Last Saturday the Lord Mayor’s Show took place in London. For nearly 800 years this parade has commemorated the annual journey of the new Lord Mayor of London, who travels from the City to Westminster to swear his (or this year, her) allegiance to the reigning monarch, and then returns back to the Square Mile, and gets on with the business of promoting London as the financial capital of the world.
Much has changed since 1215 when the Lord Mayor first went to swear his loyalty to King John. Last week Fiona Woolf, only the second woman to hold the post, went to demonstrate her allegiance to Elizabeth II. But some things remain, and for the last 450 years two of those constants have been Gog and Magog, the giants who travel at the head of the parade, and are considered the ‘protectors’ of London.
I’ve written about Gog and Magog before, and how unsettling it is that figures who in the Bible are considered enemies of God are treated so reverently as the guardian angels of London. So it’s worth delving more into the legends as to how they became associated with London.
The most common version for how Gog and Magog came to be in London is from the medieval History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Much of this book is fiction rather than history, and the story containing Gog and Magog is certainly fiction rather than fact. But it still tells us something important about the City of London.
The story goes that the Roman Emperor Diocletian had 33 daughters who were all wicked. To reform their ways the emperor found them all husbands, but the daughters were unhappy with them, plotted together, and murdered them all in their sleep one night by cutting their throats. As a punishment, all 33 daughters were put in a boat and set adrift, and they finally washed up on the shores of Britain.
At the time this island was a wild and inhospitable place. But the daughters created a new population by mating with demons. The result was a race of giants, the most fearsome of whom were… Gog and Magog. These two giants lived in the area now occupied by the City of London, and were defeated by the legendary hero Brutus when he first came to Britain three generations after the Fall of Troy. He chained them up to be used as guards outside his palace. And they continue to defend the City to this day.
Such is the legend. It’s clearly fiction on numerous counts, not least that Brutus, if he ever existed, was alive around 1000 years before the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who only had one daughter rather than 33 of them. But does this gruesome and demonic story have something to say to us about how people in medieval times viewed the origins of the City of London? And therefore about how we should pray for it today?
Pray for London to be a city of peace and holiness, rather than a city containing violence and the demonic. And pray for Jesus to be exalted as true Lord and protector of the city, rather than any other idols.
Mark Williamson also blogs regularly at One Rock International, a training organisation resourcing missionary leaders across the globe. He’s passionate about good films, good food, getting into deep conversations, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna.