George and the Dragon

George and Dragon – cheers! (charcoal drawing by Marianne Birkby)

Today is St George’s Day, the day “celebrating” our much unloved multi-cultural national saint who hailed from the middle east. I have just read Paul Kingsnorth’s thought provoking article “Chasing the Dragon.” It got me thinking about the visceral dragon iconography which abounds in the West Cumbria area. This is nowhere more obvious than at St Bees culminating with the “Dragonstone.”

The Journal of Antiquities says “The Dragon Stone or Beowulf Stone is in an alcove of the churchyard (courtyard) wall, opposite the beautifully carved west door of c.1160. It is a huge, long lump of carved stone bearing carvings that were thought to date from the 8th century, but they are now considered to be from the Norman period – the early 12th century AD, and probably came from a much earlier church that stood here. These carvings are very well-preserved, despite their age. A ferocious looking dragon with its long curled tail is depicted about to be killed by St Micheal, who is cowering behind it with his sword raised in readiness. There looks to be another strange beast, perhaps a dragon, with a long curled tail behind the main dragon, but also a dove of peace inside a circle, which sort of balances things out between good and evil. The strap-work design at the right-hand side seems more like Celtic or Saxon, and certainly not Norman; and at the left-side are two small circles with knotted (connecting) cords running through that look like crosses and, below them another section of knotwork with loops and links. Beneath the lintel stone a round-headed medieval cross with shaped depressions forming the arms. Also out in the churchyard part of a 10th century cross-shaft with Late Saxon carvings and a serpent.

Arthur Mee (1961), tells of more about the village, St Bega, and its church, saying that: “Deep in a valley near the sea it lies, a grey village of much antiquity and charm. Its church is the oldest and finest in West Cumberland; its school is ancient, and so is its bridge; but the oldest of all is its delightful story of St Bega (or Bee) and how she got her nunnery. “

Now the ancient school at St Bees is run (inexplicably to most of us) by Chinese interests, the sea offshore of St Bees is set to have the first deep coal mine in 30 years beneath it, the coal boss is advising government on the digging of big holes for a deep nuclear dump and the sands of St Bees are polluted with every tide by the excrement from over 7 decades of nuclear wastes at Sellafield.

Even if St George and the Dragon combined forces it is difficult to see how they could overcome the many headed hydra that is the modern feifdom of Cumbria – the nuclear industry and our in thrall Government.

Here is to St George and the Dragon

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