In the pursuit of my ancestors ancient or distant I followed my family line 16 generations back through Sir Henry Sinclair (builder of Rosslyn Chapel), his mother Egidea Douglas, her grandfather Archibald Douglas (4th Earl of Douglas via a mistress) and back to Robert II of Flanders, also known as Ollec II or Robert of Jerusalem. Robert`s involvement in the First Crusade and the battle to seize Jerusalem are well recorded in a great historic military campaign. Robert left very soon afterwards rushing home to defend his ancestral lands which were also under siege. Sadly he came to a less-than-noble end, trampled to death after falling from his horse during a campaign battle just outside Paris. His military exploits are many and impressive, a significant military commander and leader during the First Crusade but, he also has a singular and specific story to tell; Count Robert II of Flanders and “The Arm of St George”.

  

 

 

 

THE ARM OF ST GEORGE

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On Thursday 5th March 2020, as Covid 19 gained a foothold in Britain, a delegation of clergy from the monastery of Xenophontos (Mount Athos) in Greece arrived in the UK carrying with them a sacred reliquary. From Scotland then down through England their most precious possession was venerated at 10 orthodox services in churches and cathedrals. Just a day before the UK was locked down the reliquary containing the bones of our patron saint ST GEORGE left England.

“The Arm of St George,” the bones of England`s patron saint, had passed through the nation.

Count Robert II of Flanders (Robert of Jerusalem) lived in the time when Flanders dominated trade across Europe. He answered the call of Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont and “took the Cross” pledging his small army of knights to the First Crusade in 1095. It was not until 15th July 1099 that the crusader army captured Jerusalem and established The Kingdom of Jerusalem.

 

Crudely speaking “taking the cross” served as a dispensation of sins to ease the way into heaven, a forerunner of the selling of indulgences, similar to buying “carbon offsets” today to ease the guilt of choking the world with CO2. And there was booty, significant treasures and lands to be won and plundered.

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Robert II Count of Flanders (Ollec II)

“Robert of Jerusalem”

The East Mediterranean was at different times in part called the Levant, Palestine, Outremer (the Crusader states) and “The arm of St George”. The Crusades were fought throughout this entire region from Egypt up into Syria and the Balkans.  

 

The traditional and historic tomb of St George in Lod was surrounded by a Greek Orthodox church before being desecrated by several invading armies both Christian and Muslim. Both Syria and Lod/Ramla are possible victims of opportunist plunder. 

 

The relic brought by Robert of Flanders to Anchin in 1099 (now in France) can be traced in the original Abbey diaries, recorded to have been venerated for many years. There are several “miracles” attributed by pilgrims who prayed before the relic.  

How Robert came to possess the relic is obscure but there is certainly written evidence that places him in the plot with both motive and opportunity. A Priest from Lille called Gericault who was travelling with “a friend” both within Roberts party (possibly Robert himself), stayed at a monastery and were shown the original relic. Gericault did the deed and after divine intervention of blindness for his deceit he sought forgiveness from the monks before the relic was surrendered to the safekeeping of Count Robert. Gericault regained his sight and Robert carried the bones of St George back to Flanders and into the Anchin Abbey for safe keeping and veneration by western Christians. The pilgrims offered donations and the Abbey provided a pension for Robert`s family after his death.

 

Robert left Palestine in August 1099 to return to Flanders acquiring, at the start of his journey, the holy relic “The Arm of St George “which he donated to the Abbey of Anchin. 

He also built the monastery at Sevenkerke near Bruges and was from then always referred to as Robert of Jerusalem.

DID ST GEORGE PASS THROUGH ENGLAND AT THE START OF THE PANDEMIC in MARCH 2020?

 

I think it is as possible as it is not, that the relic from Mount Athos contained bones of St George. It may be less likely that the Mount Athos relic is the same one as my adventurous ancestor Robert of Flanders brought back to Anchin Abbey. If I am too ready to accept the  deeds and DNA of my adventurous and brave  knightly  forefathers then I must also accept that I also have the genes of a 14th century notable Archibald the Grim who is said to have been very heroic but also the ugliest man ever; noble, brave and none too attractive. 

 

Win some - lose some.

