I love reading history: it throws up all sorts of interesting things. Take for example the curious case of George of Cappadocia, whom I encountered while ploughing through Gibbon’s first volume of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. A notoriously intolerant Arian heretic who rejected the Trinity and persecuted the early Catholics during the fourth century, he was a ‘tyrant who disregarded the laws of religion, justice and humanity’. Gibbon asserts that this corrupt and venal figure went on to become venerated as St George during the Crusades, patron saint of England and embedded forever in popular myth as the one that killed the dragon.
Gibbon was writing during an era when Christianity was, shall we say, less than fashionable, and his theory has since been disputed by scholars, so perhaps one shouldn’t read too much into it. However, I have to say I find the idea of red-cross-waving patriotic Englishmen unwittingly lauding a corrupt bigot rather amusing in light of developments this year… 2016 has seen the triumph of demagoguery on both sides of the Atlantic, in the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election.
Both results have as much to do with the failure of the political elite to represent the interests of the public as they do the willingness of their opponents to manipulate popular sentiment, but the situation does throw up some interesting parallels with Gibbon’s reading of the history of the Church. What if he was right about St George’s origins? A few hundred years from now, might posterity speak of St Nigel and St Donald, slaying the evil dragon of globalisation (and the pluralism that goes with it) and leading the twin Anglo-Saxon empires into new ages of prosperity and freedom?
My tongue is firmly in my cheek as I write this, for surely nothing so ridiculous could ever happen.
… could it?