23rd April marks the annual celebration of St. George, the patron saint of England. While it may seem that the English/British have become more excited over the years to celebrate Ireland’s St. Patrick, St. George’s Day is still widely marked, with the red and white cross flag proudly flown on the day. That being said, many can’t separate the myth from the facts, so we’ve done a little research into St. George and where his story comes from.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend
In many depictions of St. George he’s seen either on foot or riding a horse, slaying a dragon with a long, metallic sword. This medieval legend is more than 1000 years old, but is known and repeated by many. The story goes that a huge dragon descended onto the town of Silene in Libya, making its nest by a fresh water spring. As the local townspeople used the spring for their supplies, the only way they found to distract the dragon was to offer it sheep to eat. Eventually running out of sheep, a list was drawn up of potential maidens they could sacrifice, settling on Princess Cleolinda, daughter of the town’s Monarch. Despite protests, Cleolinda was taken down to the spring to await her fate, when in swept St. George, a Knight of the Crusades, brandishing a sword atop of his white stallion, protecting himself with a sign of the cross. After slaying the dragon and saving the Princess, the people of Silene devoted their lives to St. George and converted from their Pagan beliefs to Christianity.
Now, although this legend may be very far-fetched, the history of St. George does include Christianity and Paganism, and a tale of true strength against adversity.
Reportedly born in 270 AD to Christian parents, St. George moved from Eastern Turkey to Palestine, becoming a Roman soldier, promoted over time to Tribunus Militum. He later resigned from his position in protest against Pagan leader Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted and tortured Christians. Although imprisoned due to his faith, St. George stayed true to his beliefs, even after being repeatedly tortured by Diocletian. On 23rd April 303 AD St. George was beheaded. Inspired by his strength of character, the Emperor’s wife converted from Paganism to Christianity, also eventually beheaded due to her new beliefs.
The portrayal of St. George has since been associated with purity of spirit, selfless devotion to duty and boundless courage and valour in the face of adversity. Due to these characteristics, in 1222 the Council of Oxford decreed 23rd April to be St. George’s Day, but it wasn’t until 1348 that he was picked as the Patron Saint of England. In 1415 it was declared that St. George’s Day was to be a national holiday and a day of feasting and celebration, but these festivities diminished over time, disappearing almost completely after the 18th century union of England and Scotland.
Although only celebrated once a year, St. George and his legacy have connections all over the globe. Here are some other interesting facts:
- King Edward III (1312-1377) founded the Order of the Garter in honour of St. George, awarded on 23rd April every year by the reigning Monarch.
- During the 14th century English soldiers wore crosses on their armour in honour of St. George as it was believed he was a special protector.
- The hymn ‘Jerusalem’ is traditionally sung in church on the day or on the closet Sunday to the date.
- St. George is also the Patron Saint of Scouting, Barcelona (Catalonia), Aragon (Spain), Russia, Bavaria (Germany), Beirut (Lebanon), Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Lithuania, and Hungary.
If you’d like to find out more, visit stgeorgesday.com.