There are several stories, legends and tales that are crafted around written records that describe an early Christian martyr George. There are accounts that can trace  a thread of the story back  to within  a few of generations of the life of St George and there are several contemporaneous  texts that relate to the crusader period when part of the glory of  fighting as Christian soldiers  was  not just recovering  the holy sites into Christian rule but  also taking holy relics back to western Europe for veneration and for what was in effect, a living or pension by way of a percentage of the donations made by pilgrims who were unable to complete the pilgrims journey to Jerusalem.

The story tells that St George was sawn in half top to bottom when a ferocious and overzealous minor administrator tried to please Emperor Diocletian who was displeased by George`s challenge to his authority; the legend says that after cruel torture he was cut into 365 pieces and as custom required dispersed around the country to frighten the population.

In a 1970 study the Coptologist and pastor Otto Meinardus, identified  a number of hand/arm relics of St George. There are “hand” relics in the monastery of St George in Aithipsos on island Euboea (Greece) and the monastery of Koimesis in Kleiston (Phili, Attica, Greece) both attributed to St George. The iconic raised arm reliquary can contain  a small fragment or several bone pieces. None contain an entire armsworth. 

The relics most commonly called “The Arm of St George” arise from the remains of his shoulder, arm and rib cage. Apart from many small pieces of bone there are reputed to have been 5 major relics with parts of the arm bones of St George.

  • One from “a monastery in the Levant”, (some references suggest Syria) which was taken by Count Robert II of Flanders to Anchin Abbey. But this could also be…

 

  • … the one in the Orthodox church in Lydda, Lod/Ramla, Israel although much of the contents of the church have  been dispersed over the years.

 

  • One from the sack of Constantinople 1204 by the army of the 4th Crusade. It is now in St Marks Venice in the Basilica. Tests in 1978 by anthropological and anatomical measures links this relic to the cranium of the saint kept in Rome`s San Giorgio al Velabro and several other St George relics. All were considered to be of a male skeleton, aged 20-30, 4th century.  DNA tests have not been applied and  no scientific  search of possible age or origin have been made.  There are 2 attributed St George skull parts. Pope Zacharius, mid 8th century, had the skull of St George removed from its reliquary and paraded through the streets of Rome. 

 

  • The fourth now in the monastery of Xonophontos Mount Athos in Greece.  This relic toured Scotland and England in March 2020 just as the Covid-19 pandemic was spreading and left immediately before the UK was locked down

  • The fifth, the relic  which is now held in the Muzeen zu Berlin as part of the Guelf Treasure. Depicted on the reliquary are St George and St Blaise. It was presented to the treasury of St Blaise by bishop Albert II of Brunswick-Luneberg. Note the possible date of the manufacture of the Reliquary is thought to be ca 1350. Within a few paragraphs you will read that the bones held in Anchin Abbey were taken from their reliquary box close to that date. No evidence exists to prove or disprove this coincidence but it was common to "liberate" relics at that time. Indeed that is exactly may be how the Anchin bones were acquired, liberated from an Orthodox church near Jerusalem in the aftermath of the first crusade. 

The traditional and historic tomb of St George in Lod was surrounded by a Greek Orthodox church before being desecrated by several invading armies both Christian and Muslim. Both Syria and Lod/Ramla are possible victims of opportunist plunder. 

 

The relic brought in 1099 by Robert of Flanders to Anchin (now in France) can be traced in the original Abbey diaries, recorded to have been venerated for many years. There are several “miracles” attributed by pilgrims who prayed before the relic.  

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The Orthodox Church in Lydda. The Tomb of St George

The diaries of the Abotts of Anchin record the history of the Abbey and the relic “The Arm of St George”. The original Latin was translated and collated into French by E A Escalier in “ L`Abbeye D`Anchin 1070 – 1792”. From its solemn installation in the Abbey the reliquary can be traced through 300 years. In the 1300s there is reference in an inventory to the reliquary box stating that the bones were not inside but giving no indication if they were again found, misplaced, stolen, destroyed or dispersed for safety. The original bones of the body of St George entombed in Lydda/Lod were robbed and dispersed throughout the Crusader period and in turn the Abbey of Anchin bones may also have been rescued by well-meaning pilgrims, stolen by opportunists or indeed returned to other orthodox churches.  The Abbey, however, remained a significant source of wealth for the church and its benefactors. In 1751 King Louis XV of France named Henry, Cardinal Duke of York (later Henry IV), as the 46th Abbot of Anchin and later also the Abbey Saint Amand les Faux. The income was huge, 70,000 livres per year from Anchin alone.

