Mark Riddaway on the suspect history of St George, his promiscuous approach to patronage, and why Borough's St George's day celebration will be an international one
There’s an awful lot about St George that makes him the perfect figure to celebrate at Borough Market. For a start, he is the patron saint of England, and the Market is packed with the very best of English produce—from Colchester oysters and Tamworth pork to Melton Mowbray pies and cheddar cheese. He also happens to be the patron saint of farmers and butchers, and the Market is full of them. We’ll skip quickly over his patronage of syphilis suffers and the fact that—according to the historian Edward Gibbon at least—he was actually a Turkish crook who was banished to Egypt for selling dodgy bacon.
It’s not just the English who venerate St George. Of all the saints, he is probably the one with the most promiscuous approach to patronage. Georgia, Lithuania, Malta, Palestine, Portugal, Germany, Ethiopia and Greece are all in his stable. It’s no real surprise—given the choice between a saint with a big sword who goes around slaying dragons (although how that myth attached itself to him is a mystery) and one who does the usual saintly things like helping the poor and curing boils, it’s easy to see the appeal.
The Spanish region of Catalonia is another of his clients, and one whose most famous market, Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, usually referred to simply as La Boqueria, is twinned with Borough. They have a huge amount in common—just as Borough Market has its origins in the Middle Ages as a trading station on the main thoroughfare into the City of London, La Boqueria began life at a similar time as a haphazard collection of traders outside one of the city gates of Barcelona.
In the month leading up to our St George's Day festivities in the Market, we have celebrated St George's influence around the world with a demo kitchen residency dedicated to countries to which he is patron saint. This took us from Greece to Catalan to Georgia and Russia and will conclude with Palestine and the Levant.
These cuisines and cultures influenced by Saint George will come together on Sunday 22nd April, with cooking demonstrations, musical performances, traditional entertainments and no shortage of wonderful food. The butchers, farmers and field workers will be fully represented too with the Market Hall dedicated to them. Syphilis sufferers less so.