Apr 23 St George, Windsor and the Order of the Garter
Recently many British Royal Weddings and Funerals have occurred in St Georges Chapel in Windsor, outside of London.
It is also the home of the Order of the Garter founded by King Edward in 1344 on April 23rd
St George is the patron saint of multiple countries and curiously has a following in both the Christian and Muslim world
Among the earliest of numerous orders of chivalry founded during the Middle Ages in the major courts of Europe, it is notable for the particular prestige associated with it, and also for its survival to the present day. In 1948, Princess Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, were installed as Lady and Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter, along with thirteen other new Garter Knights. Over the nearly 700 years of its existence, it has only had 1,024 illustrious members. After the death of Prince Phillip, the only two ex-officio members are the Queen and Prince Charles. Of the current 21 companion members (limited to 24), Lord Sainsbury (the supermarket director) was the earliest inducted in 1992, John Major is the only former prime minister, and there are three female members including the former head of the MI5 Baroness Manningham-Buller and Lady Mary Peters a former pentathlete from Northern Ireland.
Its origins in 1344 were inspired by English myth-making – maybe even a bout of restorative nostalgia. King Edward III had demonstrated his interest in the Arthurian legend during a massive joust at Windsor. On this occasion he promised to renew King Arthur’s celebrated fraternity of knights, the Round Table. This project was not just a fleeting fancy and work began on a gigantic circular building two-hundred feet across within the upper ward of the castle to house this so-called Order of the Round Table. The renewal of war with France brought this to a shuddering halt but in 1348 the King revived it in a different guise.
Moving away from Arthurian legend he settled on the military saint George, often associated with crusaders. He had been adopted by the Swabian League in the pre-Reformation Holy Roman Empire, but Saint George became associated as "patron saint" of England after the English reformation and his flag came to be identified as the national flag of England. Setting up a new college of St George at Windsor, King Edward associated with a small group of knights, twenty-five men in all with the king at their head. He named the group the Order of the Garter after the symbol of the garter worn by its members, on ceremonial occasions around the left calf by knights and around the left arm by ladies. In the 14th Century – men at arms would have a working garter where the end slips through the buckle, passed behind, and then is tucked down through the formed loop.
St George's Chapel in Windsor became the mother church of the Order of the Garter and the location of special services in relation to the Order. During their lifetime, all members of the Order of the Garter are entitled to display their heraldic crests and banners in St George's Chapel. Over the passage of time stall plates stay in the chapel permanently, wheras the crests and banners of deceased knights are, following presentation at the High Altar, removed from the chapel. Sometimes they are then given to institutions that were connected with the late knight, or kept privately depending on family wishes. The Sovereign may "degrade" members who have taken up arms against the Sovereign. In a ceremony, the Garter King of Arms reads aloud the Instrument of Degradation, a herald climbed up a ladder and removes the former knight's banner, crest, helm, and sword, throwing them down into the quire. Then the rest of the heralds kicked them down the length of the chapel, out of the doors, and into the castle ditch. Most recently, the banner of Emperor Hirohito of Japan was removed when Japan entered World War II in 1941, but the banner and his knighthood were restored by the queen thirty years later, when Hirohito made a state visit to the United Kingdom. The Emperor was particularly pleased by the restoration of his banner as a Knight of the Garter.
St Georges Chapel has the unusual status of being a Royal Peculiar, a church under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch. It has been the scene of many royal services, weddings and, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, burials. Famously Queen Victoria's funeral was held there , before she was interred beside Prince Albert at Windsor Great Park. Windsor recently saw the wedding of Prince Harry to the American actress Megan Markel, and was also where Prince Phillip's funeral was hosted.