saint.

The churches’ concerns regarding saint’s days are therefore primarily liturgical. York Minster chose to reveal a newly-carved figure of St George on 23 April, when it also flew the St George’s flag. The CofE’s ChurchCare states “You can only fly the flag of St George with the diocesan arm in the top corner nearest to the mast. Of course, you don’t have to fly a flag”…”there are no set days for flying a flag from a church. Some churches will fly them on the main Church festivals. This is a custom and not because of any rules.”

State

Secular concern surrounding the celebration of St George’s Day tends to focus on two issues: the flying of flags from public buildings, and the designation of the day as a public holiday. Readers with time to spare will find many references to the issue in Hansard. With regard to flag flying, on 10 March 1930, The First Commissioner of Works (Mr Lansbury) said:

“the proposal has already been considered on various occasions in the past, when a decision adverse to the extension of the number of occasions on which flags are flown on Government buildings was reached. With this decision I am in agreement.”

In May 1951, Prime Minister Clement Atlee suggested: “I think there is no objection if there is any great demand for [flying the Union Flag]. I have not up to the present been told of any great demand, and I do not think there is”. In March 1955, the Ministry of Works gave a dusty response to Brigadier Rayner, stating “St. George’s Day is not appointed for flying flags on Government buildings”. By 1960, government views had changed, but nevertheless, flags were not being flown at the DoT HQ. In a response to a Written Question, on 26 June 2006 Gillian Merron, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport, said:

“The Department for Culture, Media and Sport issues the guidance for flying flags on Government buildings. This includes flying the St George’s flag on St George’s day (23 April) and the European flag on Europe day (9 May) on buildings with two or more flag poles provided they are flown alongside the Union flag with the Union flag in the superior position.

The Department’s main HQ building has only one usable and accessible flag pole and therefore does not fly the St George’s flag or the European flag”.

Currently, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport designates “flag days” on which the Union Flag is to be flown from UK government buildings; for 2019, the designated day for St George is 23 April, although this only relates to government buildings in England.

With regard to the creation of additional holidays, our post, Public holidays, religion and the law, noted:

“although the terms ‘bank holiday’ and ‘public holiday’ are used interchangeably, there are important legal differences. Bank holidays are holidays when banks and many other businesses are closed for the day, whereas Public holidays (or ‘Common law holidays’) are those which have been observed through custom and practice.

Historically, there have been calls for a bank holiday to mark St George’s Day, and in March 1923, the President of the Board of Education was asked to consider the desirability of making St George’s Day a holiday for English school children, and issuing instructions that the previous day be set apart for special teaching on the great events in English history. However, this was considered ‘rightly left to the discretion of local education and school authorities’.”

It is also the subject of a long-running campaign by The Royal Society of St George – founded in 1894 with Queen Victoria as its first Patron, and whose present Patron is HM the Queen. Currently there are Bank Holidays in Scotland for St Andrew, and in Northern Ireland for St Patrick, but none for the patron saints of England or Wales. Recently, however, there have been calls for additional holidays to mark Eid and Diwali. On Monday 21 July 2014, a Westminster Hall debate considered the e-petition relating to making Eid and Diwali public holidays. At the time of the debate, this petition had attracted 122,991 signatures, the largest e-petition that has come to central Government since e-petitions began in August 2011, (although this has now been totally eclipsed by Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU, which at the time of writing had 6,079,372 signatures).

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills issued a response after the 10,000 signature threshold had been exceeded, stating:

“We regret however that we cannot agree to create new bank or public holidays to mark these festivals. The Government regularly receives requests for additional bank and public holidays to celebrate a variety of occasions including religious festivals. However, the current pattern is well established and accepted. Whilst we appreciate a new national holiday may benefit some communities and sectors, the cost to the economy remains considerable and any changes to the current arrangements would not take place without a full consultation.”

We suspect that similar considerations will apply to requests for St George’s Day to be marked by a Bank Holiday.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "St George’s Day: Church and State" in Law & Religion UK, 24 April 2019, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2019/04/24/st-georges-day-church-and-state/

 

7 thoughts on “St George’s Day: Church and State

  1. Absolutely fascinating. I reckon there are two separate issues:

    When is St George’s Day? – 23 April.
    When do the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church commemorate St George? – on 23 April unless that date falls within the Octave of Easter.

    But to the world at large, 23 April remains St George’s Day, regardless of the date on which the two Churches choose to commemorate St George.

    Next up: when Sheffield Wednesday falls on Shrove Tuesday.

  2. King Edward III made St George the Patron Saint of England when he formed the Order of the Garter in St George’s name in 1350. Until then England’s patron saint was St Edmund, who was king of East Anglia from about AD 855 until his death in 869. As the name would suggest, his remains are buried at the Suffolk town of Bury St Edmunds. By contrast, St George has no connection with England. So far, however, campaigns (in 2006 and in 2013) to reinstate Edmund as England’s patron saint have been unsuccessful. Edmund’s feast day is 20 November (the date of his death), so at least there would be no risk of it having to be moved (or ‘translated’) as a result of it falling within Easter week!

    (A paragraph in The Times ‘Diary’ today notes that the Church in Wales isn’t celebrating St George at all this year, adding “Must be out of solidarity with the dragon”!)

  3. The junction by our local Morrisons (in north-east Bolton) is festooned with huge St George’s flags (much as they do at Remembrancetide, with giant poppies which hang around for several weeks). We are in a Labour seat, with local Tory councillors in a council which currently has an overall Labour majority of 1… I do find these displays horrid.

    When I (somewhat cautiously) pointed out to a shopper and his mate, who were lamenting that Morrisons ‘wasn’t allowed to sell St George’s flags’ [=?] that church-wise he is transferred to next week he said ‘not for me, mate, St George is nothing to do with Christianity’. This is exactly the mind-set I had to engage with when I was Rector of St-George-in-the-East and we tried to present him as an international, multi-cultural figure.

    Interestingly, for RCs St Catherine of Siena takes the first slot outside the octave of Easter (trumping George – and therefore Mark too), and RC MP Jacob Rees Mogg is reported as saying he is happy, on this one occasion, to put continent before country as she is ‘interesting and important and deserves her own day’.

    As a one-time Rector of a church dedicated to St Mark, then of one dedicated to St George, I found such transferences and praetermissions awkward. As for Wales….

    Michael Ainsworth

  4. Pingback: St George's Day: Church and State – Law & Religion UK | Fulcrum Anglican

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