On the feast day of our national patron, a visit to his chapel in the Cathedral. As usual, the early morning Masses, Vespers, and an additional evening Mass, will all be celebrated in the chapel today.
St George was a Roman solider, put to death for his Christian faith about 320AD. His cult was brought to England by the Crusaders, and King Edward III made him patron of England in the fourteenth century. The chapel, which awaits its mosaic decoration, is a special place to pray for England, and for all those who have witnessed to their Catholic faith in our land - especially by shedding their blood in the troubled years when Catholicism was proscribed.
In the centre of the floor is a rose, symbol of England; the rose motif is continued behind the altar and around the walls. Either side of the altar the red cross of St George is displayed on marble shields. Panels list servicemen who gave their lives in battle, and who are prayed for in the Cathedral.
On the facing wall is a carving of St George, patron of England by Lindsay Clarke (who also carved the Cathedral crib figures, and the figure of Christ in the apse). It was added to the chapel in 1931.
Above the altar is the last carving of Eric Gill, dating form 1947. It portrays Christ on the cross, not defeated and dead, but rather gloriously triumphant over death as priest and king. To his left stands St Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, and to his right St John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. Both men were executed in 1535 for their refusal to deny the Supremacy of the Pope under king Henry VIII.
In a shrine by the grill lies one of the Cathedral's greatest treasures - the body of St John Southworth, martyred in 1654 at Tyburn (now Marble Arch) for his Catholic faith. His body was retrieved from the scaffold and taken to the English College in Douai, France. Rediscovered after the destruction of the college, St John's body was brought to the Cathedral in 1930.
The chair and kneeler in the chapel were made for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1996 - the first time since the Reformation that a reigning monarch has attended a Roman Catholic service, and showing the journey that Christians in this land have made since the dark days of the Reformation.