Every so often journalists of one sort or another put forward the idea that England should change Her Patron-Saint. What have we to do with St George, they ask? ‘He was not English, he never set foot here’, they say xenophobically. The more atheistic among them even deny the saint’s very existence. (Of course, it is a curious thing that people who do not even believe in God, still less saints, should even bother to discuss such a question - let alone lay claim to a rational opinion on the matter).

Generally, such journalists put forward saints such as St Alban or St Cuthbert to replace St George as the national Patron-Saint. However, veneration for them has never taken off nationally. Though great saints, St Alban, like St George, was not of course English, and as for St Cuthbert, his veneration has always been limited largely to the north-east of England.

Here, we can see very clearly the mistake of journalists. Nobody can impose a Patron-Saint. There has to be popular veneration for him first. Thus, England’s first Patron-Saint was St Edmund. For a brief spell in the Middle Ages, the Anglo-Norman monarchy tried to impose King Edward the Confessor as Patron, before eventually later monarchs brought the veneration of St George to the fore, only really as late as the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. However, there has never been any official law or decree about England’s Patron-Saint. Today, it is only popular veneration which can decide who our Patron-Saint should be. Thus, St George is the most venerated Patron-Saint at the present time because of the popular will, but St Edmund is still revered behind him. Indeed, to say that in England we have only one Patron-Saint is simply untrue, it is merely that at the present, overall, one is much more popular than the other.

While I venerate St George the Great-Martyr of Lydda, the great Patron of Palestine and many other lands and cities, I also venerate St Edmund, whom, unlike most, I consider to be our premier Patron. Indeed, I can see four reasons why, after several centuries during which St George has received greater honour than St Edmund, the pendulum may now be swinging the other way, and St Edmund’s time is coming back:

Firstly, St Edmund is our first and original Patron Saint. St George, though worthy of veneration, was not here first. Anyone who wishes to return to the roots of England inevitably turns towards St Edmund.

Secondly, without any trace of chauvinism, it must be said that St Edmund is our blood relation, he is our kin, he died for us here, his blood fell on English soil, unlike St George. Somewhere, this must count.

Thirdly, the veneration for St Edmund is for one who united two different peoples, the native English and the Danish invader. Moreover, the Danish invaders and aggressors were baptized through the example of St Edmund and thus integrated English society. Within thirty years of the martyrdom of St Edmund, the Danes were venerating him as a saint of God. St Edmund became the reconciler of two peoples and veneration for him and his name spread to a great many countries around the world. Surely, this is an ideal in our multinational times.

Fourthly, and finally, the veneration of St George has often been unworthy of him, reducing a noble martyr and great saint into a militaristic cult. Sadly, it must be said that his popularity was brought here by Roman Catholic Anglo-Norman Crusaders – hardly people of whom St George, or we, would have approved. In St Edmund, there can be no perceived offence, no such medieval distortion, for he is an image of defence, giving up his sword to defend the faith with prayer in our own country.

Within the last few years, ten million pounds has been spent on building a great tower at the Cathedral of Bury St Edmunds. Meanwhile, the relics of St Edmund lie in a private chapel in Arundel in Sussex. Is it not time that they were brought to that empty Cathedral, there to be venerated by those who still believe in the saints and their power to heal? Perhaps it is time to look at the case for St Edmund again.