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The triumphs of Englishness

Archbishop  The Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, has spoken of the "continuing triumphs of Englishness" in a lecture at the Sunday Times Literary Festival in Oxford.

 Delivering a wide ranging lecture on "Englishness" Dr. Sentamu spoke of the need for an English identity which gave full recognition to its Christian nature:

"Let us recognise collectively the enormous treasure that sits in our cultural and spiritual vaults. Let's draw upon the riches of our heritage and find a sense of purpose for those who are thrashing around for meaning and settling for second best.  Let us not forego our appreciation of an English identity for fear of upset or offence to those who claim such an identity has no place a multi-cultural society. Englishness is not diminished by newcomers who each bring with them a new strand to England's fabric, rather Englishness is emboldened to grown anew. The truth is that an all embracing England, confident and hopeful in its own identity, is something to celebrate. Let us acknowledge and enjoy what we are."

The Archbishop also highlighted the important political and cultural need to forge a new English identity:

"Englishness is back on the agenda. One of the consequences of the recent attacks by so called "home grown terrorists" has been to ask the question of what it means to be English? Can there be a narrative, an identity that we can all share, flexible enough to recognise the new aspects of England whilst remaining authentic enough to proudly name and recognise its own history?

"Where there is no awareness of identity, there is a vacuum to be filled. Dissatisfaction with one's heritage creates an opening for extremist ideologies. Whether it be the terror of salafi-jihadism or the insidious institutional racism of the British National Party, there are those who stand ready to fill the vacuum with a sanitised identity and twisted vision   if the silent majority are reticent in holding back from forging a new identity.   When hateful and vile slogans are shouted at returning soldiers as they march through our towns, Joe and Jane public should gather in large numbers to demonstrate peaceably that such bigotry has no place in England's green and pleasant land. To be patriotic, is to appreciate and be grateful for all that is valuable in the country you live in.  It does not require you to be a xenophobe or a blinkered nationalist."

The Archbishop also noted the ability of sport, and in particular the performance of the English football team, to draw people together under the flag of St. George: "Previously an icon of extreme nationalists, a sign of exclusion tinged with racism, the flag of St. George instead became a unifying symbol for a country caught up in the hopes of eleven men kicking a ball around a field.

"As is often the case with cultural revolutions the change came not through a directive from the top, but from those at the bottom of the economic hierarchy. In the city of Birmingham, where a good number of private taxi cabs are operated by Asian, often Muslim, men the flag of St. George became an addition to every cab. The commercialisation of the flag and its linking with a national hope which sought inclusive celebration, led to its adoption by those for whom it was previously used as a exclusionary symbol."

Dr. Sentamu also asked whether the time had not come for a new public holiday to mark St. George's day as he noted how the widespread reception of the football anthem "Three Lions" led to a brief unifying of Englishness

"This song was on the lips of children and adults alike, black, white and Asian. Coupled with the reclamation of the flag it represented an opportunity for common cause that was open to ownership by any who chose to adopt it. It represented a new form of Englishness that was multi-cultural and multi-faith but which presented, for a few brief weeks of a football tournament, a shared narrative. It is something that was again at work on the day that it was announced that the Olympics would be coming to London in 2012, a moment of national pride cruelly robbed away by the news of the bombs on London transport only hours later. Has the time come to make the Feast of St George, the Patron Saint of England, a Public Holiday?"

In a wide ranging lecture the Archbishop said that whilst may viewed "tolerance" as a key English virtue, in fact Englishness was made of stronger stuff: "for me one of the continuing triumphs of Englishness lies not in its tolerance but in its magnanimity. In its ability to meet those who have come here as strangers and to turn them into neighbours. That is the test of a magnanimous land and a magnanimous people."