Who were St Aidan & St George?

We are blessed with two patron saints. St. Aidan and St. George.

For one of our Patron saints to be George is doubly special. Firstly he is the Patron saint of England and secondly and of great importance for us, we are the Anglican church in the area of St. George in Bristol, so the area takes it’s name from our parish! However we have only recently adopted both the name and some of the parish. 

The East Bristol district of Saint George takes its name from the parish church which once stood near the Fountain. Bishop Butler of Bristol first founded the church in 1756, in response to the growing population of the area. Up until this time the area had been within the parish of St Philip and St Jacob. Towards the end of the 19th century it was decided to build a bigger church in the fashionable neo-gothic style and this opened in 1879. However, there was to be yet a third church. In 1976 the old St George church was demolished, with much resistance from the sturdy tower, and the congregation moved into the adjacent former Church Boys’ School. In the early 1990’s the floor of this building was condemned and the congregation of Saint Aidan’s Church generously invited the Saint George members to join them, where they received a warm welcome. They were delighted when the Saint Aidan’s PCC decided to include the name ‘Saint George’ in the parish title, thus continuing a 250 year old dedication.

Saint Aidan

An Irishman,  Aidan was a monk at the monastery on the Island of Iona in Scotland.

The Roman Empire had spread Christianity into Britain, but due to the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain, Anglo-Saxon paganism was now the dominant religion. Oswald of Northumbria and his brothers lived among the Gaels of Dál Riata as princes in exile since their banishment by a rival royal house in 616 AD. Oswald may have visited the island monastery of Iona, and certainly converted to Christianity and was baptized. In 634 he regained the kingship of Northumbria, and was determined to bring Christianity to the mostly pagan people there.

Owing to his past among the Gaels, he requested missionaries from Iona, the pre-eminent monastery of the Irish in what is now Scotland, rather than the Roman-backed mission in England. At first the monastery sent a new bishop named Cormán, but he met with no success and soon returned to Iona, reporting that the Northumbrians were too stubborn to be converted. Aidan criticised Cormán’s methods and was sent as a replacement in 635.

Aidan chose Lindisfarne, an island like Iona and close to the royal fortress of Bamburgh, as the seat of his diocese. King Oswald, who after his years of exile had a perfect command of Irish, often had to translate for Aidan and his monks, who did not speak English at first. When Oswald died in 642, Aidan received continued support from King Oswine of Deira and the two became close friends.

An inspired missionary, Aidan would walk from one village to another, politely conversing with the people he saw and slowly interesting them in Christianity. According to legend, the king gave Aidan a horse so that he wouldn’t have to walk, but Aidan gave the horse to a beggar. By patiently talking to the people on their own level Aidan and his monks slowly brought Christianity to the Northumbrian communities. Aidan also took in twelve English boys to train at the monastery, to ensure that the area’s future religious leadership would be English.

In 651 a pagan army, led by Penda, attacked Bamburgh and attempted to set its walls ablaze. According to legend, Aidan prayed for the city, after which the winds turned and blew the smoke and fire toward the enemy, repulsing them; hence his patronage for fire fighters.

Aidan was a member of the Celtic branch of Christianity instead of the Latin branch, but his character and energy in missionary work won him the respect of Pope Honorius I and Felix of Dunwich.

Aidan’s friend Oswine of Deira was murdered in 651. Twelve days later Aidan died, on 31 August, in the 17th year of his episcopate. He had become ill while at the Bamburgh castle and died leaning against the buttress of a church on a royal estate near Bamburgh.

The monastery he founded grew and helped found churches and other monasteries throughout the area. It also became a centre of learning and a storehouse of scholarly knowledge. Saint Bede the Venerable would later write Aidan’s biography and describe the miracles attributed to him. Saint Aidan’s feast day is on 31 August. Aidan was also call the Apostle Of the English, Unlike St Augustine who was the apostle of Kent.

The Venerable Bede is a great source of our knowledge of Aidan.

Saint George

Saint George is popularly identified with England and English ideals of honour, bravery and gallantry, but actually he wasn’t English at all. Very little is known about the man who became St George. He is believed to have been born in Cappadocia (now Eastern Turkey) in the year A.D. 270. At the age of seventeen he joined the Roman army and soon became renowned for his bravery. He served under a pagan Emperor but never forgot his Christian faith.

The Emperor Diocletian gave him many important missions. He heard the Emperor was putting all Christians to death and so he returned to Rome to help his brother Christians. He pleaded with the Emperor to spare their lives. Diocletian did all he could to persuade Saint George to give up his faith, but he refused and was finally beheaded on 23 April, 303.  It is said that the shield or flag of Saint George, with its red cross on a white background, represents his blood running across the white paving stones of the square where he was beheaded.

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