A wry view of life for the world-weary

Sign Of The Times – Part Two


Finding my religion

There has long been an association between the Church and booze – monasteries and abbeys were prolific brewers of the stuff until the English Reformation and wine is a fundamental prop in the concept of transubstantiation – so it is not surprising that religious imagery features large in some of the names and signage of our boozers.

Our first pub sign with a specifically religious bent is The Cross Keys. Generally the sign has two keys, one gold and the other silver, which are crossed. They represent the keys to heaven and are the symbol of St Peter to whom Christ is reputed to have said, “I will give unto you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven”. The first recorded pub with this sign was to be found in Leicester in 1552 and the Cross Keys was often the nearest pub to a church dedicated to St Peter. Similarly, the Eagle and the Lion are pubs named after the symbols associated with St John and St Mark respectively.

Given Britain’s nautical history I had always assumed that names borne by a clutch of pubs such as The Anchor or Hope and Anchor or Anchor and Hope referred to the metallic device, usually attached to a chain, used to moor a ship and the hope with which the brave matelots set out on their voyages. But not a bit of it. What these names are, in fact, are a reference to a quotation from the Letter to the Hebrews (6: 19), “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope”. It explains why so many pubs with Anchor or the combination of Hope and Anchor in their name are so far away from the coastline.

Similarly, the name Lamb and Flag owes its origin to a direct quotation from the New Testament, this time the Gospel according to St John 1:29, where John the Baptist on sighting Christ, remarks, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world”. The Lamb, of course, is Christ and most usually the flag which the lamb is portrayed as carrying in the pub signage is that of the patron saint of England, the dragon-slaying and non-indigenous St George. As well as adorning many a pub sign the combination of a lamb and the flag of St George has been the symbol for both the Knights Templar and the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors.

Another populr pub name is the Lion and Lamb. Again the lamb is used to represent Christ, this time in his role as redeemer, whilst the lion symbolises the resurrection. This strange association came from the belief that lion cubs were born dead and only came to life when the father breathed on it. Quite how many lions other than in the gladiatorial pits of the Roman Empire the ordinary Christian met to make this observation is anybody’s guess but there we are.

More obviously to the modern eye, the Mitre refers to the headgear favoured by the bishopric and the Three Crowns and Three Kings represent the Magi who came to see and give the very useful gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to. Less obviously, if a pub is called Five Ways it doesn’t mean that it was at the centre of a particularly busy junction in olden times. Rather it is a reference to the five logical arguments for the existence of God recorded by Thomas of Aquinas in his influential 13th century text, Summa Theologica, which were known as the quinque viae or the five ways.

And finally, the Salutation is a reference to the Archangel Gabriel informing Mary that she had one in the oven.


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