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With April 23rd fast approaching, it’s time to celebrate St George. But “who was he… what did he do?” I hear you ask? In this post, we answer the top six questions about England’s patron saint.
Little is known about England’s patron saint. According to legend, St George was born to a noble Christian family almost 2,000 years ago, between 275-281AD, in what is the now modern day Turkey.
St George came to fame for spreading the Christian religion around the Western civilisation. Following in his father’s footsteps, it is believed he joined the Roman army at the early age of 17, where he would become one of their finest soldiers.
Myth has it that St George slayed a dragon – by the way, this has nothing to do the red dragon that appears on the Welsh flag.
The tale is based in a town in Libya. The town had a small lake which had become home to a plague-bearing dragon who was poisoning the countryside. To satisfy the beast, the residents fed it two sheep a day. When the sheep ran out, it was decided the townsfolk would feed it their children, selected via a lottery draw. One day, the king’s daughter was selected and despite his protest, she was sent to be sacrificed to the dragon. By complete coincidence, St George was riding past the town and came across the king’s daughter on her way to the dragon. The story goes that St George injured the beast with his lance and then controlled it by placing the princess’s girdle around the dragon’s neck. St George killed the dragon only once the whole town had agreed to convert to Christianity.
In 303AD, the Roman emperor Diocletian ordered a widespread persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire as a result of their growing support and influence. St George refused to renounce his Christian faith, despite offers of wealth and land from the emperor. St George was executed by the orders of the Roman Emporer Diocletian in 303AD – he would have been in his late twenties. Historians commonly believe that over 3,000 Christians were executed by the orders of the emperor during this time.
Tales of George’s heroism had reached England, but his fame really grew after the crusades when it was reported he appeared before crusaders outside Jerusalem in 109AD. He became much loved by European knights and often appeared on banners taken into battles. St George’s flag (pictured below) was adopted as England’s official flag in 1190.
King Edward III made George the patron saint of England in 1350 and his name would be further concreted in history by King Henry V. Shakespeare ensured nobody would forget St George by writing King Henry V’s famous battle cry, “Cry God for Harry, England and St George!”
St George is also the patron saint of Bulgaria, Palestine, Ethiopia, Greece and Lithuania. From your childhood, some of you may remember St George is also the patron saint of Scouts Club.
St George’s Day is believed to be the date he was executed in 303AD. In 1222, the Synod of Oxford declared St Georges Day to be a celebrated feast day in England and ever since it has featured on our calendars. But why isn’t St George’s Day a bank holiday I hear you ask? Both Scotland and Ireland have a bank holiday in celebration of their patron saint, St Andrew’s Day and St Patrick’s Day. The sad news is, St George’s Day used to be a public bank holiday, but it died out in the 18th century!
Sources: Jeff Buck