Today, April 23rd is St Georges Day. Unlike the Irish who celebrate St Patricks Day in some style, us English folk don’t usually celebrate the day in any way at all and many English people probably never realsie it happens.
St George is a bit of a mystery man. It is believed he was born in Palestine between 275 and 281 AD to Greek Christian parents and it is thought he lived in Lydda, near modern day Tel Aviv. He was a soldier in the Roman Army like his father and quickly rose up the ranks. He was later tortured and a number of medieval tales detail the awful punishments he was said to have endured – including being boiled and crushed between spiked wheels – because he refused to give up his Christian faith and was executed, by allegedly being dragged through the streets of Lydda in and then beheaded, on the 23rd April 303 AD for refusing to stop being a Christian when asked by Emperor Diocletian.
The legend of George slaying a dragon dates back to stories from of Saint George saving a damsel in distress that is believed to be the wife of Diocletian, Alexandra. The episode of St. George and the Dragon was a legend brought back with the Crusaders early in the 11th century although the legend itself dates back to at least the seventh century. The legend is that a dragon (mst likely a crocodile as dragons are not real!) makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the city of Silene (or the city of Lydda). The citizens need safe passage to the spring to collect water so, each day the locals offered the dragon a sheep, and if no sheep was available a maiden was used to appease the dragon. The victim was chosen by drawing lots and one day the princess was chosen. The king begs for her life to be spared, but failed and the princess is offered up as the sacrifice but George passes by and using the sign of the Cross to protect himself slays the dragon, and by defeating the dragon saves the princess. The citizens abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.
So if George wasn’t English and never set foot in England how did he become our patron saint? Well this is a bit of a story with a long timeline. In the 12 century Richard the Lionheart adopted the cross of St George, so named because this is the emblem that George used on his shield, as the English flag. In 1350, King Edward III honoured George with the formation of the Order of the Garter and used the George Cross with the image of George slaying the dragon as their banner. During the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, lkegend has it that George came to the aid of the English and the full adoption of George as the English patron saint was 1421 when it became a full public holiday, a tradition that slowly phased out soemwhere in the late 18th century.
Popularity for St Georges Day is increasing and this has led politicians to call for the reintroduction of a public holiday, but with Easter just over, May Day coming soon™ and Spring Bank holiday (our replacement for Whitsun) adding yet another public holiday just makes no sense, although with the Queen’s birthday 2 days before, there could be an argument for merging the 2 events into a single public holiday.
Anyway happy St Georges Day! I’ll celebrate by slaying an Internet Dragon in a video, how will you celebrate it?