Leading article: The people's priest

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The Independent Online

Clearly it is not for nothing that Dr Ian Bradley, of St Andrews University, has the title Reader in Practical Theology. As England marks St George's Day with its usual qualms about displaying national pride, Dr Bradley rides up in the nick of time to change the subject. What the United Kingdom needs, he suggests, is its own patron saint, who would take precedence over the other four. He is nominating St Aidan. Never heard of him? That is perhaps not surprising.

This candidate for Britain's saint was modest to a fault, self-effacing and charitable in a discreet, small-scale kind of way – the sort of character who would have chosen a soap-box over a mega-church any day. No dashing dragon-slayer he, but a people's priest thoroughly attuned to the new role we are inching towards in our less militarist, less imperialist national mood.

The co-option of St Aidan would not only serve the officially sponsored cause of Britishness – and so, perhaps, coax Gordon Brown out of his Celtic gloom. It would have the greater benefit of freeing the English to fly the flag for St George without shame once a year.

There would be no ulterior motive, no hint of xenophobia, no subliminal ethnic superiority. In patriotic show, England would be on an equal footing with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A seventh-century monk who was born in Ireland, educated in Scotland and spent much of his life in Northumbria is the near-perfect protector of these isles. We anticipate news of a long-forgotten miracle wrought in Wales, and look forward to a new public holiday to celebrate St Aidan, patron saint of the United Kingdom.