Few visitors to St George’s Basilica will not notice Giovanni Battista Conti’s apside entitled ‘St George protecting Gozo against the plague’ dominating one of the transepts of the Church. St George protected Gozo against the plague in the 17th century, being one of the island’s patronal saints.
This devotion towards St George as thaumaturgus or miracle-worker is not peculiar to Gozo. It goes back to the Middle Ages when St George was proclaimed the first among the fourteen auxiliary saints. The cult of the auxiliary saints was strong in medieval Germany, but devotion to St George as protector against a number of ailments is not something of the past. In today’s Palestine, many-an-Arab – Christian and Muslim – still revere St George as miracle-worker and put his chains around their neck for protection. Together with St Roche and St Sebastian, St George was even revered against leprosy. In the history of our islands, especially that of our little island, St George was invoked more than once against different types of afflictions. In our history we even have a case where a particular affliction that affected the main island did not make it to nearby Gozo! This ‘liberation’ was attributed to St George!
Now that our islands, Europe and the entire world are being afflicted by a new virus, we should not forget the protection of our heavenly friends. Bishop Mario Grech, in a letter addressed to the priests of the diocese, did make a reference to our patron saints as protectors whom we should invoke. Christianity has believed in the intercession of saints since its very beginnings; the martyrs were revered on their tombs from the earliest times of Christianity. The question we have to ask is not whether the saints can still protect us or not but rather how strong our faith is that we may still invoke them for our protection!
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