His dragon-slaying heroics have kept his legend alive through the centuries.
But the Church of England is considering rejecting England’s patron saint St George on the grounds that his image is too warlike and may offend Muslims.
Clergy have started a campaign to replace George with St Alban, a Christian martyr in Roman Britain.
The scheme, to be considered by the Church’s parliament, the General Synod, has met a cautious but sympathetic response from senior bishops.
But it clashes with the increasing popularity of the saint and his flag in England. The World Cup brought out millions of St George crosses as the symbol became increasingly mainstream and less frequently dismissed as a badge favoured only by far-Right political activists.
If St Alban replaced St George, the red cross on a white background would have to be replaced as England’s flag by Alban’s symbol, a diagonal yellow cross on a blue background that bears a strong similarity to St Andrew’s cross, the flag of Scotland.
The proposal has been put forward by the Rev Philip Chester, vicar of St Matthew’s, Westminster, who has called the use of St George as patron saint ‘dotty’.
His call for a change is based on the lack of firm historical evidence that George – said to be a Roman general from the 4th century AD who was put to death by Emperor Diocletian for professing Christianity – ever existed.
He said: ‘We are sure St Alban is a real figure. What’s more, he lived in this country.’
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams indicated support for an upgrade for Alban, although he is said to be cautious about relegation for George.
He told the Sunday Times: ‘I think St Alban is irreplaceable in the history of English Christianity. Perhaps we ought to raise his profile because it’s the beginning of the church in this country with martyrdom, wisdom and courage.’
The image of St George was used to foster patriotism in 1940, when King George VI inaugurated the George Cross for civilian acts of the greatest bravery. The medal bears a depiction of the saint slaying the dragon.
However, George has become unfashionable among politicians and bureaucrats. His saint’s day, April 23, has no official celebration in England, and councils have banned the St George flag from their buildings and vehicles during the World Cup.
The saint became an English hero during the crusades against the Muslim armies that captured Jerusalem in the 11th century.
An apparition of George is said to have appeared to the crusader army at the Battle of Antioch in 1098.
His dragon-slaying legend is thought to have begun as an allegory of Diocletian’s persecution of Christians.
Alban was martyred in 304 AD on the site of St Albans abbey in the Hertfordshire city that now bears his name.
A Roman army officer, he was said to have converted after sheltering a Christian.
July 2, 2006