In yet another refreshing example of RHUL-associated academics stimulating national discussion and thought, Professor Ewan Fernie, who left the RHUL English faculty at the end of winter term, with the help of RHUL English faculty members ex-Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, and Costa Book Prize-winner Jo Shapcott, is spearheading a public attempt to ‘reclaim’ St. George from the far-right and rebrand him with as belonging to a ‘questing agnostic liturgy’.
Shapcott, Motion and poet Michael Symmons Roberts have written a collection of new works which attempt to affirm some kind of national, English ‘spiritual solidarity’, in a way that ‘politicians dare not explore’.
The proposed liturgy begins: ‘What is this England? / We have a patron saint / What does he stand for?’ Two liturgical events will take place: the first at Windsor Chapel on 17 March and the second at Manchester Cathedral on the 8 May, and it is hoped that the ceremony might take root in other St. George’s celebrations, and permeate the national consciousness before the 2012 Olympic Games, about which Professor Fernie (now at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham) and his ‘team’ are discussing a collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The liturgy is purely ceremonial, secular and civic. Prof. Motion has ‘found the idea of writing a new kind of religious text in a largely secular age to be a very interesting challenge’, and Prof. Fernie has said that ‘Englishness is an embarrassed thing in all sorts of ways. But a bold, imaginative reclamation is necessary, particularly in the face of the far right appropriation of symbols of Englishness’.