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In 1789 Anchin was supressed by the French National Assembly, the revenues and living were lost and Anchin Abbey was destroyed. Only the entrance pavilions built by Henry remain standing today.  The collections and library were dispersed or disposed of in an uneasy frenzy of destruction. There is no record of  either the reliquary, a box or bones.

So, quite clearly Robert II Count of Flanders had possession of the holy relic when he returned from the First Crusade and deposited it in Anchin Abbey in 1099. It was venerated for the best part of 300 years before it was separated from its box

THE EVIDENCE FOR COUNT ROBERT II OF FLANDERS

 

 The writer Fulcher (bishop) of Chartres, contemporary to the first Crusade.

 

The writer Albert of Aachen, contemporary to the early Crusades.

 

“Victory in the East”, a translation of contemporary military records of the First Crusade by John France. The evidence places Robert II of Flanders certainly very close to the Tomb of St George for several days with a group of knights scouting and preparing a route for the main Crusader army approaching Ramla and Jerusalem. Robert had the motive and the opportunity both before the capture of Jerusalem and afterwards to gather up the ancient relic. The story is told by several writers of the time or within the same generation.  The Anchin Abbey diaries take us from 1099 and through the medieval period before the trail goes cold. Were the bones later dispersed or carried back to the East? Were the bones robbed or destroyed  in the 1789 post revolution suppression? Somewhere the evidence and the bones are waiting to be found or identified.  

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As a Teaser in this tale of bones, relics and St George I point out to you to the Barbara Frankopan Reliquary which has been subject to a recent exhaustive research project. I am grateful to the learned and renowned  Branislav Cvetkovic for his  knowledge and willing exchange of information. His knowledge is unprecedented. He completed the first full research study of the Barbara Frankopan reliquary. A bone relic of St George is mounted in silver, (hanging down to the right where the branch touches the outer frame at 1 o clock).

“A tiny fragment sheathed in a silver gilt frame is part of a large composite reliquary about which I am writing a book. I have published some articles on it, Relikvijar Barbare Frankopan". Branislav Cvetkovic

The Frankopan Reliquary holds a collection of mounted saintly relics which have a Constantinopoltian or Thessalonican provenance. This is a lavish but not well known 15th century reliquary kept in the treasury of the Franscican Monastery in Tersatto which is today part of the City of Rijeka  on the northern coast of Croatia”. 

THE EVIDENCE FOR ST GEORGE and the TIMELINE FOR ST GEORGE IN CHRISTIAN BELIEF.

 

There are 4 versions of his life and death, in Coptic, Arabic, Syriac and Ethiopic. There are many written contemporary details of the life and martyrdom of St George. Studies of the development of the new testament gospels and oral tradition up to 325/6 AD can be bridged by the 2016  restoration (intensive care after  a series of earthquakes) of the Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem when analysis of the mortar seating the “original” marble slab showed it to be from the 4th century. Pilgrim accounts (like Bernard of Germany , Theudemand of Italy and Stephen of Spain in 867AD) mention  St George sites as  “must visit” destinations.

 

A full account of the evidence for the life of St George, how he lies in the evidenced timelines of Christian belief (written and oral tradition) and supporting archaeology are detailed on this website. If you accept the one you must consider the other.

ST GEORGE and HOLY SEPULCHRE - TIMELINES in FAITH, BELIEF and EVIDENCE.

 

A brief overview. All dates have known margins of error. The purpose of this timeline is to fit St George into the known history and archaeology of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and its relationship with JC. Debunking St George because of the lack of evidence of Dragons seems to be illogical. Grains of accepted truth and the residual bricks, stones and mortar of civilization assist in investigating the dust in which real life and legend exist. The tomb of St George and the tomb of JC existed within a short distance of each other and were on the Pilgrim trail side by side. The dragon, the True cross, the Ark and the Holy Lance along with a thousand other holy relics help us place and separate myth from legend from truth.

THE

In 1789 

In 1789