With April 23rd getting closer, here’s a little insight to some background to our patron saint and St Georges Day History. Possibly good for the pub quiz if nothing else. Then there’s always an excuse to wander down the local pub and tell your mates anyway. First off, like a lot of early saints, the many details of his life remain unclear. However we provide some facts here as well as highlight some of the fiction along the way. If you have any insights you want to share, feel free.
St George’s Day in England
Although St George never visited England, his reputation for virtue and holiness spread across Europe. The English started to celebrate St George with a feast day on the 23rd April from the 9th century onwards. It is extremely common that many European patron saints never belonged to the country that honour them. It is more about the behaviour and values that sain represents that was important.
Edward I, also known as Longshanks adopted the George’s emblem of a red cross on a white background during the 9th Crusade to the Middle East. The red cross on a white background had already been associated with the Knights Templar from the 2nd Crusade.
Who Made St George ur Patron Saint and When?
Later it was Edward III who made St George the Patron Saints of England in 1350. AT that time he formed the Order of the Garter in his name.
King Henry V also pushed the name of St George at the Battle Agincourt in 1415. Soldiers adorned the red cross on a white tunic. Shakespeare’s pre battle speech by Henry V finishes with the words: “Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!“. Incidentally, it is alleged that Shakespeare was born on St. George’s Day in 1564. It is also claimed he died on St. George’s Day 1616. Following the Battle of Agincourt, St George’s Day was one of the most important feast days in the English calendar.
Before this, the Patron Saint of England was actually an Englishman, St Edmund. He was an Anglo-Saxon King of East Anglia and fought alongside King Alfred of Wessex against the invading Vikings until 869/70. Edmund was captured and ordered to change his faith and power share with the invaders. Refusing, the Vikings tied Edmund to a tree and used him as target practice for their bowmen before beheading him. St. Edmund’s Day is still celebrated on 20th November in parts of Suffolk.
Who was St George
St George’s Timeline
St George was born over 2,000 miles away in Cappadocia (modern day Turkey) in the 3rd century AD. According to tradition, he was a Roman soldier. Eventually he was tortured before decapitation in AD303 under Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Christian persecution. Thought to have died in Lydda, a Roman province of Palestine, now Lod in Israel, his tomb was a centre of Christian pilgrimage.
What Happened after St George Died?
Various Western and Eastern Christian churches claim to house a number of St George relics. The word relic coming from the Latin reliquiae which means body remains. Before the Reformation it, veneration of relics was considered a religious good practice. Windsor Castle’s St. George’s Chapel reputedly once held two fingers (no comment on that one!). It also claimed to have part of the heart, and skull fragment. Following the reformation, such activities were frowned on as they were considered Roman Catholic. Deans after that time sold off many such relics and in order to raise some cash under the request of the Crown.
A Saint for a Thousand Years before England’s St Georges Day
Pope Gelasius canonised St George in AD 494. He stated that St George was a man whose name is justly revered among men but whose acts are known only to God.
He is venerated by both Christian and Muslim religions being known through the Middle East as a saint and prophet.
St George the Protector
In the Middle Ages, people believed that St George was one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. They were a group of saints who could help during times of difficulty such as epidemic diseases, drought and wars. St George’s protection was invoked against several fatal and infectious diseases such as the Black Death and leprosy.
We already referred to request for his help at Agincourt above. During the First World War during the retreat from Mons, an apparition of St George allegedly guided British troops to safety .
An Officer in the Roman Army
Although artists often depict St George as a knight in shining armour, the truth is probably less fanciful. Typically shown as a chivalric knight or a warrior in Templar style, it is more likely that he was an officer in the Roman army.
Other Things We Know About St George
Representing those we Honour
The Order of the Garter (founded by Edward III in 1348) is the highest order of chivalry in the country and Queen Elizabeth II is at the helm as Sovereign of the Garter. To this day St George’s cross still appears on the Garter badge and his image is the pendant of the Garter chain.
In 1940 King George VI created a new award for acts of the greatest heroism or courage in circumstance of extreme danger. The George Cross, named after the king, bears the image of St George vanquishing the dragon. The image of St George also adorns many of the memorials built to honour those killed during World War One.
Who Else Celebrates St George?
St George is truly an international saint and England is not the only country or region to claim him as its patron.
England shares St George with Venice, Genoa, Portugal, Ethiopia and Catalonia among others as their patron saint and many of these places have their own celebrations and ceremonies in his honour.
In other countries celebrations take place at different times of year, with May6th and November being amongst them.
Spoiler Alert & Kids Look Away – The Dragon was more likely a Legend!
Images of George and the dragon survive from the 9th century – 500 years after his death. Originally these may simply have been representations of the battle between Good and Evil. But Jacobus de Voragine developed the story during the Middle Ages in a collection of stories about saints’ lives, The Golden Legend . The legend is still available as a book in two volumes and translated by William Granger Ryan.
Did You Know? April 23rd is also…
National Asparagus Day – Back in the day of ancient Greece and Rome, asparagus was a delicacy for the rich.
National Talk Like Shakespeare Day – Celebrated since 2009, learn how to talk like the Bard for the day and pick up some useful creative insults! Again handy for an evening in the pub with mates possibly over a pint of English real ale or English cider.
German Beer Day – The Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law), the oldest consumer protection regulation still in use, stipulates German beer permits the use of water, barley and hops being only. It aimed to protect consumers from poor quality and overly priced beer. So for those who aren’t keen on real ale, there’s an alternative to celebrate!
In many Pagan traditions, April 23rd celebrates Green Man. The Green Man represented the forests, spring, nature, and the growth warmer weather triggered.